CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – Lonnie Chisenhall received just 52 plate appearances against left-handed pitching this season. Rare were the opportunities for the outfielder to even get an at-bat against a southpaw, let alone actually earn a start.
However, Indians manager Terry Francona elected to insert Chisenhall in the club’s starting lineup in Game 2 despite facing a left-handed hurler in David Price.
But lately, everything Francona has touched has turned to gold.
Whether that means going to his ace reliever in the fifth inning of game one and letting him go multiple innings, or leveraging his best arms against the oppositions best hitters when the game is on the line, Cleveland’s skipper pulled all the right strings in Game 1.
And his luck didn’t run out prior to Friday’s Game 2.
The left-handed hitting Chisenhall, who typically plays mostly against right-handed pitching, contributed the biggest hit in the ballgame, a three-run liner down the right field line, a screamer which hit off of the Plexiglas above the corner of the right field wall, giving the Indians a 4-0 advantage on high-priced lefty David Price and the Boston Red Sox in the bottom of the second inning.
Cleveland went on to win Game 2 at Progressive Field, 6-0, taking a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series before things shift to Fenway Park on Sunday afternoon.
But anyone who has spent any time watching the Indians probably already understands Francona’s keen ability to play the role of puppet master. Getting the most out of his 25-man roster is nothing new for the spending-efficient Tribe.
“He does a great job of putting us in the best situations possible,” Chisenhall said. “And I know I’ve benefited from it, tonight and in the past. I think I have a handful of at-bats against Price in the past, but tonight he wanted the defense out there, so anything I contributed was going to be positive. But he continues to do what’s best for the players and for the team.”
And of course, it’s not just about putting the right players in the correct spots. Winning can also come down to pulling the proper collection of complementary pieces together to operate as one successful unit.
From the top to bottom, not many have done a better job of that than Cleveland in 2016, getting contributions from a big trade deadline pickup like Miller and an under the radar move like adding Brandon Guyer, who contributed three hits on Friday night.
Chisenhall’s laser down the line successfully stunned the Red Sox, and there’s no question how much the three-run swing changed the outcome of the Friday’s game. With Corey Kluber showing no ill-effects of the mild quad strain he suffered in the final week of the regular season, it wasn’t going to take much offense to provide the difference in Game 2.
But instead of the difference coming on defense, as Francona anticipated before the game, the lift was provided on the offensive side, proving good decisions can still be a little unexpected at times.
“I think sometimes good players make you look smarter than you probably are,” Francona joked after the game. “Like I said before the game, Davis Price is a really good pitcher. His splits are kind of even. And with Klubes pitching, we really like to have our best defensive team out there. And it also gave us some balance.”
And while the decision to start Chisenhall might have given Cleveland the balance they were seeking, it was the left-handed hitter’s big blow which seemed to knock the Red Sox completely off balance, falling into an 0-2 hole in the best-of-five series.
It’s those unexpected efforts like Chisenhall’s on Friday night which seem to often be the determining factor in playoff games, and ultimately, series.
Luckily for Cleveland, the Indians seem to have the right man pulling the strings to put his players in the most advantageous spot to deliver in those situations.