There was an unmistakable, fervent, celebratory air Friday in Chicago, not as the first pitch approached, but as the sun rose. It is permissible and encouraged, because so many people in and around Wrigley Field had never seen a World Series game in the old yard. Nor had their parents.
But there is a problem with such a situation, one that’s not solved by the lines to get into burger joints and bars, one that’s not solved by the cash flowing into the pop-up T-shirt stands. The problem is this: the Chicago Cubs still have to play these World Series games, and that can turn that early-morning joy into pit-of-the-stomach dread.
Here was Coco Crisp, a veteran Cleveland Indians outfielder, to provide it. Wrigley Field’s first World Series game in 71 years contained only one run. Crisp provided it with a two-out, pinch-hit single in the seventh, the single that gave the Indians not only a 1-0 victory in Game 3, but a 2-1 lead in the series.
Now, if the Cubs are to take their first title since 1908, they can’t do it here, in confines that seemed even friendlier than normal Friday afternoon. The Indians have guaranteed themselves at least a return home — unless they win the next two at Wrigley. What might that make Chicago feel like?
The third game was by far the crispest in this series thus far. But it also featured this postseason’s best manager, Terry Francona of Cleveland, outmaneuvering his counterpart, Joe Maddon of the Cubs. These weren’t the kind gaffes that have haunted the Cubs for a century. But Crisp’s game-winning single came off reliever Carl Edwards Jr., who was facing his eighth hitter and had just allowed a single, a wild pitch and a walk.
Francona got his best players — including the dominant player of this postseason, lefty reliever Andrew Miller — into the spots that mattered most. And the Indians lead because of it.
When the game began, there was no way either manager could have predicted it would end with just one run. The three flags on each foul pole — one for each player in franchise history who has had his number retired — blew stiff and straight out of the yard. None of the players represented — Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ron Santo, Ferguson Jenkins, Ryne Sandberg and Greg Maddux–ever played in a World Series game here. But they all know what those stiff flags meant, seven decades ago and Friday night: death to pitchers who can’t keep the ball down.
So what happened, on one night in late October, showed exactly how the strategy of postseason baseball has completely transformed over the past decade or more. There will almost certainly never again be a Grady Little, allowing his ace — even if it’s Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez — to go through the heart of a playoff lineup for a fourth time.
Neither Josh Tomlin of the Indians nor Kyle Hendricks of the Cubs has the stuff that seems required for pitchers these days, fastballs at 94 or 95 mph. But in their abbreviated stints, each controlled the opposing offense, with some help of a charitable strike zone of home plate umpire John Hirschbeck. Through four innings, on a night when a midrange flyball could have been carried into the basket that sits atop the ivy-covered walls, only three outs were recorded by outfielders.
Hendricks came into the game with the better pedigree; an ERA title, earned this year, would do that. But he also had the confidence gained in one of the most significant moments in franchise history, when he two-hit the Dodgers over 71⁄3 innings in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series not even a week earlier, providing the victory that essentially sent this city into a weeklong party, lifting the Cubs into the Series.
But he wasn’t as sharp on Friday, giving up two hits in a first inning, getting a double play to escape the second, and pitching around a two-on, one-out situation in the fourth. Tomlin, to that point, was sharper, allowing only a single and a walk through four.
And yet, who knew each would be in danger of being pulled in the fifth? In 1945, the last time the World Series came here, two pitchers carrying shutouts into the middle of the game would have rolled on through. But the strategy to turn to the bullpen employed by Francona and Maddon, seven decades later, was basically unassailable.
Start with Hendricks. He loaded the bases with one out by hitting Jason Kipnis with a pitch. Thanks for playing. The next batter was dynamic shortstop Francisco Lindor, who had singled his first two trips. There is no tenet in 21st century postseason baseball more important than: be careful when your starter faces hitters for the third time.
So after 85 pitches, Maddon made his move. The choice could have been the problem, because Justin Grimm is not one of the Cubs’ most electric arms. In a situation in which the Cubs desperately needed a double play, Maddon summoned a pitcher who hadn’t induced one all year.
Yet as Lindor worked the count full, Grimm came with a curveball. Lindor hit it crisply, but right at second baseman Javier Baez. When the ensuing double play was complete, Grimm whirled and pumped his fist in the air, then thumped his chest. Wrigley about lost it.
Tomlin’s departure, engineered by Francona, was less obvious but just as sensible. He gave up a leadoff single to Jorge Soler, who advanced to second on Baez’s squib in front of the plate. Tomlin’s biggest pitch may have been his 58th, on which he got Addison Russell to ground out, with Soler holding. But it also was his last.
Here came Francona, who went with the virtually unhittable Miller. Pinch-hitter Miguel Montero lined hard to right to end the inning, but Miller blew through the sixth, striking out the top three hitters in the Cubs’ lineup.
Part of playing this high-leverage game is inserting your best players into the tensest situations, the situations when the game could turn. Maddon’s use of Grimm worked, perhaps against logic. He then sent Edwards out not just for a clean sixth, but to start the seventh. Maybe that could work. But after the leadoff single by Roberto Perez, a sacrifice bunt, then the wild pitch, then the four-pitch walk to Rajai Davis, how could he face Crisp?
He did, and Crisp delivered. Francona then got the seventh out of setup man Bryan Shaw, who allowed Soler’s two-out triple but got Baez to ground out. And when Shaw got the first two outs of the eighth — the second overpowering Cubs pinch-hitter Kyle Schwarber — but then allowed a single, he turned to closer Cody Allen, who allowed a single and was victimized by Mike Napoli’s two-out error, but struck out Baez with runners on second and third to end it.
Advantage, Francona. Advantage, Indians. What mood Chicago wakes up in Saturday remains to be seen.
ab r h bi ab r h bi
Santana lf 1 0 0 0 Fowler cf 4 0 1 0
Miller rp 0 0 0 0 Bryant 3b 3 0 0 0
Crisp ph 1 0 1 1 Rizzo 1b 4 0 1 0
Shaw rp 0 0 0 0 Coghlan pr 0 0 0 0
Guyer lf 0 0 0 0 Zobrist lf 4 0 1 0
Kipnis 2b 3 0 1 0 Contrrs c 4 0 0 0
Lindor ss 4 0 2 0 Soler rf 3 0 2 0
Napoli 1b 4 0 0 0 Heyward pr 1 0 0 0
Ramirez 3b 4 0 2 0 Baez 2b 4 0 0 0
Allen rp 0 0 0 0 Russell ss 3 0 0 0
Chsnhll rf 4 0 0 0 Hndrcks sp 1 0 0 0
Perez c 3 0 1 0 Grimm rp 0 0 0 0
Martinz pr 1 1 0 0 Montero ph 1 0 0 0
Naquin cf 2 0 1 0 EdwrdsJr rp 0 0 0 0
Gomes c 1 0 0 0 Mntgmry rp 0 0 0 0
Tomlin sp 1 0 0 0 Strop rp 0 0 0 0
Davis lf 0 0 0 0 Schwrbr ph 1 0 0 0
Chapman rp 0 0 0 0
Totals 29 1 8 1 Totals 33 0 5 0
Cleveland 000 000 100 — 1
Chi. Cubs 000 000 000 — 0
E—Napoli 1. LOB—Chicago 0, Cleveland 0. 3B—Soler (1). SB—Heyward (1).
IP H R ER BB SO
Tomlin 4 2-3 2 0 0 1 1
A.Millr W, 2-0 1 1-3 0 0 0 0 3
B.Shaw H, 4 1 2-3 2 0 0 0 1
Allen S, 6 1 1-3 1 0 0 0 3
Hendricks 4 1-3 6 0 0 2 6
Grimm 2-3 0 0 0 0 0
Edwrds L, 0-1 1 2-3 2 1 1 1 1
Montgomery 2-3 0 0 0 0 0
Strop 2-3 0 0 0 0 1
A.Chapman 1 0 0 0 0 2
Inherited runners-scored—Allen 1-0, A.Miller 1-0, Grimm 3-0, Montgomery 1-0. HBP—Kipnis (by Hendricks). WP—Edwards Jr. (1).
Umpires—Home, John Hirschbeck; First, Marvin Hudson; Second, Tony Randazzo; Third, Joe West.
T—3:33. A—41,703 (42,157).