Indians Ride Bullpen to Game One Win
By Peter Santo
“Nobody ever said you had to be conventional to win,” said Indians Manager Terry Francona after his Tribe defeated the Red Sox 5-4 in game one of the ALDS at Progressive Field.
The Kansas City Royals showed last season that bullpens can win championships, and that a couple flamethrowers in the back end of the bullpen can mean the difference between winning and losing a playoff series.
Playoff baseball brings with it a sense of urgency that is not seen in any other sport. Pitchers often have as short a leash as ever in the postseason, and that certainly was the case Thursday night.
In the postseason, managers must use their best relievers whenever the situation calls for it, though apparently no one told that to Buck Showalter, even if that means using them much earlier than usual. It was a bit of a surprise when Andrew Miller trotted out of the pen to face Brock Holt in the fifth inning.
Tasked with protecting a one-run lead against the heart of the best lineup in baseball, Miller was “a bit overamped,” as Mookie Betts put it, giving up a walk to Betts followed by a double by Brock Holt. Just like that, it brought up the matchup we’d all been waiting for, David Ortiz looking to extend the lead, Miller looking to end the rally.
Ortiz got ahead in the count 2-1, before Miller uncorked a 97 MPH fastball followed by an 86 MPH slider, and just like that Big Papi had gone down swinging, and the rally had ended.
After the walk and the double, Miller would go on to retire the next seven batters, four on strikeouts, beginning with Ortiz. He threw 40 pitches, a season-high. He deflated the highest-scoring offense in baseball during the regular season.
“The playoffs are a different animal,” Miller said. “It’s something that whenever Tito asks anybody to pitch we’re all ready to go.”
Miller is a rare breed, he’s arguably the best reliever in baseball, but unlike most top relievers, he doesn’t pitch exclusively in the ninth inning. In fact, Miller isn’t even the Indians’ closer, that role belongs to Cody Allen, who certainly proved that he belonged in game one.
After Brock Holt homered off Bryan Shaw to bring the Red Sox within a run, Cody Allen was brought on for the five out save.
Ortiz led off with a double to right center, and it looked like the decision to use Miller early might backfire on the Indians. However Allen wasn’t going to let that happen, with a little help from the Red Sox of course.
After Marco Hernandez pinch ran for Ortiz, Allen got Hanley Ramirez to ground out to second. That brought up Xander Bogaerts with a chance to tie things up, but that’s when the Red Sox began helping Allen out.
Allen began throwing curveball after curveball, burying them in the dirt, and the Red Sox kept chasing them… and chasing them… and chasing them. Even with a runner on third, Allen simply trusted catcher Roberto Perez to block the pitches. And block them he did, every single one of them, it was a tremendous defensive performance by the Indians’ catcher, who also added a solo home run, one of three hit by the Indians in the fourth inning.
Bogaerts struck out swinging to end the eighth, and after Koji Uehara pitched a scoreless bottom half of the eighth, we went to the top of the ninth, with Allen looking to close out game one.
By this point the Sox had to know the curveball was coming, but even so, they still couldn’t hit it. Jackie Bradley Jr. and Sandy Leon struck out swinging, on curveballs of course, to begin the ninth.
After Andrew Benintendi singled, it looked like Dustin Pedroia had worked a walk, as he was halfway to first base before the first base umpire decided he did indeed swing at the 3-2 curveball. Just like that, the ballgame was over, and Cleveland had drawn first blood in this ALDS.
Terry Francona and the Indians went all in to win game one, which potentially could leave them shorthanded for game two. But with his ace Corey Kluber scheduled to pitch in a rematch of Opening Day on Friday, Francona was as confident as ever.
“I was joking with Kluber and told him he’s on a tight 165-to-170 [pitch count in Game 2],” Francona said.