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.
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.
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.”