How the Indians spoiled the Cubs’ special night – Yahoo Sports

CHICAGO – Down the steps of the visitors’ dugout at Wrigley Field, a drain cover littered with used gum and sunflower-seed shells and tobacco spit and the other various detritus that finds its way into baseball players’ orbits greets those who walk by it. To the left, in a small alcove, is a urinal, a sink, a foamy-soap dispenser and a small cupboard, home to a rosin bag and a pump-spray bottle of Bullfrog sunscreen, which when combined make for a tacky substance pitchers use to get a better grip on the ball. Grimy does not begin to describe the entirety of the scene.

Ten more paces on the fetid green carpet yields a left turn, and 19 past that is right, and then a quick turn left and one more right, toward a ramp, and after ascending that, on the 49th step from the dugout, stands a single batting tee. These are the trappings of a century-old park, ones with which the visitors long have dealt, and so Coco Crisp hauled his bat along this path around 9:20 p.m. local time Friday, getting himself ready, ready for anything, because in these playoffs, this World Series, the Cleveland Indians understand sometimes they need to leap headlong into the muck.

Newer stadiums boast glimmering batting cages and pitching machines and L screens to hone swings, but Wrigley offers only the tee. And so it was, Crisp standing in an 8-foot-wide hallway, in between white-painted bricks with cracks in them and walls with chunks chipped out, a single fluorescent tube light surrounded by pipes and cables above, taking his swings, right- and left-handed, into a green net with a yellow rope tied around the inside for reinforcement. Earlier in the season, the black netting in front of a green pad on the wall proved insufficient, and the balls hit into it ricocheted back and up the hallway. The secondary net stopped that and allowed for a real batting practice, or at least as close to BP as one might find in the bowels of a relic.

Crisp was here because it was almost his time. Game 3 of the World Series – the first one Wrigley Field had hosted in 71 years – was scoreless in the sixth inning, a staring contest between the Indians and Chicago Cubs in which eyes were beginning to water. “You’re hitting fourth next inning,” Crisp was told, and that was his cue to get to work, the same meticulous work that allowed him to be playing in the major leagues three days shy of his 37th birthday. He swung. He reminded himself of the pitches Carl Edwards Jr. threw. And by the time he came up in the top of the seventh with one out, all Crisp wanted was for Michael Martinez, the runner on third, to touch home.

Coco Crisp (4) hits an RBI-single scoring pinch-runner Michael Martinez (not pictured) during the seventh inning in game three of the 2016 World Series against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. (Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports)Coco Crisp (4) hits an RBI-single scoring pinch-runner Michael Martinez (not pictured) during the seventh inning in game three of the 2016 World Series against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. (Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports)

“I didn’t hear how quiet it got,” Crisp said, and it’s a testament to how keyed in to the moment he was, because the lingering memory of the brilliant Game 3 will be silence. The hush of the crowd when Crisp dumped a run-scoring single into right field. The instantaneous mute button when Javier Baez struck out with a runners on second and third for the game’s final out. And the fashion in which the Indians’ 1-0 victory turned a party of 41,703 inside the stadium, tens of thousands in the surrounding environs and millions of other displaced Cubs fans into one muffled sad trombone.

This game lived up to every expectation of seven decades’ worth of built-up tension, save for the final score and the reality that it staked the Indians a two-games-to-one series lead with their record fifth shutout of the playoffs and the Cubs’ record fourth time being shut out. It was well-pitched, well-fielded, well-managed – a beautiful thinking-man’s contest littered with the fingerprints of National League rules. Game 3 burbled with intrigue and boiled over with tension all the way to its 213th and final minute.

The day had started 15 hours earlier, when trains and cabs and Ubers and foot traffic deposited people in Wrigleyville and welcomed them to kick off the celebration. Grown men walked around in Cubs snuggies. Fans lined up to pay hundreds of dollars to watch the game in bars. And for the 2½ hours between the time the gates opened at 4:38 p.m. and the first pitch was thrown, they stood in front of the sign at Clark and Addison that says WRIGLEY FIELD HOME OF THE CHICAGO CUBS and snapped selfies.

All the photos went on Instagram and Facebook and Twitter, shared with a world jealous it wasn’t there. Because this was supposed to be the night. They wore T-shirts that said Goatbusters, held signs that said It’s Gonna Happen, tried to overwhelm with positivity a stadium that has never housed a World Series champion. About a half-hour before Kyle Hendricks threw an 88-mph fastball for a strike, dozens of lonely souls stood outside Wrigley Field with an index finger extended in the air, like they were tsk-tsking the sky. In the vicinity of a baseball stadium, that translates to only one thing: someone needs a single ticket. As appealing as the prospect of spending upward of $2,000 to sit alone might sound, on this night, in this stadium, there was no better place to be.

Hendricks and Indians starter Josh Tomlin held hitters in check for the first four innings before checking out during the fifth. Only 18 times in major league history had both starting pitchers been pulled with fewer than five innings pitched while throwing a shutout. Never in postseason history had it happened. This October – the one in which a non-closer, Andrew Miller, won ALCS MVP and the Los Angeles Dodgers threw their closer for three innings in a losing effort – has altered the dynamics of postseason relief-pitching usage and made it not just OK to go to the bullpen early but almost imperative.

Coco Crisp's hit lifted the Indians to a 1-0 victory and a 2-1 lead in the World Series. (Getty)Coco Crisp's hit lifted the Indians to a 1-0 victory and a 2-1 lead in the World Series. (Getty)

And so began the chess match between Indians manager Terry Francona and the Cubs’ Joe Maddon, who chose Justin Grimm to spell Hendricks and was rewarded with a bases-loaded double play to escape the jam. Francona went to Miller, his uber-reliever, and saw him wriggle out of the fifth and strike out the top three hitters in the Cubs’ lineup to end the sixth.

The game played against type. The wind at Wrigley whistled toward the bleachers. What figured to be a high-scoring affair instead offered a dozen zeroes on the center-field scoreboard. When catcher Roberto Perez singled to lead off the seventh and Martinez, the pinch runner, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt and third on a wild pitch, Francona knew he needed to play for one run and chose Crisp to pinch hit for Miller, even if it meant he would need to find the final nine outs elsewhere.

Up walked Crisp, reared in the Cleveland organization, a veteran of three other teams and and a trade acquisition Aug. 31, the final day a player could be dealt. Maddon could have yanked Edwards for left-hander Mike Montgomery, figuring Francona would have pinch hit with the lefty-crushing Brandon Guyer. He chose to stick with Edwards, a hard-throwing right hander whose fastball, Crisp remembered, cut in on left-handed hitters. He swung at the first pitch, felt his bat crack and watched the ball bounce off the right-field grass.

“Blew me up, thank goodness,” Crisp said, “because if it didn’t, it probably would’ve went straight to the right fielder. That natural cut helped us out.”

Francona had his run. Now he needed his nine outs. The third came after right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall mishandled a flyball down the right-field line and Jorge Soler ended up on third despite not running out of the batter’s box. Reliever Bryan Shaw escaped by inducing a Javier Baez groundout. The sixth came from closer Cody Allen, on whom Francona called to continue his postseason scoreless streak. He punched out Kris Bryant to end the eighth.

The final three were fraught with peril. Anthony Rizzo led off with a single. A strikeout and groundout left pinch runner Chris Coghlan at second base. Jason Heyward, the Cubs’ $184 million offseason prize relegated to the bench for the series, reached on a tough bounce first baseman Mike Napoli couldn’t corral. Heyward stole second, giving Baez another opportunity to play hero. He fouled off Allen’s first pitch, swung over the fourth and couldn’t catch up to the fifth, a 94-mph fastball that left Wrigley shaking no more.

Nine outs. Two wins from a championship.

“That was as close a ballgame as you’re ever going to find, and we found a way to manage to win that game,” Francona said. “You know, 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 Indians remain a curiosity with Halloween nigh, somehow 9-2 this postseason despite scoring just 35 runs. Miller and Allen have combined for 25 innings and nary a run allowed. The Indians will throw Corey Kluber and his 0.74 postseason ERA in Game 4. The formula works, Francona the puppeteer and October his string-pulling masterpiece. They are the perpetual other team – underdogs against Boston and Toronto in the AL playoffs, now overshadowed by the Cubs’ stars and the 108-year championship drought that made this night feel as big as it was – and Cleveland wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Fine by us,” second baseman Jason Kipnis said. “We’ll be the other team that won the World Series.”

They’re not there yet, though this was a fine start. One way or another, the Indians are going to be going home. It may well be for Game 6, breathing extra life into a World Series that doesn’t need it. If not, it will be for a parade, a culmination of a 68-year wait for the Indians themselves, a celebration every bit as boisterous as Chicago’s on Friday, the perfect loud contrast to the silence to which they’ve grown so accustomed.

Comments

Write a Reply or Comment:

Your email address will not be published.*