When Andrew Miller entered the game in the seventh inning, he faced the highest leverage situation possible: bases loaded and nobody out. The Indians did have a 3-0 lead, which helped a bit, and he was facing the bottom of the Baltimore order. But even so, one hit could have flipped the score. What we didn’t know at the time was that Cody Allen was unavailable tonight, so Terry Francona was choosing to use his sole big gun with nine outs to go in a close game.
Hold that moment in your head while I provide a bit more background. Carlos Carrasco had started, and was in the process of putting together his most complete start of the season. His pitches had excellent movement, as his 10 strikeouts (a season high) attest. And more importantly, he was blowing away hitters in relatively few pitches per at-bat, finishing the sixth with around 80 pitches. It seemed a given that he’d get through the seventh and give way to Miller and Allen (or perhaps Allen and Miller) in the final two frames. The Indians had knocked Baltimore started Kevin Gausman out of the game in the sixth, scoring three runs quick succession; Bradley Zimmer singled, glided around the bases on a Roberto Perez double, and then Francisco Lindor blasted a two-run homer over Camden’s center field wall. So with a decent run cushion, Tribe fans could see an happy and uneventful finish to this contest given who did and would have the ball over the final three frames.
But just as the Indians drove Gausman from the game in the sixth, the Orioles did so to Carrasco. Three singles, the final one the only hard-hit ball, loaded the bases with nobody out, and Francona, who had had Andrew Miller warm for precisely this possibility, walked to the mound, intent on defusing this volatile situation with his best pitcher, even knowing that he wouldn’t have Cody Allen to pitch the ninth. The situation dictated the reliever, not the inning, and Miller was the right man for this difficult situation. In the span of 10 pitches he retired the Orioles, with the only pitch hit in play a weak grounder right at third baseman Jose Ramirez. And because he only threw ten pitches to record three outs, he was able to pitch the eighth inning as well.
When Bryan Shaw began to warm in the top of the ninth, and it was announced that Cody Allen was unavailable (the reason hasn’t been released as of 11 PM), that placed Francona’s decision in an entirely different light. By bringing Miller into the game that early, that would mean Bryan Shaw, who had given up the go-ahead run last night, would be on to the close the game if the score remained 3-0. Francona brought Miller into the game wagering that the ninth inning would not be nearly as troubling as the seventh was, even if he had a less effective pitcher. And this isn’t meant to be a slight on Bryan Shaw, who has been a fantastic workhorse for the Indians over the past four seasons. But this type of thinking is a departure from previous Tribe managers who tried to give his back-end relievers tightly-defined roles, and usually that meant a particular inning. But not with this bullpen.
The Indians did push across a couple more runs in the ninth inning to make Francona’s life a bit easier, and in the process of that inning Jose Ramirez got a fifth at-bat. He had collected a hit earlier in the game to extend his hitting streak to nine games, but he had still another streak to maintain: he was trying to extend his streak of games with multiple hits to nine straight, a feat that hadn’t been accomplished by a Cleveland player since the 1930s. Ramirez took two pitches, then lined a pitch through the hole on the right side of the infield to join Roy Hughes (1936), Riggs Stephenson (1924), and Tris Speaker (1920) with nine consecutive multi-hit games. Only Shoeless Joe Jackson has a longer streak by a Cleveland player (10 games in 1911, 11 games in 1912).
Because the Indians had a 5-0 lead headed into the ninth, Dan Otero entered the game. But after Otero allowed a run with two outs in the inning, Francona called upon Bryan Shaw to record the final out. Shaw only needed two pitches to finish the game, getting his second save* of the season in the process.
With the win, the Indians have now won seven out of their last eight games. It’s amazing what a week can do in the course of a baseball season. Remember: last Wednesday, Andrew Miller gave up what would be the go-ahead home run in a loss to the Dodgers.
*The tying run was on deck, which is a save situation.