CHICAGO -- It would be an understatement to say Terry Francona exhausted his bag of tricks in the Cleveland Indians' 1-0 victory over the Chicago Cubs in Game 3 of the World Series. The Indians' manager started his designated hitter, Carlos Santana, in left field. He lifted his starting pitcher, Josh Tomlin, in the middle of a shutout after 4⅓ innings. He burned his most dominant reliever, Andrew Miller, with nine outs to go. And he used each of the 13 position players on his roster.
By the end of the evening, Francona was tired-yet-euphoric; gratified-yet-frazzled. And the Indians had taken a 2-games-to-1 lead and ensured that the Cubs' only route to clinching their first title in 108 years would entail a trip back to Progressive Field in Cleveland.
"That was agonizing," Francona said. "As fun of a game as it was to be a part of, that was agonizing because we used so many guys."
The Indians and Cubs split the first two games in Cleveland, but both games were one-sided affairs with no late-inning drama. Game 3, in contrast, was a messy and thoroughly entertaining October classic. There were several mental errors and defensive misplays, and the Indians came out on the short side of two of three defensive replays. But the result was in doubt from the first pitch through Cody Allen's game-ending strikeout of Javier Baez.
Cleveland pitching coach Mickey Callaway sensed he was in the middle of something special when he watched Francona navigate one briar patch after another in the late innings.
"It was fun," Callaway said. "We used every one of our bench players and Tito's lineup card was a mess. There was stuff going on everywhere."
The Indians received a terrific performance from Tomlin, who rocked the Cubs to sleep with fastball command, an effective curve and mound presence to spare. It was a performance made even more poignant by the presence of his father, Jerry, who is paralyzed from the waist down due to a rare medical condition but still found a way to travel all the way from Texas to watch his son make him proud.
It was a night of growing pains for Cleveland shortstop Francisco Lindor, who killed a potential big inning in the first when he got picked off by Kyle Hendricks and grounded into a bases-loaded double play against Justin Grimm on the fifth. If the Indians had lost this game, Lindor would have had a tough night getting to sleep back at the team hotel.
The game marked the first postseason appearance by Cleveland catcher Yan Gomes and the first significant contribution from 34-year-old utility man Michael Martinez, who scored the only run as a pinch-runner and played center field and third base in the late innings.
But most of all, it was a showcase for Francona, who milked every emotion out of his welcome-back-to-the-National League odyssey.
The wheels began spinning in the bottom of the fifth. With 13 Cubs down and 14 outs remaining, Francona came to the mound and pulled Tomlin for Miller after a mere 58 pitches. The Indians plan to bring Tomlin back on short rest in Game 6, so it was a nice bonus for Francona to lift him so early. But it was also a bit of a risky play for the Indians.
Miller had pitched two or more innings five times in his first seven postseason appearances. But all those outings came under American League rules. There was no DH in play at Wrigley, so Francona knew that circumstances might prevent him from getting that kind of length out of Miller on Friday.
"I don't think we really want to go 2⅓ innings all the time," Francona said. "I mean, it's worked out like that, and in the National League it's certainly going to be a little harder. But he threw (17) pitches, and I was OK with where we were there. That was plenty for tonight."
Miller retired Miguel Montero on a fly out to strand the potential tying run at second base in the fifth, and he struck out Dexter Fowler, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo in order in the sixth. But he was due to bat fourth in the top of the seventh, and the Indians knew he was on borrowed time.
As the Indians put runners on first and third on a Roberto Perez single, a sacrifice bunt, a wild pitch and a walk, Miller stood in the on-deck circle sporting a baby giraffe-in-the-headlights look. But it was strictly for show; the Indians had no intention of letting him anywhere near home plate.
"I asked Andrew if he could hit in case we didn't take the lead before that, and he said, 'No!'" Callaway said, laughing.
With good reason: Miller has a career batting average of .056 (4-for-72) and he hadn't made a plate appearance since 2011, when he struck out in all four of his at-bats with the Boston Red Sox.
"I didn't have a whole lot of confidence in my ability," Miller said. "I'm terrible. Pretty awful. I could hit [batting practice] OK for a little while, but ultimately I think pitching was the way to go for me."
Francona mercifully took Miller down and summoned Coco Crisp, who was acquired from the Oakland Athletics in September, and Crisp promptly delivered a single to right field off Carl Edwards Jr. to drive in the only run of the game. It was the latest contribution in a memorable run for Crisp, who had previously homered in Cleveland's American League Central title clincher, the division series clincher against Boston and the ALCS clincher against Toronto.
With Miller out of play, it was up to Bryan Shaw and Allen to apply the hammer in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings, and they were up to the task. Shaw pitched around a Jorge Soler triple in the seventh and logged 1⅔ scoreless innings, and Allen whiffed Baez on a 94-mph heater to strand runners at second and third and send the Wrigley fans home miserable.
"This is the best those two guys have looked, and thank God," Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis said. "This bullpen and this pitching staff has been carrying us. They're the reason we're here, and they're probably the reason we'll go wherever we go."
If Francona follows his postseason routine Saturday, he'll go for an early swim to clear his head, arrive at the park before noon and start reading the scouting reports sans distractions. He has been living in a cocoon, and he's not about to let his emotions get the best of him now.
"We know we're going to have our hands full to beat those guys, and tonight was a good example," Francona said. "That was as close a ballgame as you're ever going to find, and we found a way to manage to win that game. We say it all the time: We want to be one run better. That's about as true to form as you can get."
The drama of Game 3 will be difficult to top, but Francona will be back in the dugout Saturday night with a pristine lineup card, staff ace Corey Kluber on the mound and Indians two wins away from their first World Championship since 1948.