It was absolutely beautiful and, without naming names (cough, BUCK, cough), this was a perfect juxtaposition from the debacle we saw earlier this week.
I'm firmly of the opinion that managers should never manage to stats. It's particularly mind-boggling how people who fancy themselves "old school" and "anti-stats" get caught up in (individual) "wins" and "saves" -- sorry, guys, those are stats -- instead of worrying about the only task that actually matters: The team getting a win.
Not only that, sometimes managers fall victim to worrying about the next few days when in the playoffs, such as worrying about pitch counts on perfectly-healthy relievers.
Call it the "what if" syndrome.
"What if we get a lead in extra innings and we don't have our closer?"
"What if we lose the lead after having already taken out our best reliever?"
"What if all of our relievers are tired for Game 2?"
Francona took that binder, trampled all over it and burned it in the dugout for all to see in Game 1.
Starting pitcher Trevor Bauer was through 4 2/3 innings with a two-run lead, meaning he was one out away from qualifying for a win. Oh boy, better leave him in. Get him that W, right?
Screw that, Francona correctly says rhetorically, as he brings in stud, Swiss-army-knife reliever Andrew Miller. It's on this note that we should delve off into a quick tangent. Don't worry, it's topical.
Remember when the Indians traded for Andrew Miller and so many of us assumed he would become their "closer." I mean, why wouldn't he? That's what baseball teams do. They get a bad ass like Miller and he's the closer. Francona, though, realized what he had in Miller and how silly it would have been to pigeonhole him into a set inning. This was a lefty who could plow through the middle of the order and work multiple innings if need be. It would be a waste of resources to simply relegate him to ninth-inning duty. I praised the use of Miller in mid-August and nothing has changed since.
In fact, it kicked into high gear during Game 1 on Thursday night. Miller took the ball from Bauer in the fifth inning and ended up going two innings and throwing 40 pitches.
Gasp! Forty pitches?! From a reliever? Why, what has this world come to?
How many managers would use their best late-inning reliever in Game 1 of a five-game series with two outs in the fourth inning through one out in the seventh while letting him rack up 40 pitches?
One. Terry Francona.
Granted, Miller is special, but Francona went beyond that with his use of Cody Allen -- who also threw exactly 40 pitches in closing this thing down -- and we'll get to him. Yes, a great aspect to Francona's managerial job in Game 1 that was so gorgeous with his relievers was that he threw out the pitch counts.
Now, by no means do I discount limiting workload in the regular season, but this isn't the regular season. It's a best-of-five series in which the Indians have two of their best three starting pitchers hurt and their lone remaining ace set to take the hill in Game 2. From Francona's perspective, you get this game and the series turns on its head and puts you in control. Why the hell not go all out?
There's also this: Miller hadn't pitched since Sunday. He was fresh. And after Game 2 on Friday, there's a day off. He's fine.
Once Miller was removed, Bryan Shaw got two outs before Francona went to his closer, Cody Allen. Allen very rarely works more than an inning, but this time around he got five outs and threw 40 pitches for the save.
Same argument as above with Miller. Allen is a stud. He's locked in right now (0.54 ERA in his last 16 2/3 innings in the regular season) and he hadn't pitched since Sunday. So he was fresh. Forty pitches to a reliever isn't like 150 to a starter.
Sure, maybe Francona can only use one of these guys in Game 2. Maybe both are limited to something like 10 pitches. Maybe they'll both become too fatigued to pitch by Game 5.
So what? The questions could be endless on either side.
What if the Indians lost Game 1 by Francona playing it safe and/or managing to the win stat? What if now they sweep the Red Sox and give Miller and Allen four days' rest before the ALCS? What if both are feeling good enough to work a "normal" inning in Game 2?
Bottom line, the Indians got a win and now they are up 1-0 in the series with Corey Kluber -- possibly the AL Cy Young winner -- starting Game 2.
Kluber, by the way, is a workhorse who routinely rocks pitch counts up into triple digits. In 32 starts this season, he had three complete games, five other games where he went eight innings and 19 total where he got through at least seven. He's a very good bet to get deep in the game and Francona was operating in Game 1 with this knowledge as a safety net.
The Indians aren't in bad shape at all. They are in excellent shape, thanks in part to their manager working his ass off in Game 1.
What an aesthetically pleasing performance by Francona, notably with what else we've seen this week.