Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona hasn't had a significant managerial decision backfire on him in the playoffs, a trend/narrative that wasn't slowed when the World Series shifted to Clark and Addison.
Case in point in the Indians’ 1-0 win over the Cubs in Game 3 of the World Series Friday night at Wrigley Field: Francona pulled starter Josh Tomlin, who only threw 58 pitches and had scattered just three baserunners, with two outs in the fourth. Andrew Miller entered and struck out three in 1 1/3 innings, but was replaced in the top of the seventh for pinch-hitter Coco Crisp, who delivered the go-ahead and ultimately game-winning single off Cubs reliever Carl Edwards Jr.
But by pulling Tomlin so early and only having Miller threw 17 pitches to cover four outs, Francona was forced to turn his bullpen over to Bryan Shaw, who entered Friday with a 4.26 postseason ERA.
Despite Jorge Soler’s triple (which was the result of Indians right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall mis-playing a ball in right field), Shaw worked through 1 2/3 innings before turning things over to Cody Allen for 1 1/3 scoreless frames to close things out — including strikeouts of Kris Bryant and Javier Baez with the tying run on third base.
“We know we're going to have our hands full to beat these guys, and tonight was a good example,” Francona said. “I mean, that was as close a ballgame as you're ever going to find, and we found a way to manage to win that game. You know, we say it all the time. We want to be one run better. That's about as true to form as you can get.”
It wasn’t just Francona’s bullpen decisions that worked out, though. Carlos Santana only had two balls hit his way in his five innings playing left field — which represented one more defensive inning than he played at that position previously in his career — with those being a routine Bryant flyout and a Ben Zobrist single, which was fielded by center fielder Tyler Naquin anyway. Francona emptied his bench, deploying Crisp, Michael Martinez, Yan Gomes, Rajai Davis and Brandon Guyer throughout the evening.
“We needed to win that game in nine or (Corey) Kluber was going to end up hitting at some point,” Francona said. “As fun of a game as it was to be a part of, that was agonizing because we used so many guys.”
Meanwhile, a handful of Maddon’s in-game decisions didn’t produce altogether positive results, even if the thinking behind them was grounded. Maddon left catcher Miguel Montero in to face Miller in the fifth with a runner on second, only to have Montero line out to right.
Having Montero pinch hit in the fifth saved Kyle Schwarber for a critical spot in the eighth, though the 2014 No. 3 overall pick meekly popped out to second base.
The decision to leave Edwards in to face Crisp instead of going to left-hander Mike Montgomery backfired, too, even though in doing so the Cubs got the matchup they preferred in that situation.
“It was either CJ versus him or Montgomery versus Guyer, that's it,” Maddon said. “And just talking it through, we liked that matchup. That's it. We liked it. So it's one or the other. You have to pick your poison right there. It just didn't work out. But that's what we knew, and we chose that and he got a hit.”
It is worth noting, though, that Maddon’s decision to insert right-hander Justin Grimm into the game’s second biggest situation (by leverage index) before the ninth inning was a bit curious, given the reliever had an ERA over 10 in the playoffs when he jogged in from the left field bullpen. With the bases loaded and one out, Grimm induced his first double play of the 2016 season when he got Francisco Lindor to hit a ground ball to Addison Russell, who fired to Javier Baez to start what was at the time a massive 6-4-3 turn.
So not every decision Maddon made was a bust, but in a 1-0 game, the ones Francona went with wound up paying off yet again as the Indians took control of the World Series.
“We have a lot of stuff to juggle right now,” Miller said. “Fortunately that's on Tito. He does such a good job of it.”