Indians 1, Cubs 0
Indians lead World Series 2-1
Part I: The Tomlins
Two months ago, Josh Tomlin was in the midst of a dismal slump, but that wasn’t the worst of it. He received word that his father had fallen ill, and raced home to be his side. Jerry Tomlin had a malformation of blood vessels on his spinal cord, and had to undergo emergency surgery. The surgery saved his life, but the 57-year-old Tomlin was paralyzed from the chest down. Doctors don’t know whether he’ll walk again.
After returning to the Indians, Tomlin worked his way back into the rotation, regaining command of his curve, began to pitch on both sides of the plate, and becoming at first a necessary, then a key, and finally an essential part of the Tribe rotation as they began their playoff journey. For the Indians lost both Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar during the month of September, and so Tomlin went from perhaps a bullpen arm to becoming part of the playoff rotation. He was magnificent in both his previous playoff games, not flinching in the face of outstanding Boston and Toronto lineups.
Tonight he went to the mound for Game 3, the first World Series game held in Chicago’s Wrigley Field since 1945. He again faced one of the best lineups in baseball, with his pitching opponent among the best starters in the National League. As the game wore on, the Indians tried but failed to score, squandering multiple opportunities in the early innings. For Tomlin, the difficult part wasn’t really the Cubs, or the situation, but even getting to that mound. He had had to earn his way into the majors, had overcome Tommy John surgery, and rarely had a rotation spot locked down. Now that he was on the big stage, he wasn’t about to let all that work go for naught. He shut out the Chicago Cubs over 4.2 innings, allowing just three base runners. And his father was there to watch him.
Part II: The balancing act
Because this game was played in a National League park, Terry Francona would need to use his entire bench just to finish the game, and needed to use a reliever in a situation he normally wouldn’t have been used in.
The whole series of events started with the opening pitch. It’s not unusual to see Carlos Santana open the game, but it was his defensive position that was unique. Santana was starting in left field, the first time in his major-league career that he started a game in the outfield. Terry Francona was gambling that Santana’s bat would provide more value than what he’d give away in the field. Although Santana was not responsible for the lone run of the game, he did work two walks, and perhaps was one factor in Kyle Hendricks leaving the game in the fifth inning. Maybe Rajai Davis catches Jorge Soler’s liner before it hit the left field turf, but that’s a nitpick.
The real machinations began when Andrew Miller entered the game. Terry Francona used this opportunity to pull Santana from the field, though it did a couple innings later cost Miller another inning of work. For Miller got out of the fifth inning, dispatched the Cubs in the sixth, and was set to pitch the seventh as well. But then the Indians mounted a rally, and Francona decided to put everything on scoring in that seventh inning. He pinch-ran Michael Martinez for Roberto Perez, and when Miller came to the plate with runners on the corners, he sent Coco Crisp to the plate. Crisp, in his only action of the night, dumped a single into right field, and the Indians now had a 1-0 lead. Fantastic, right?
But now Francona had to figure out how to get the game to Cody Allen. His closer, who hadn’t pitched since Game 1, would presumably be available for two innings, but now there was at least an inning to go until he could do even that. And so Bryan Shaw, who had been the shakiest of the back end relievers, was called upon to get through the middle of the Chicago order. Shaw fell behind most of the batters he faced, but made pitches when he had to. He faced pinch-hitter Kyle Schwarber in the eighth with a runner on base, and completely sawed off his bat, inducing a gentle popup from the fearsome hitter.
In the midst of this scramble, Terry Francona used up the remainder of his bench. Yan Gomes, who had until tonight not had one plate appearance or caught one pitch, was called upon to call the final nine outs of a 1-0 game. Michael Martinez played center field, then moved to third base in the ninth inning. Brandon Guyer was sent into the game with two outs in the eighth. Had the game gone into extra innings, Francona was going to use Corey Kluber to pinch-hit when the pitcher’s spot next came up.
Part III: The breathless finish
Just think about some of the important players in tonight’s game. Josh Tomlin. Roberto Perez. Coco Crisp. Michael Martinez. Yan Gomes. Bryan Shaw. All these players were placed in crucial situations, and delivered. Martinez made a great jump on a ball in the dirt to get from second to third, and just barely got back to third on a pickoff throw after Rajai Davis took ball 4 in the seventh inning. If Martinez gets picked off, the Indians probably don’t score in that inning, and given that Andrew Miller was now out of the game, the Indians would have been in huge trouble. But he did get back to the base, and trotted home with what would be the winning run.
All of those great performances by supporting players could have been for naught had the ninth inning turned out just a bit differently. Of course, if the Indians hadn’t made two outs on the base paths earlier in the game, that ninth inning would have easier. If Francisco Lindor doesn’t ground into a double play in the fifth inning, that ninth inning would have been easier. But Cody Allen somehow got it done. He allowed a leadoff hit to Anthony Rizzo, and pitched with the tying run on second with two outs. He had to get a fourth out in the inning when Mike Napoli botched a grounder off the bat of Jason Heyward.* Allen had to face Javier Baez, and just a couple pitches into that at-bat, pitched with the winning run at second base. But he threw a fastball just high enough to miss Baez’s bat to complete the 1-0 victory. And every Indians fan around the world was able to breathe again.
And we get to do this all again in 19 hours. Corey Kluber faces off against John Lackey a little after 8 PM tonight with an opportunity to take a 3-1 lead at stake.
*Thankfully it was Heyward batting instead of Jorge Soler, who had gone 2-for-3 on the night; Joe Madden had pinch-run for Soler a couple innings earlier.