TORONTO (92.3 The Fan) – Blood was pouring from the right hand of Trevor Bauer.
Each drop of crimson red off the tip of the righty’s drone-caused lacerated pinkie felt like another grain of sand falling to the bottom of an hour-glass. Drip. Drip. Drip.
Bauer, just four hitters into his Game 3 start against the Toronto Blue Jays, was quickly running out of time.
After issuing a walk to Troy Tulowitzki, the blood on his hand, the blood on the ball and the blood on his jersey and pants signaled the end for his attempt to gut out his ALCS outing.
And just moments later, it was his manager signaling to the bullpen for a replacement, and Bauer was forced to leave with a pair on base in the first inning, exiting to a large ovation from the Toronto Blue Jays fans at the Rogers Centre.
Immediately, the focus shifted to the bullpen, where a handful of relievers began to stir. But it was clear from the moment Bauer’s cut ripped back open, there was no sense of chaos. There was no element of surprise, shock or even despair.
Why should there have been? This is nothing new for Cleveland’s relievers.
After all, they’ve been in training for well over a month.
“Maybe we’ve been prepared for this,” left-handed reliever Andrew Miller said. “Maybe it’s a positive.”
Not many were saying that about the team’s use of the bullpen over the final month of the season. Ineffectiveness by Josh Tomlin and an injury to Danny Salazar were just a couple of factors in Cleveland’s extensive bullpen usage in September.
On several occasions, the Indians turned to bullpen-anchored games, particularly once rosters expanded, to cover a full nine-inning game. The need to rely heavily on their relievers grew even larger when Carlos Carrasco suffered a broken bone in his right hand in the first inning on Sept. 17 — exactly one month prior to Monday’s Game 3 in Toronto.
In that game, the bullpen stepped up without warning to log 10 shutout innings of the Detroit Tigers, using eight different relievers to hold off the opposition long enough for the offense to walk off in the bottom of the 10th.
On Monday, it was Dan Otero first to spring into action, entering with a pair on base and two down in the bottom of the first. The right-handed reliever got Russell Martin to ground out to end the inning.
Five relievers followed Otero in the ballgame, including Jeff Manship, Zach McAllister, Bryan Shaw, Cody Allen and Andrew Miller, The hurlers covered 8 1/3 combined innings, allowing just two runs on seven hits, walking one and striking out eight, holding the potent Jays offense down.
There was no panic. And perhaps that had something to do with being thrust into this sort of situation so much down the stretch. For Cleveland’s bullpen, they had seen this all before.
“[McAllister] and I were talking about that during I think the seventh inning, how we’re probably the only team prepared for this because we did it five times I think in September,” Otero said.
“Going through that with Carlos in September, it was really unfortunate when it happened,” Allen added. “We hated it for him. But us going through that and winning that game like we did, there was no panic down there when Trevor got taken out in that first inning.”
That much was clear. At the first sign of danger for Bauer, Mike Clevinger and Cody Anderson began to stretch. It wasn’t long until Otero was starting to get loose and jogging to the mound to settle into his warmup tosses.
“There was no panic at all,” McAllister said. “Everyone was ready when their name was called.
“Everyone was stretching and ready to go. It wasn’t just one person getting up to stretch. We were all stretching and getting prepared if it was our name to go out there. Then, once that happened, everyone kind of settled down and knew our name might be called within an inning or within two innings.”
This is exactly what a month of preparation looks like. And it’s almost funny to reflect back on the comments made after several bullpen days in September. They sounded like silly clichés at the time, but truth is, at least in this case, practice made perfect.
Not many, if any, teams could handle something like Monday’s situation in the playoffs. Cleveland managed to navigate it with ease.
“I think this just shows the resiliency of the team,” Miller said. “It’s a lot of fun to be in there. It’s a lot of fun to play. I don’t know, maybe it drives the guys at this point. It’s almost fun.”
Fun on a few levels, potentially. From a baseball fan standpoint, or at least ones who enjoy great strategy, Monday’s game presented quite a few puzzle worthy scenarios for Indians manager Terry Francona to piece together.
The first hurdle? Getting out of the first inning unscathed. The decision to go to Otero to relieve Bauer was largely fueled by the traffic on the bases. Some managers might be more inclined to go to a long reliever right away. Francona opted to go with the reliever more experienced in cleaning up messes.
The middle portions of the game were held together by Manship and McAllister. Determining when to bring in the Tribe’s final three leverage arms created another hurdle. The answer to that question came in the fifth, when Shaw entered to help clean up a potential big inning for Toronto.
The righty tossed 1 2/3 innings, successfully getting Cleveland to the seventh with a two-run lead. And with Allen and Miller still available, the game was set up, even despite all the early Bauer drama, to go exactly the way the Indians would draw it up over the final three innings.
“[Francona] looks like a genius afterwards,” Miller said. “He’s really good at what he does. I think that it certainly that we’ve all bought in out there.”
That includes a flip-flop of the Indians’ usual order at the back-end of games. Allen, who typically occupies the ninth, entered in the seventh. Miller, who has been used pretty much everywhere since being acquired by Cleveland at the MLB Trade Deadline, was asked to record the final four outs.
A hit and a walk were all the Jays could manage against the Tribe’s two best relievers.
“[Francona] puts guys in situations to have success,” Shaw said. “He tries to not bring guys in where they have an opportunity to go fail. He does a really good job of that. I think everybody comes in and respects when they come in and basically goes along with it because they know that he knows what’s best for us and what’s best for the team.”
That’s pretty clear, given everything the Indians have been forced to overcome throughout the season. But yet, despite having just a pair of healthy starting pitchers remaining, Cleveland is in a position to go for a series sweep of the Blue Jays with their ace, Corey Kluber, set to start Game 4.
And all that’s on the line is a potential trip to the World Series. Incredible.
“I don’t think anyone could’ve written this script,” Chris Antonetti, the Indians’ president of baseball operations, said. “But again, our guys have done an incredible job of not focusing on the adversity that we’ve faced, but finding a way to overcome it and trying to win each game.
“I know it’s cliché, but this group of guys and Tito, and the way he’s managing, he’s done it better than I’ve ever seen. “