CLEVELAND – The full cost of losses in the opening two games of the American League Championship Series isn’t solely restricted to the deficit the Toronto Blue Jays are now facing. More damaging is how unscathed Cleveland’s pitching staff emerged from the two days at Progressive Field, and the flexibility that provides them as play shifts to Rogers Centre for Games 3, 4 and, if necessary, 5.

Having squandered a chance to chew up Corey Kluber and get into the bullpen early in the opener, the Blue Jays did the same thing against Josh Tomlin in a 2-1 loss Saturday. The right-hander worked his enticing but elusive slop for 5.2 innings of one-run ball, doing just enough for the AL Central champions to once again use their elite relief corps to shorten the game.

Bryan Shaw subdued a meek uprising in the sixth after Jose Bautista’s two-out walk by inducing a Troy Tulowitzki chopper to the mound. And then the ball went to the ruthless Andrew Miller, who struck out the side in the seventh and two more in the eighth, before Cody Allen closed things out in the ninth.

That’s how you shorten a ballgame.

The Blue Jays managed just three hits and five balls out of the infield over nine innings. Seven of their last nine outs were strikeouts. Very suddenly, just like a year ago against the Kansas City Royals, they’re down 2-0 in the best-of-seven and must win four of the next five games to reach the World Series.

“We’ll definitely make it interesting, I promise you that,” said shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.

To do that they’ll need to avoid Miller, who over the first two games recorded 11 outs, an astonishing 10 via strikeout, on 55 pitches. Other than the other-worldly lefty, no Cleveland reliever was overworked which can pay them big dividends down the road, when things get dicier in their rotation.

Trevor Bauer is slated to start Monday night’s Game 3 against Marcus Stroman, but Cleveland manager Terry Francona said Saturday morning there was “ambiguity” because his right-hander needed 10 stitches after cutting his right pinky on a drone. He also didn’t rule out Kluber returning on short rest for Game 4, which right now is scheduled to be a bullpen day.

Regardless, if the Blue Jays don’t get in gear at the plate, and quick, it’s not going to matter.

“We need to do a better job of having a better plan and an approach, and I think we will,” said Josh Donaldson, who had an RBI double in the third. “We don’t face these guys a lot during the regular season, but now we’ve had a chance to face them two days in a row, so we should have a pretty good idea heading into the third game.”

The Blue Jays could have made the workload on Cleveland’s staff far more onerous Saturday, when Tomlin was on the ropes in the third and Jeff Manship was warming.

Donaldson’s double, smartly lined to right field on an outer-half cutter, scored Darwin Barney to tie the game 1-1 with two out. Bautista followed, but Tomlin recovered to strike the slugger out on a chase cutter and end the threat.

“He likes to pitch inside at times, but most of the time it’s kind of for show to get him off his other stuff,” Donaldson said of his approach versus Tomlin. “I was trying to get something out over the plate because I felt like eventually it would show up out there. He’s got a pretty good little cutter, curveball, this, that and another, and he made a pitch up and I was able to hit into right field.”

The strikeout started a run of nine straight outs for Tomlin – who threw 36 curveballs among his 85 pitches at the Blue Jays – that ended with the Bautista walk in the sixth.

As Miller warmed in the right-centre field bullpen, you could feel the window of opportunity closing.

“They get to a certain point, Shaw came in and got a big out, and then Miller, and Cody Allen,” said manager John Gibbons. “It’s a nice recipe for them.”

Given no margin for error, J.A. Happ’s five innings of two-run ball wasn’t enough, much in the way Marco Estrada’s eight innings of two-run ball in the opener wasn’t enough.

Carlos Santana’s solo shot in the bottom of the second ended Happ’s streak of 24.2 innings without a homer allowed, but what really hurt was the third, right after the Blue Jays tied it, when No. 9 hitter Roberto Perez opened the inning with a walk.

Rajai Davis hit into a fielder’s choice, promptly stole second, advanced to third on a wild pitch and then scored on Francisco Lindor’s RBI single. The walk set the stage for Davis to reach and make his speed a factor.

“Leadoff walks always tend to come in, some way or another and that’s kind of what happened,” said Happ. “I felt like I made a pretty good pitch on Lindor, he hit a groundball up the middle, tip your cap. But the leadoff walk set that up.”

Happ held Cleveland down from there while Gibbons got Joe Biagini and Roberto Osuna some work afterwards, wanting to both keep the game close and keep his prime leverage relievers from going too long between outings.

That part worked, but there was no rally, even though Donaldson stated confidently that “we feel like we can score against those guys.”

“We still have some games left and we’re still confident we can score against Miller and whoever,” he added. “We’ve done it before in the past, and we feel like we can do it again.”

Added Russell Martin, who collected his second hit of the post-season, a single in the second: “We’re a good team. We were down 0-2 against Texas last year and we ended up finding a way to win. We’ve been there before. I don’t think anybody’s down on themselves. We got beat. We didn’t get destroyed or anything. We lost two tough ballgames. And we have a tough team. We’re going to play tough. But we have our work cut out for us, definitely. …

“History shows that we can hit the baseball. So, it definitely would be nice to start doing that.”

At this point, nice isn’t the right word. Essential is more like it.