Cubs fan, Indians fan, neutral observer, homesick beat writer, wayward channel surfer, sleepy dog -- doesn't matter who you are, or why you're with us this October. When Joe Maddon walked out to the mound in the seventh inning Sunday night, pointed his left hand to the bullpen, and summoned hell and fire and filth and chaos into the fifth game of the World Series, you felt things.
You felt confidence. You felt fear. You felt like you were seeing baseball players pushed to the brink of their abilities, and that something just might snap. You felt like a manager was choosing this moment to make a final stand. It was Neo stopping bullets, it was Anton Chigurh flipping a coin, it was Rocky drinking raw eggs, it was Danny Ocean laying out the plan. I submit that those feelings, our feelings, are going to make baseball managers smarter in the next 30 years than they have been in the past 30, because those feelings are every person on the field's feelings, too.
Some background: What Maddon did -- bringing in his closer, Aroldis Chapman, to protect a one-run lead for eight whole outs -- is not unprecedented. I have in my hands a list of everything that has ever happened in a baseball game, and it says here that just two and a half weeks ago the Dodgers brought Kenley Jansen into the seventh inning to try to save Game 4 of the National League Championship Series. (He gassed out, setting up Clayton Kershaw's save.) Brad Lidge attempted an eight-out save in the 2004 NLDS (but blew it), and there was Norm Charlton in the '95 American League Division Series (blew it), and, well, if you go back to the 1970s Rollie Fingers ...
The list of recent examples drops off quickly, because this is an unconventional move. Controversial, even. It might have even been controversial within the small group of people standing on the mound at Wrigley Field when Joe Maddon handed over the baseball. Coming in to get a save of even four outs, Chapman said earlier this year, is "not my favorite thing." To which Maddon said at the time, "I did not know that. Not that it would matter."
If it's not Chapman's favorite thing, though, I suspect it is every one of his teammates' favorite thing. I suspect every one of them was cheering.
A lot of the decisions analysts wish teams would make are complicated sells. For instance, over the past few offseasons I've spent a lot of time arguing against managers who go to their aces on short rest in the postseason, even in must-win games. The argument is simple: We have many dozens of examples of great pitchers going on short rest in recent years, and a convincing record of them being much worse than aces in those starts. So much worse that, for most pitching staffs, the fourth starter is probably a better option than a tired ace. (Kluber and the Indians' three-man rotation are excepted.)
This is a simple argument, but a complicated sell, because it's an emotionally unappealing one. I can try to convince you with what the Greeks called Logos -- a logical appeal -- or I can try to convince you with what they called Ethos -- my sterling character -- but I will lose the argument soundly if it comes down to Pathos: emotional appeal. It's just more emotionally satisfying to go with the ace. The team wants it, the ace wants it, the fans want it -- the manager wants it.
With Chapman in the seventh, though, I don't need charts with an appendix explaining leverage index to convince anybody. The argument is simple -- the game is on the line, and Chapman is the best, most exciting, most dominant, most intimidating option we have -- and so, too, is the sell: Wouldn't it be fun to see him here? You don't have to convince anybody to eat their dessert, and you don't have to convince them that Chapman's good and fun as heck.
Maddon's quote from August -- "not that it matters" -- is great, but for many managers, it does matter. For one thing, rigid and clear bullpen roles are often necessary for getting through a long season. They limit how often a reliever has to warm up for a game he isn't called into, they help relievers manage the emotions of exhausting high-leverage work. The hierarchy of the roles might have some benefit to the workplace politics, and so on.
But managers over the past three decades haven't just preferred rigid roles in their bullpens. They've built those roles around the save statistic. They do this in ways that are almost farcical sometimes: Not bringing the best reliever into the ninth inning of a tie game on the road, when a save situation might emerge later, but bringing him into the ninth inning of a tie game at home, because a save has become impossible. Or immediately bringing a closer into a five-run game with two outs in the ninth once the tying run is on deck -- that being, by the rulebook, a save situation, even though it's also roughly 99.4 percent likely that this "close" game has already been decided.
There's nothing in it personally for the manager to collect his closer saves, and it seems suspicious that a half-century-old definition of a close game perfectly aligns with how almost every manager today determines closeness. So why do they follow the save's rules so close? They manage for the save because they're managing people, and the people -- the closer and his teammates -- want to see him get those saves. To convince him otherwise, you can try Logos or you can try Ethos, but it's probably going to require Pathos most of all. And if we start seeing enough games like this -- where it's obvious that everybody is having fun, and where it works -- we'll see more of them. Mostly in the postseason, when the schedule allows it and the stakes demand it, but more frequently in the regular season so that relievers are prepared to do it in October.
Maddon, for his part, prepared Chapman early in the day for what he'd be asked to do. He talked to him before the game and told the closer he should be ready for the seventh inning. Chapman, once he took over, strutted around the mound and cheered along with the rest of Wrigley Field, clapping his fist into his glove after outs. When he ended the eighth with a strikeout -- stranding the tying run at third -- he straightened up and stood perfectly still for just a moment, as though posing. As though posing for a statue. As though posing to be remembered as a god.
He seemed to be in good spirits after the game:
He had reason to be happy. Besides the win, he starred in the most dramatic moments of this Series, and did something Mariano Rivera, Billy Wagner, Craig Kimbrel and Francisco Rodriguez never did. He saved not only the Cubs but the Series itself.
Until Game 5, this Series had been one of the least memorable in recent history. In the past decade, 54 individual World Series games had been played before Sunday. By leverage index -- a measure for the relative stakes of each plate appearance -- three of this year's games were snoozers, with two ranking in the bottom 10. Worse, the Indians were threatening to end the Series at five games. There might have been some non-Clevelanders exhausted enough to root for this outcome, but it would have guaranteed one of the most forgettable Series in recent decades.
When Chapman came in, it meant that the Cubs would push this back to Cleveland for a sixth game, or the Indians would at least have to produce an instant classic to seal the victory. "From an entertainment perspective if you're a baseball fan or looking to become a baseball fan, it was wonderful tonight," Maddon said after the game.
If there was anything it was missing, from an entertainment perspective, it was Andrew Miller, for which we might also credit the natural human desire to want to see the best pitcher in the game at all times. On Saturday, Francona went to Miller in the seventh inning, with Cleveland up by three. It was probably an overreach -- with that sort of lead, and Miller perhaps running on fumes after a long and extraordinary month. It might have paid to gamble on Dan Otero or another reliever to try to avoid using Miller. (He'd pitched 1⅓ innings on Friday.) When Cleveland scored three more runs in the bottom of the seventh, Francona still sent him back out for the eighth, and he ultimately threw 27 pitches in a relative blowout. Miller was available on Sunday, but certainly not for one of the 46-pitch outings that he's built his legend around this month. Had he been -- had he taken Saturday off entirely -- it's not inconceivable that Francona could have gotten as many as six innings out of Miller and Cody Allen, rather than trying to get Trevor Bauer through the fourth inning.
Alas, that wasn't an option. More likely, Allen and Miller could have handled three or four at the most. It's hard to be too mad at Francona, though. Bringing in Miller on Saturday probably felt like putting a boot on the Cubs in Game 4. Probably felt good. When you have an Andrew Miller -- or an Aroldis Chapman -- any sane person wants to use him until he can't.