A team effort by the bullpen has the Indians on the verge of the World Series
Six relievers combined to throw 8 1/3 innings in Game 3
TORONTO -- Once again, the bullpen was the difference in Game 3 of the ALCS on Monday night. And once again, it was the Cleveland Indians who came out on top. Cleveland took a commanding 3-0 series lead with their 4-2 win over the Toronto Blue Jays in Game 3 (box score). The next win sends the Tribe to the World Series.
Unlike Games 1 and 2, Indians manager Terry Francona had to dip deep into his bullpen in Game 3. Starter Trevor Bauer was forced to exit after facing only four batters because the cut on his right pinky opened up, and there was simply too much blood to continue. At one point the blood was dripping from his hand onto the mound.
"When I went out there, the first thing I saw was the blood dripping on the rubber," said Francona. "I figured that wasn't good. It was bleeding pretty good. The weird thing, it was only one little spot that opened, but man, it was coming out a lot ... It was bleeding pretty bad."
Bauer's quick exit meant Francona and the Indians would have to fashion 8 1/3 innings from the bullpen to have a chance at a win in Game 3. This was not a "get a lead and hand it over to Andrew Miller and Cody Allen " game. Francona was a long way from being able to do that as Bauer walked off the mound in the first inning.
Fortunately for the Indians, they have experience with games just like this. Four times in September they used a bullpen game, meaning they used a parade of relievers rather than one starter followed by the bullpen. They also had to pick up the slack after a comebacker broke Carlos Carrasco 's hand one batter into the game on Sept. 17.
"We had bullpen days in September," said Zach McAllister , who got the final two outs of the fourth inning and the first out of the fifth inning in Game 3. "I don't think any of us were surprised when any of our names were called. (Having bullpen game experience) definitely helped us out in this situation."
The first reliever out of the bullpen was Dan Otero , who is probably fourth on Francona's Circle of Trust™ depth chart behind Miller, Allen, and Bryan Shaw . Bauer left two runners on base with two outs in the first, and Francona wanted a trusted reliever to escape the jam. Otero did that by getting Russell Martin to ground out to second.
"We all knew that it was a possibility that his finger wasn't feeling great or they wouldn't be able to stop the bleeding," Otero said. "We might be in there early. Hopefully we go out there and perform really well. Either way, we were ready to go."
Otero threw the second inning as well before fellow righty Jeff Manship took over. He recorded four outs as well, then handed the ball off to McAllister. The Indians were on their fourth pitcher before the end of the fourth inning. Otero allowed a solo homer to Michael Saunders and McAllister allowed a run courtesy of Ezequiel Carrera 's leadoff triple in the fifth.
With one out in the fifth, Francona turned the game over to his three trusted end-game relievers. Shaw took over for McAllister and retired five of the six batters he faced. The six:
Josh Donaldson single
Edwin Encarnacion ground out
Troy Tulowitzki ground out
Russell Martin strike out
Michael Saunders strike out
Shaw cut through the top six hitters in the Blue Jays lineup to get the Indians through six innings. The late innings get all the attention, but facing the other team's best hitters in the middle of the games is pretty important too. Shaw was the unsung hero in Game 3. He got through Toronto's best hitters with a 4-2 lead.
"That wasn't the way we drew it up," said Francona. "But about our bullpen, that's one of the most amazing jobs I've ever seen. I mean, starting with Otero to Manship to McAllister to Shaw, if anybody has a hiccup, we probably lose. And they all made pitches, and against some really good hitters."
Shaw allowed a leadoff single to Kevin Pillar in the seventh, at which point everyone expected Miller to walk through the bullpen door. It wasn't Miller though. It was Allen. Francona reversed their roles in Game 3. Allen entered the seventh, and thanks to a sliding Coco Crisp catch, he was able to escape a two-on, two-out situation with the 4-2 lead intact.
Allen started the eighth, got two quick outs, then turned the game over to Miller, who recorded the final four outs of the game. Three were strikeouts, of course. Francona reverse Allen's and Miller's roles due to their recent workloads. Miller got five outs in Game 1 and six outs in Game 2. Allen only recorded three outs in each game. He was better able to go multiple innings in Game 3, which is why he entered the seventh.
"Everybody down there can do the job at any given time," said Shaw. "It's nice. Obviously everybody is talking about our bullpen and what we can do. I think tonight we really showed it all the way through ... I think situations like (the bullpen games in September) got us ready for a game like this."
All told, six Indians relievers combined to hold the Blue Jays to two runs on seven hits and one walk in 8 1/3 innings. They fanned eight, including four of the final seven batters of the game. Shaw was awarded the win for his work against the top six hitters in Toronto's lineup in the fifth and sixth innings. Those were some huge outs to get the ball to Miller and Allen. Or in this case, Allen then Miller.
"It's not a fluke, where we are," said very laid back Miller following Game 3. "We still have a long ways to go. There's 25 guys who prepare to play everyday, and there's a chance they're all going to get in there."
The Indians are one win away from the World Series thanks to some timely hits -- they've only scored eight runs in the three games, and that's been enough for a 3-0 lead -- and their pitching staff as a whole. Corey Kluber and Josh Tomlin were excellent in Game 1 and 2, respectively. In Game 3, it was the bullpen's time to shine, after Bauer had to leave the game early.
"I think it gives our hitters a sense of confidence too, that we have done it before," added Otero. "They don't go on their heels. They have faith in us. After the game, they're in here telling us, 'Great job, bullpen.' It took a team effort tonight."
Things had a chance to get really messy for the Indians in Game 3. Not only on the scoreboard, but for the rest of the series. The Blue Jays could have forced Francona to burn through his bullpen and leave him shorthanded in Games 4 and 5 on Tuesday and Wednesday. The relievers made sure that didn't happen.
"I'm guessing everybody will be available tomorrow," said Francona.
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