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.

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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.”

It might have been just another dinger in homer-happy All-Star Game, but Willson Contreras will remember it forever

It might have been just another dinger in homer-happy All-Star Game, but Willson Contreras will remember it forever

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Willson Contreras’ third-inning home run might not have ended up standing out too much in an All-Star Game featuring a jaw-dropping and record-shattering 10 dingers.

But, obviously, it will always stand out to the guy who hit it.

“I enjoyed every single second that I spent out there.”

Remarkably, Contreras repeated his feat from two seasons ago, when he hit his first big league homer on the first big league pitch he ever saw. Ditto on Tuesday night at Nationals Park, when he launched the first pitch he saw as an All Star out over the wall in left field.

“When I hit the ball and thought it was gone, I went back to 2016, playing in Chicago. It was the same thing, first pitch for a homer,” Contreras, all smiles, said following the American League’s 8-6 victory. “I’m really blessed with these kinds of situations. Those moments, they’re going to be history and they’re going to be in my mind and my heart.”

Contreras’ long ball was the highlight of the evening for fans watching back home in Chicago. Javy Baez got a hit in his first All-Star at-bat but was outdone by his teammate. White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu was hitless in his two trips to the plate.

And while it will be a highlight on this night for Cubs fans, it will be a highlight forever for Contreras, who enjoyed the heck out of his first All-Star experience.

“‘I did it, I did it,’” he said when asked what was going through his head. “I knew it was something special. And I wasn’t trying to do too much because these guys are nasty, throwing 98 in the first inning. I just tried to get the hit out.”

The nasty guy he went deep against was Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Blake Snell, whose 2.27 ERA on the season made him a very worthy inclusion on the AL roster. But Contreras was more impressed with the guy who started the game for the National League, raving about Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer after the game.

“He was great, man. Great stuff, he gets so into the game,” Contreras said. “I would like to have him one day on my team or play with him for a few years. That guy is amazing.”

That’s not the current Nationals star Cubs fans are dreaming about, Willy, but point taken.

But it wasn’t Snell or Scherzer or even Baez or Jon Lester, also in the NL dugout, who Contreras was thinking about the most during his home run trot. Instead, Contreras was thinking about his grandfather, Ernesto, who passed away a few years ago.

“My grandpa, he died in 2015,” Contreras said. “I grew up with him.

“He didn’t play ball. But I feel like every time I go out there and step into the box, he’s at my back. It just feels amazing when you hit a homer or do something special, look at the sky and you know that he’s there smiling somewhere.”

It all made for a pretty incredible night for Contreras, who has officially and loudly taken his place among baseball’s best on the game’s biggest stage.

The only thing that was missing? The ball.

Yeah, Contreras didn’t get the ball, not that he really expected to. But if you’ve got it, he wants it.

“I don’t think they’re giving it back,” he said with a grin.

We’ll see. Social media’s a powerful tool. So reach out.

Manny Machado as a Dodger creates a formidable foe out west for the Cubs

Manny Machado as a Dodger creates a formidable foe out west for the Cubs

Well, it's finally happening, or at least it's going to happen. The Athletics' Ken Rosenthal reported during the MLB All-Star game that the Baltimore Orioles had agreed to officially move their franchise player Manny Machado. Neither team has confirmed anything at this time, but the deal has reportedly been as close to a done deal for the last day or so, and it would seem Machado is destined for finish his 2018 campaign in Hollywood. 

Of course, with this addition, the reigning National League champions look primed for another deep postseason run. Though, the club is clinging to a half-game lead in the NL West, with Machado in tow the Dodgers are right with the Cubs and Brewers as the elite squads in the National League. It could be argued the Dodgers didn't necessarily 'need' Machado, with an offense that was already in the top 10 in runs scored, but Machado might be the perfect addition for the Dodgers. 

After losing their young star shortstop Corey Seager for the season with an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery, the Dodgers were in need of a more permanent solution at shortstop. And despite Machado's defensive metrics showing a steep decline in his glove at shortstop, the Dodgers will welcome his robust slash line of .315/.387/.575 while ignoring any shortcomings on defense. 

But what this means for the Cubs, who are only two games off the 2016 World Series club pace, is the path to another championship will likely require another run-in with the Dodgers. The club's biggest threat has been at this point the Brewers, but it's not hard to envision the Dodgers distancing themselves as the clear favorites in the National League with Machado in the heart of the order.

The good news for the Chicago is at least Machado didn't end up in Milwaukee, but that also could mean the Brewers make a more concerted effort to acquire pitching before the July 30th deadline. The Cubs will also see the return of Yu Darvish, who despite only managing to win one game this season in a Cubs uniform, will be a massive upgrade over the scuffling Tyler Chatwood. If the Cubs pitching can start producing like many expected them to before the start of 2018, and guys like Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant start to hit alongside All-Stars Javier Baez and Willson Contreras, it's not hard to imagine the Cubs separating themselves from the pack in the 2nd half of season. 

The Dodgers are no strangers to blockbuster deadline deals, acquiring Yu Darvish in a similar three-month rental situation, but the Cubs getting a bat like Rizzo right and an arm like Darvish healthy would be better than any deal Theo Epstein could make to improve this team. And if it's not enough, the Cubs have a solid track record of grabbing former Dodger rentals in the off-season. The push for the playoffs starts Thursday for the north-siders.