CHICAGO – By utilizing Andrew Miller in a less traditional manner than most dominant relievers are employed, Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona has his team in position to win its first World Series championship since 1948.
Chicago Cubs skipper Joe Maddon has never been afraid to venture outside the “book rules” of managing either, and his bold usage of closer Aroldis Chapman on Sunday night might have kept alive Chicago’s hopes of ending its 108-year World Series title drought.
Chapman pitched a career-high 2 2/3 innings for the save, the longest outing of his career and one that might have reminded old-timers of Rollie Fingers or Bruce Sutter in their prime. Chapman retired eight of the 10 men he faced, fanning four, to end the Cubs’ 3-2 win that pulled them within 3-2 of Cleveland and forced the series back to Progressive Field on Tuesday night.
“That was a big ask, and it was impressive,” Francona said of Chapman’s first World Series save. “It was like what Andrew’s done for us.”
Miller made no contribution in this one, Chicago keeping him out of action as it touched Trevor Bauer for three fourth-inning runs for a lead that held up for the chilly night’s remainder. The Cleveland relievers did their part by tossing four scoreless innings after Bauer’s departure, but they never got in position to dictate the game the way they have during most of October.
Credit Cubs pitching for that. Jon Lester worked six effective innings, Carl Edwards Jr. got the first out of the seventh after Mike Napoli stroked a leadoff single, and Chapman sauntered in from the bullpen for the rest.
Maddon said he talked with Chapman before the game to inform him of a potentially expanded role.
“You can’t really do it during the regular season because you don’t want to beat guys up,” Maddon said. “Tonight, we had it all in play. He’s kind of fresh, he hasn’t been overused.”
Chapman logged just one inning in the first four games, wrapping up a 5-1 triumph in Game 2 on Wednesday night. He more than made up for his relative inactivity in this stint, throwing 42 pitches, 26 for strikes.
Cleveland had chances late.
In the seventh, the Napoli single, a passed ball and a hit batter put runners at first and second for Roberto Perez, who bounced out to second baseman Javier Baez for the third out.
Chapman caused his own problems in the eighth, forgetting to cover first on Rajai Davis’ hot shot down the first base line that Anthony Rizzo gloved and had to eat. Davis stole second and third, but Jason Kipnis fouled out and Francisco Lindor looked at strike three.
“You know, it wasn’t like we were going to sack the bats up if we didn’t score in the eighth,” Francona said. “But Chapman was impressive. He gets behind 3-0 and then throws a get-me-over strike at 99. Nobody runs to the bat rack when Chapman comes in.”
Not too many are eager to Miller either, with the possible exception of Dexter Fowler, who homered off the lefty in the eighth inning Saturday during the Indians’ 7-2 win. Miller was MVP of the American League Championship Series and could garner some votes for World Series MVP if Cleveland wins.
Because of Miller’s durability and the nature of postseason play, when teams almost never play more than three days in a row, Francona has enjoyed the luxury of employing the veteran as early as the fifth inning. Miller’s excellence, along with the steady presence of closer Cody Allen, basically gives opponents 12 to 15 outs to do business before Francona goes to the whip.
“It’s really not rocket science,” Francona said. “When you have good players, you let them play. That’s part of it. Sometimes, it’s getting out of the way.”
Which is what Maddon did once Chapman took the mound. Given a decision between pinch-hitting for Chapman in the eighth inning with Kyle Schwarber, Maddon opted to eat the sure strikeout from Chapman so that his closer could go back out for another inning.
In the ninth, Napoli grounded out to short, and then Carlos Santana flied out to right. And when Jose Ramirez fanned, Chapman had the save that saved his team’s season.
Now Maddon can ink Schwarber into the lineup for the series’ remainder in Cleveland, where the designated hitter is in effect. Maddon managed under DH rules for eight years with the Tampa Bay rays and really didn’t like it, but he is grateful for it now.
“It adds length and depth to our lineup,” he said of Schwarber’s presence. “We get to play the next two games with rested starters … I’ve been waiting to play the seventh game of the World Series my whole life.”
If Maddon and the Cubs can force that seventh game, they might look to the other dugout as the inspiration for the move that helped them reach Game 6.
(Content provided by Gracenote, Sports Direct Inc and Sport Xchange)