Cubs

Indians bullpen throws 4 1/3 scoreless innings in World Series Game 3 win over Cubs

Indians bullpen throws 4 1/3 scoreless innings in World Series Game 3 win over Cubs

There were nine outs left in a scoreless contest on Friday night and Andrew Miller once again was pitching like The Terminator, striking out Cubs hitters at will.

But with his team desperate for a run and in a prime position to score, Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona didn’t hesitate to pinch hit for his superstar reliever in the top of the seventh inning.

Not only did Francona and his coaches believe Coco Crisp would come through, they also had implicit trust in their rest of the bullpen. Crisp singled in a run and Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen rewarded the staff for their faith with three more scoreless innings to close out a 1-0 win over the Cubs in Game 3 of the World Series in front of 41,703 at Wrigley Field. The first World Series crowd at Wrigley in 71 years was treated to 4 1/3 scoreless innings by the Indians bullpen, which lowered its postseason earned-run average to 1.60 in 45 innings.

“It’s always tough to take (Miller) out, but we knew we had to score to win,” pitching coach Mickey Callaway said. “That’s the right move every time. And we trust Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen and Dan Otero to get the job done.”

In the midst of what could be a record-setting postseason, Miller has dominated the headlines.

An outstanding pitcher in each of the last four regular seasons, Miller has almost reached mythical status this October as he churns out dominant performance after dominant performance.

He struck out three more batters on Friday to give him 27 in 15 scoreless innings, one shy of the all-time postseason mark established by Francisco Rodriguez in 2002.

But the July 31 acquisition of Miller from the New York Yankees wasn’t made to fulfill a massive hole in the bullpen. Rather, it was made to put an already strong bullpen over the top.

[RELATED: Indians push the right buttons while Cubs can't in Game 3 of World Series]

With Miller, Allen, Shaw and Otero, who had a career season in 2016, Cleveland’s bullpen finished the season with a 3.45 ERA, the fourth-lowest in the majors.

And the group has only improved in October.

“There’s all the trust in the world,” said starting pitcher Josh Tomlin, who handed over the keys after needing only 58 pitches to complete 4 2/3 scoreless innings. “Those guys have been done an unbelievable job since the regular season and they haven’t changed their routines, changed their plans, changed their attack. They’ve been doing that for a long time. For them to do it on the biggest stage is nothing new for us and we have that comfort in them.”

Comfort enough to turn to Shaw even though Miller -- who has a postseason strikeout rate of 49.1 percent -- had only thrown 17 pitches.

Pitching with a 1-0 lead after Crisp’s RBI single, Shaw retired Ben Zobrist and Willson Contreras to start the seventh inning. Right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall then misplayed Jorge Soler’s fly ball down the line into a two-out triple. But Shaw escaped the jam as Javier Baez grounded out. Shaw also recorded the first two outs in the eighth inning and gave way to Allen after he gave up a single to Dexter Fowler. But Allen escaped that jam with a four-pitch strikeout of Kris Bryant.

The situation got a little hairy in the ninth for Allen after Anthony Rizzo led off with a single and a two-out error by Mike Napoli extended the inning and led to two Cubs runners in scoring position. But Allen rebounded after he fell behind Baez 2-1 in the count to strike him out and give the Indians their second win in three Series games.

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

The performance gave the Indians a 4-0 postseason record with seven saves in eight tries. The group has struck out 60 batters in 45 innings with only 34 hits and 15 walks allowed.

“I think they’re all built from the same mold,” Callaway said. “They’ve all had to go through something pretty tough in their careers. And they’re stepping up like there’s no pressure on them.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

Spring training baseball games are up around the bend, but before the boys of summer get into organized action, two of the team’s new coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey sit down with Kelly Crull.

Plus, Vinnie Duber joins Kelly to discuss these baseball conversations including the memorable first words of Kyle Schwarber to Chili Davis, “I don’t suck!"

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

MESA, Ariz. — We know Willson Contreras doesn’t like baseball’s new pace-of-play rules.

He isn’t the only one.

“I think it’s a terrible idea. I think it’s all terrible,” Jon Lester said last week at spring training, before the specifics of the new rules were even announced. “The beautiful thing about our sport is there’s no time.”

Big surprise coming from the Cubs’ resident old-schooler.

The new rules limit teams to six mound visits per every nine-inning game, with exceptions for pitching changes, between batters, injuries and after the announcement of a pinch hitter. Teams get an extra mound visit for every extra inning in extra-inning games. Also, commercial breaks between innings have been cut by 20 seconds.

That’s it. But it’s caused a bit of an uproar.

Contreras made headlines Tuesday when he told reporters that he’ll willingly break those rules if he needs to in order to put his team in a better position to win.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If I have to pay the price for my team, I will,” Contreras said. “There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? … You have to go out there. They cannot say anything about that. It’s my team, and we just care about winning. And if they’re going to fine me about the No. 7 mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”

Talking about pace-of-play rule changes last week, Cubs manager Joe Maddon said his team would adapt to any new rules. In Chicago baseball’s other Arizona camp, a similar tune of adaptation was being sung.

“Obviously as players we’ve got to make adjustments to whatever rules they want to implement,” White Sox pitcher James Shields said. “This is a game of adjustments, we’re going to have to make adjustments as we go. We’re going to have to figure out logistics of the thing, and I would imagine in spring training we’re going to be talking about it more and more as we go so we don’t mess it up.”

There was general consensus that mound visits are a valuable thing. So what happens if a pitcher and catcher need to communicate but are forced to do it from 60 feet, six inches away?

“Sign language,” White Sox catching prospect Zack Collins joked. “I guess you have to just get on the same page in the dugout and hope that nothing goes wrong if you’re out of visits.”

In the end, here’s the question that needs answering: Are baseball games really too long?

On one hand, as Lester argued, you know what you’re signing up for when you watch a baseball game, be it in the stands at a ballpark or on TV. No one should be shocked when a game rolls on for more than three hours.

But shock and fans' levels of commitment or just pure apathy are two different things. And sometimes it’s a tough ask for fans to dedicate four hours of their day 162 times a year. So there’s a very good reason baseball is trying to make the game go faster, to keep people from leaving the stands or flipping the TV to another channel.

Unsurprisingly, Lester would rather keep things the way they are.

“To be honest with you, the fans know what they’re getting themselves into when they go to a game,” Lester said. “It’s going to be a three-hour game. You may have a game that’s two hours, two hours and 15 minutes. Great, awesome. You may have a game that’s four hours. That’s the beautiful part of it.

“I get the mound visit thing. But what people that aren’t in the game don’t understand is that there’s so much technology in the game, there’s so many cameras on the field, that every stadium now has a camera on the catcher’s crotch. So they know signs before you even get there. Now we’ve got Apple Watches, now we’ve got people being accused of sitting in a tunnel (stealing signs). So there’s reasons behind the mound visit. He’s not just coming out there asking what time I’m going to dinner or, ‘Hey, how you feeling?’ There’s reasons behind everything, and I think if you take those away, it takes away the beauty of the baseball game.

“Every game has a flow, and I feel like that’s what makes it special. If you want to go to a timed event, go to a timed event. I’m sorry I’m old-school about it, but baseball’s been played the same way for a long time. And now we’re trying to add time to it. We’re missing something somewhere.”

Whether limiting the number of mound visits creates a significant dent in this problem remains to be seen. But excuse the players if they’re skeptical.

“We’ve got instant replay, we’ve got all kinds of different stuff going on. I don’t think (limiting) the mound visits are going to be the key factor to speeding this game up,” Shields said. “Some pitchers take too long, and some hitters take too long. It’s combination of a bunch of stuff.

“I know they’re trying to speed the game up a little bit. I think overall, the game’s going as fast as it possibly could. You’ve got commercials and things like that. TV has a lot to do with it. There’s a bunch of different combinations of things. But as a player, we’ve got to make an adjustment.”