Well, Chicago Cubs fans, your first World Series home game in 71 years wasn't stressful at all! Hope you enjoyed it. (OK, maybe not.) After a snoozer of a Game 2, we had a terrific game, a tense, intriguing 1-0 contest that came down to Cody Allen facing Javier Baez with runners at second and third and two outs ... a base hit to the outfield wins it ...
1. That 2-2 high fastball. Here's what you need to know about Baez: He likes to swing the bat. He likes to swing a little too much. He struck out 108 times and drew only 15 walks. Among players with at least 400 plate appearances, Baez had the fourth-highest chase rate on pitches outside the strike zone. So when Baez had a check-swing strike on a 2-1 curveball way off the plate and in the dirt, you had to think Allen would come back with the same pitch. Of course, if Baez doesn't swing, then it's a full count and the advantage evens out and Baez is more likely to see a fastball. Instead, catcher Yan Gomes calls for the fastball, indicates to Allen he wants it up in the zone, Allen throws a 94-mph heater up and Baez swings through it. The Cleveland Indians take the series lead.
"You try to slow the game the best you can there, especially in this atmosphere," Allen said after the game. "You're trying to think through exactly what you want to do." The Indians have done an amazing job thinking through their matchups all postseason. The pitchers have to execute -- like Allen did with that 2-2 pitch -- but they seem to always know what they want to do, how to set up the opposing hitters. It was the first 1-0 World Series game since 2005, when the White Sox beat the Astros, and the Indians became the first team with five shutouts in a single postseason. The Cubs, meanwhile, became only the second team to suffer four shutouts in one postseason.
One more point about that bottom of the ninth. After Anthony Rizzo led off with a single, Joe Maddon inserted Chris Coghlan as a pinch runner. He then let Ben Zobrist hit away (he struck out). No issue with Zobrist hitting there. He's your cleanup guy, he'd had six hits in the World Series, he can draw walks. You're not going to give away an out. As for the pinch runner, Maddon had made a curious move in the bottom of the seventh, when he used Jason Heyward to run for Jorge Soler with two outs after Soler tripled (on Lonnie Chisenhall's misplay). There's a very small advantage to using a pinch runner there, and you don't usually bring in defensive subs when you're trailing.
Sure enough, Heyward's spot came up with two outs. He ended up reaching on Mike Napoli's error, but if Heyward hadn't been used in the seventh, he could have run for Rizzo, leaving either Soler -- or Coghlan, if you wanted a lefty -- to hit against Allen.
Indians had stuff thrown at their bus, were flipped off, etc. Came in here and crashed the party.— Anthony Castrovince (@castrovince) October 29, 2016
So now Cleveland just has to win two Kluber starts and they're champs.— David Cameron (@DCameronFG) October 29, 2016
2. Coco Crisp delivers the big hit. Here's the rally:
There were a few interesting strategic decisions in the inning:
(1) Terry Francona ran for Roberto Perez with Michael Martinez. You have to be hesitant to use a pinch runner this early, especially in the NL game, where you need more pinch hitters available (and have only a five-man bench to begin with), but given that one run seemed as if it could win the game, hard to argue with getting more speed on the bases.
(2) Francona elected to sacrifice with Tyler Naquin. Once he did this, it increased the likelihood he'd have to hit for Andrew Miller, who was two spots away in the batting order and had pitched just 1⅓ innings. Unless Rajai Davis, the on-deck hitter, delivered a go-ahead single, that meant hitting for Miller. Francona rarely sacrificed when he had those offensive powerhouses in Boston, but the Indians ranked third in the AL in sacrifice bunts in 2016 (granted, just 31), so he'll do it from time to time. You can guess how the anti-bunt crowd felt about it, but given Naquin's high strikeout rate in the postseason, you can see Francona's thinking here.
(3) Davis walked on ball four, a wild pitch that sent Martinez to third. Crisp then hit for Miller. Jason Kipnis was on deck, so Maddon could have brought in the lefty Mike Montgomery, who had looked good in throwing two scoreless innings in Game 2, to face the switch-hitting Crisp and then Kipnis. Crisp was a little better from the left side, but Maddon stuck with Carl Edwards Jr. and Crisp delivered the soft single to right field (although Davis foolishly tried to advance to third and Soler threw him out). Again, unless you want to argue Aroldis Chapman here, Edwards had the much higher strikeout rate (37.7 percent overall, 33 percent versus lefties), so leaving him gave you the better chance at a strikeout.
And, no, Heyward doesn't catch that ball. According to Mike Petriello of MLB Statcast, that ball has a hit expectancy of 100 percent -- plus, Soler plays a shallower right field than Heyward (part of the reason he was able to throw out Davis).
3. The Indians get that shutout with Miller getting just four outs. Josh Tomlin was once again terrific:
Indians starter Josh Tomlin...— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) October 29, 2016
Game 3: 4.2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 1 K
Playoffs: 1.76 ERA in 15.1 IP
Since Sept. 1: 1.71 ERA in 42 IP
Francona pulled Tomlin with two outs in the fifth after Miguel Montero was announced as the pinch hitter for Justin Grimm with a runner on second. Maddon had to know Miller might be brought in there, setting up a lefty-lefty matchup, but it also meant forcing Francona to use Miller early in the game. He could have used David Ross instead, which maybe would have forced Francona's hand: Stick with Tomlin and the righty-righty matchup, or bring in Miller anyway? I guess both managers won (and lost) here. Miller got out of the inning but would get only four outs. That meant the Cubs got to face Bryan Shaw instead of Miller in the seventh, but Montero was also burned, meaning he was also unavailable as a potential pinch hitter against a righty reliever later in the game.
I found this hard to believe: This was only the fourth game in World Series history where both starters gave up no runs. OK, neither guy made it through five innings, but still a fun list:
2016, Game 3: Josh Tomlin (4.2)/Kyle Hendricks (4.1)
2005, Game 4: Freddy Garcia (7)/Brandon Backe (7)
1995, Game 6: Dennis Martinez (4.2)/Tom Glavine (8)
1991, Game 7: John Smoltz (7.1)/Jack Morris (10)
4. Grimm ignores psychological implication of last name, gets two biggest outs of his life. Despite the help of a generous strike zone from John Hirschbeck, Hendricks had been surrendering baserunners all game and the Indians loaded the bases with one out in the fifth on a Naquin single, sacrifice bunt, Carlos Santana walk and Kipnis hit by pitch. With switch-hitting Francisco Lindor up, Maddon went to Grimm, a bit of a curious decision because Grimm is basically the 10th man on the staff while Montgomery, Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon and Edwards all had higher ground-ball rates. In fact, Grimm had 46 opportunities for a double play this runners -- runner on first, less than two outs. He induced zero double plays. So what happened?
He got Lindor to hit into a 4-6-3 double play.
5. The Santana experiment doesn't do any damage. The Indians got three plate appearances from Santana and he drew two walks. The fly ball to left field was a can of corn. Other than Santana not scoring when he got on base, the decision to play him in left field -- where he had play only four innings, back in 2012 -- didn't hurt. John Lackey starts Game 4 for the Cubs and left-handers had a .322 OBP against him while right-handers had a .251 OBP, so you have to believe we'll see Santana back out there again.
The other question: Who plays right field for the Cubs?
Jason Heyward is due. He's past due. He's a library book you find under your bed from 4th grade. He's Tuck Everlasting.— Dave Zirin (@EdgeofSports) October 29, 2016
Indians/Cubs World Series odds— Jeff Sullivan (@based_ball) October 29, 2016
pre-Game 1: 36/64
pre-Game 2: 54/46
pre-Game 3: 39/61
pre-Game 4: 59/41
Given how tough Corey Kluber is on right-handers, I doubt you'll see Soler again, so it's probably Heyward or Coghlan. Maybe Maddon needs to stop overthinking things and go with the guy who started 133 games.