Coco Crisp comes through in a pinch as Cleveland Indians take 2-1 edge over Chicago Cubs in World Series
CHICAGO — It’s a managerial move that would go unnoticed in, say, mid-July.
A rather ordinary decision to pinch hit for a pitcher in a National League ballpark with a runner on third base.
The hit, a flare into right field, was in no way sensational, either.
But it’s not July, it’s October and there was nothing routine about this night.
It began with the first World Series game at Wrigley Field in 71 years and it ended as a 2-1 best-of-seven series lead for the Cleveland Indians and a missed opportunity for the Chicago Cubs, who lost 1-0.
From the time 41,703 fans packed themselves into The Friendly Confines, there was a whole lot of excitement and a whole lot of tension, a recipe for a nail-biter.
That’s exactly what they got.
In the seventh inning, when the Indians found a way to get a runner to third base, manager Terry Francona had a decision to make.
With Andrew Miller, a post-season weapon who has been making some of the best hitters in the game look silly this month, standing on deck, Francona could have let his pitcher hit and sent him out for another inning on the mound.
After all, Miller had already struck out three of the four hitters he had faced.
But an important run was 90 feet away, so Francona turned to Coco Crisp and the 36-year-old pinch-hitter delivered a looping RBI single for the only run of the ball game.
“No matter if you get the big hit or lay the bunt down, you want to do something to help the team,” said Crisp, who was acquired from the Oakland A’s on Aug. 31. “Fortunately, today, it was the big hit.”
The Cubs had two glorious opportunities to tie the game, but came up empty.
In the bottom half of the seventh inning, Indians right-fielder Lonnie Chisenhall missed Jorge Soler’s fly ball down the line, allowing Soler to get to third base, but Cubs post-season star Javier Baez grounded out to end the inning.
An Anthony Rizzo single to lead off the bottom of the ninth inning provided another opportunity. But with Cubs on second and third, Indians closer Cody Allen struck out Baez to end the game.
“We were fortunate to string enough good pitches together there to get the final few outs,” Allen said.
Maddon took notice of Francona’s decision on Miller.
“That’s the good ol’ National League right there,” Maddon said. “That’s much more difficult to really elongate a pitching performance unless you have a significant lead, then you can just let him hit in that moment.”
Now the Cubs will have to deal with Indians ace Corey Kluber Saturday in Game 4 in their first Fall Classic appearance since 1945.
Maddon isn’t fretting just yet, but his team can’t continue to chase pitches like they have.
“I thought our guys were ready to play tonight,” Maddon said. “They had a good vibe about them. We just failed to stay within our strike zone.”
Neither side could muster much in the way of offence as the powerful Cubs managed just five hits Friday and stranded seven runners, while the Indians had eight hits and left seven on base.
It didn’t have much to do with overwhelming pitching performances, either, as the Cubs’ Kyle Hendricks and Indians’ Josh Tomlin were both out of the game in the fifth inning, the first time in post-season history both starting pitchers have been yanked before the sixth inning in a scoreless game.
But the bullpens were excellent.
The Indians threatened early when Jason Kipnis rolled an infield single and Francisco Lindor shot the left-field gap for a double, but Hendricks dipped into his bag of tricks to help himself out.
After picking off a runner in his last start, Hendricks, who led baseball with a minuscule 2.13 ERA during the regular season, did the same to Lindor, becoming the first pitcher since Kerry Wood, the New York Yankees’ version in 2010, with multiple pickoffs in a post-season.
Originally, first base umpire Marvin Hudson called Lindor safe, but Maddon asked for a review, which showed Rizzo clearly applying the tag before Lindor’s fingers reached the bag.
Hendricks then struck out Mike Napoli to strand Kipnis at third.
Over the first four innings, Hendricks and Tomlin went back and forth, keeping hitters off balance with off-speed stuff as both pitchers command fastballs that sit in the high-80s.
Hendricks, who became the first Cubs pitcher to start a World Series game at Wrigley Field since Hank Borowy in Game 7 of the 1945 Fall Classic, was walking a bit of a tightrope allowing five hits, all singles, through the first four scoreless innings, while Tomlin permitted only one Cubs hit.
In the top of the fifth, Hendricks’ high-wire act came to an end.
After Indians centre-fielder Tyler Naquin singled, Hendricks walked Carlos Santana and then plunked Kipnis with his 56th pitch of the night to load the bases with only one out.
Maddon had seen enough and called on right-hander Justin Grimm to face Lindor, who promptly grounded into an inning-ending double play.
Tomlin’s night also came to an end in the fifth inning as Francona decided to turn to Miller with two outs to face pinch-hitter Miguel Montero and Soler on second base.
Miller, like Grimm, got out of it as Montero hit it hard, but directly at Chisenhall.
Miller struck out the side in the sixth, but was lifted for Crisp in the top of the seventh.
It was a move that paid off in a World Series lead when Crisp delivered and Michael Martinez crossed home plate with what stood up as the winning run.