Cubs

Indians pitcher Josh Tomlin will pitch World Series Game 3 against Cubs with ailing father in stands

Indians pitcher Josh Tomlin will pitch World Series Game 3 against Cubs with ailing father in stands

If you don’t think this World Series has it all then you haven’t heard about Cleveland Indians pitcher Josh Tomlin and his father.

As if a matchup between the teams with the longest championship droughts in Major League Baseball wasn’t compelling enough, Tomlin will start the first World Series game at Wrigley Field in 71 years on Friday night in front of his father, Jerry, who only two months ago was paralyzed from the chest down. Game 3 of the series between the Cubs and Indians gets underway at 7:08 p.m. CST. 

Temporarily removed from the Indians rotation in August after he understandably struggled, Tomlin has rediscovered the form that made him one of his team’s most effective starters through July. On Friday, Tomlin will pitch with his father in attendance only nine days after he was released from a Texas rehabilitation center.

“Oh, it means a lot,” Tomlin said. “He hasn't been to a game in quite a while, and it wasn't looking like he was going to get to come to a game at all. So to have him here and just to be able to see him is the thing I'm most looking forward to.”

Tomlin said his family was set to arrive in Chicago late Thursday after traveling from his hometown of Whitehouse, Texas. He had to plans to see his parents for the first time since he went home in mid-August when Jerry Tomlin required surgery after suffering arteriovenous malformation, a tangle of blood vessels on his spinal cord.

The right-hander had already been struggling at the time his father fell ill and couldn’t shake it after he rejoined the team. Tomlin made six starts in August and had an 11.48 ERA in 26 2/3 innings.

Once September rolled around and rosters were expanded, the Indians gave Tomlin what pitching coach Mickey Callaway described as a “breather” designed to help the 32-year-old get centered once again. He didn’t make a start from Sept. 1-13 with only one inning pitched in relief on Sept. 5.

Baseball is a sport that is difficult enough without any distractions. The way the Indians saw it, Tomlin, who had a 3.43 ERA through his first 120 2/3 innings, needed to refocus and they had enough flexibility to offer him a break.

“He’s probably the best we have that would probably be able to separate something like that to the best of their ability,” Callaway said. “When it’s something that major, and it’s your dad, it’s going to take its toll and you can’t expect it not to. If you’re the person or the coach or anybody, you have to support him, be with him and let him know that you can and that’s what we did.

“We had the ability to give him a little bit of a breather and we took that avenue and it’s paying off.”

The biggest difference in Tomlin’s game since he returned to action has been his success with the four-seam fastball. From Opening Day through the end of July, batters hit just .184 against Tomlin’s heater.

The pitch is the primary reason Tomlin posted a 3.28 ERA over 29 starts from August 2015 through July. When he struggled in August, batters hit .590 against Tomlin’s fastball. Callaway said Tomlin began to turn more often to his cut-fastball, which hitters pounced upon, batting .850.

“The execution of my pitches wasn't where it needed to be,” Tomlin said. “I was leaving balls over the middle of the plate, and guys were taking advantage.”

They haven’t been of late. Since Tomlin returned to action on Sept. 14 his fastball has been effective again as opponents are hitting .219 against.

“He had a hiccup in August, but since then he's been pretty good,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “Kind of top of the league. I mean, since last August … you take out this August, he's been one of the better pitchers in baseball.”

Once he returned, Tomlin made four starts during the Indians’ division-clinching run and went 2-1 with a 1.75 ERA in 25 2/3 innings. In two postseason starts, Tomlin is 2-0 with a 2.53 ERA in 10 2/3 innings.

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Over that stretch, Tomlin has surrendered only one homer after he yielded 10 in August.

“Everybody has their ups and downs for different reasons whatever they may be,” Callaway said. “And he had his and now he’s bounced back really good from it.”

It’ll get even better for Tomlin this weekend.

Jerry was released from the Baylor Institute for Rehabilitation on the pitcher’s birthday, which also coincided with the Indians winning the pennant. And on Friday, his parents will be in the stands when Tomlin pitches in the Fall Classic for the first time.

“The fact that we get to experience the World Series together is pretty neat,” Tomlin said.

Glanville: Fall to Spring - A player’s offseason changes meaning with each changing season

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USA TODAY

Glanville: Fall to Spring - A player’s offseason changes meaning with each changing season

A few weeks after the we (the Cubs) were eliminated from the 2003 playoffs, I got a phone call from my college professor. Since it was officially the off-season, I was in the early stages of a break from following a pocket schedule to tell me where to be every day for nearly eight months.

But this was a man I could not refuse. I chose my college major to go into his field of transportation engineering and he was calling because he needed a teaching assistant to accompany him on his trip to South Africa.

One minute I could barely move off of my couch in my Chicago apartment after losing Game 7 against the Marlins. The next minute, I would be standing within miles of the Southern most point in Africa at the Cape of Good Hope. Why not? I needed the distraction so I agreed to go.

The offseason is its own transition. Leaving the regimen of routine, of batting practice and bus times, to an open ended world that you have to re-learn again. When I finished my first full major league season in 1997, I lived in Streeterville at the Navy Pier Apartments.

That offseason, I decided to stay an extra month in Chicago only to wake up panicked for the first two weeks because I thought I was missing stretch time for a home day game. A major league schedule becomes etched in your DNA after a while.

It is also a time that you get to reflect. The regular season does not give you a moment to really get perspective on what was just accomplished, what it all means, what you would change. I always joked about the T-shirt I wanted to a sell that listed all of the things a major league player figures out during the off-season. From the perfect swing to the ex-girlfriend you need to un-break-up with next week.

It all becomes so clear when a 96 MPH fastball isn’t coming at you.

For years, I would arrange a training program to follow, but I quickly learned that I had to mix it up. There was only so much repetition I could stand in the off-season. So some years, I moved to the site of spring training and worked out early with the staff, other years I found a spot at home where I grew up or wherever I played during the season, to train.

I was single when I played, but now with a family, I have a better understanding of the challenges my teammates would express as they were re-engaging as a daily father again after this long absentee existence.

To keep it fresh and spicy, when I got older in the game, I enrolled in a dance studio and took a winter of dance lessons. Salsa, Foxtrot, Rumba, you name it. On Thursdays we had to dance for an hour straight, changing partners in the room every song change. Dancing with the Stars had nothing on me.

Of course, not every offseason is fun and games. There were years when I wasn’t sure I would have a job the next year, or I was in the throes of a trade rumor. In 1997, I was traded from the Cubs to the Phillies two days before Christmas. In 2002, my father passed away on the last game of the season, leading the offseason to be a time of mourning.

By my final season in 2005, I thought I was officially on my couch forever. I was going to fade away into oblivion like many players do. No fanfare, the phone just would stop ringing and I would just let the silence wash over me. The Yankees had called earlier in that off-season, acting like they were doing me a favor which I turned down, then they called back later with a more open tone, seeing me as a potential key piece in their outfield with Bernie Williams slowing down quite a bit at that point.

I did get off that couch for that call, only to get released the last week of camp, so I was back on the couch, with a fiancé and some extra salt in the wounds after that final meeting with Brian Cashman and Joe Torre, who boxed me into the coaches office to tell me I was released. Released? Come on. Never had that happen before.

The Cubs players will go through all of this if they have the good fortune of playing a long time. The wave of uncertainty, the meaning of age in this game spares no one. Each offseason is a time to reset, a period where you get away, seemingly adrift from the game, then as spring gets closer, the shoreline comes up in the horizon once again, magnetically drawing you to its shores for another season.

Amazingly, you don’t always know your age and what it has done to your body. 34 can’t be that old, right? I can still run, or throw 95. Then those 23-year-olds in camp are the wake up call, or maybe you are that 23-year-old and can’t believe your locker is next to Ryne Sandberg’s.

Then you blink, and you are advising Jimmy Rollins about etiquette and realize you have become that guy, the seasoned vet, preaching about locker room respect.

For the 2018 Cubs, they fell short of their goal to repeat their 2016 magic. Failed to meet their singular destination that meant success over all else. Yet, those who come back for 2019, will not be the same player, the same person, that left the locker room at the close this season. They will have grown, changed, aged, wizened up, rehabbed, hardened. All of which means that new perspective is the inevitable part of this time off, whether you like it or not.

Baseball is a game that has this unique dynamic. The highest intensity rhythm of any sport. Every day you are tested. You are pushed to the brink by sheer attrition. According to my teammate Ed Smith, who was playing third base at the time when Michael Jordan reached third, Jordan, after playing well over 100 games in a row, said to him “Man, I have never been this tired in my entire life.”

The grind.

Then it stops on a dime. Season over. Only on baseball’s terms.

But you may be granted another spring. Another crack at it. Until one day, the baseball winter never ends and its time for you to plant your own spring.

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

Ricky Gutiérrez played in the Majors from 1993-2004. He played shortstop for the Cubs from 2000-01 and later signed with them again in June 2004. 

However, Gutiérrez never got back to the Majors with the Cubs, who sent him to the Red Sox the following month. His final Major League game was with the Red Sox on Oct. 3, 2004, the final game of the 2004 regular season; he didn’t play in the 2004 postseason. Gutiérrez was subsequently signed and released by a few other teams, including the White Sox in 2005.

Gutiérrez holds the distinction of being the first Cubs player to hit a regular season grand slam against the White Sox (July 12, 2001). In his two seasons with the Cubs, he tied for the Major League lead in sacrifice bunts both years (16 in 2000, 17 in 2001) which was odd since he had a grand total of 18 sacrifice bunts in his 847 career games NOT in a Cubs uniform. He also had uncharacteristic power with the Cubs:  21 home runs for Chicago in 272 games, 17 home runs with everyone else (847 games).

What Cubs fans probably remember most is what Gutiérrez did against them. On May 6, 1998 he had the lone hit (many dispute it should have been ruled an error) for the Astros off Kerry Wood in Wood’s 20-strikeout masterpiece at Wrigley Field (Gutiérrez was responsible for two of the strikeouts). 

Later that season, on June 26, the number 20 and Gutiérrez were again connected when he had a 20-pitch battle against Bartolo Colón, which ended in a strikeout. It remained the last plate appearance in the Majors of at least 20 pitches until Brandon Belt flew out on the 21st pitch of an at-bat against the Angels' Jaime Barria on April 22, 2018.

Gutiérrez’s nephew, James Jones, played 14 seasons in the NBA for the Pacers, Suns, Trail Blazers, Heat and Cavaliers.