Francona Saving Best Managing Performance for World Series
BY JUSTIN LADA
One of baseball’s great, unanswered questions is about team’s managers and their impact on a single game. Both traditional baseball minds and analytically-minded baseball experts struggle to answer the question or are able to point to a few concrete elements that can determine positive or negative impact on a game. Most would argue that a manager’s true and most meaningful impact is done in the clubhouse and not on the field. After all, managers can make any moves they want, but if players don’t execute as expected, then of course the manager isn’t good.
It would be hard to dispute that everything Terry Francona has done this October hasn’t turned to gold. Without Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar in the rotation (not to mention the lack of Michael Brantley and most of this year, Yan Gomes and a drone accident to Trevor Bauer), all Francona has done is ride Corey Kluber and get the most from the rest of the rotation and unleash a nasty bullpen on the opposition.
Game 3 of the World Series might have been Francona’s most masterful job to date.
Josh Tomlin, whom the national media assumed looked like a big, juicy steak for a Chicago Cubs lineup to rip to shreds, shut them out for 4 ⅔ innings. He allowed two hits, walked one and struck out one despite the fact he had to deal with unsavory plate conditions. Perhaps the 89 mph throwing pitcher had a little additional motivation or sense of calm with his dad Jerry in attendance after spending months in the hospital with an unfortunate spine condition.
Tomlin was cruising, inducing weak contact and getting plenty of ground balls again. But Francona pulled him anyway to go to Andrew Miller in a tie game in the fifth inning. Usually Francona has saved Miller for situations with the lead, even early. But Miller only needed four pitches to dispose of pinch hitter Miguel Montero.
Even more brilliant - Miller threw just 13 pitches in a perfect sixth inning, fanning dangerous Cubs sluggers and MVP candidates Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo along the way.
Another bold move: Roberto Perez singled to lead off the seventh and Tyler Naquin was able to bunt him over. After the Cubs decided to walk Rajai Davis to pitch to the hitter on deck, Miller, Francona bit the bullet and instead of sending a very fresh Miller back out for the bottom of the seventh, he used Coco Crisp who did what else, but deliver an RBI single to score the game’s only run.
Without Miller to get any of the final nine outs, Bryan Shaw came in and got the first two outs with ease. Lonnie Chisenhall’s unfamiliarity with the lack of foul room and the brick wall in right field allowed Jorge Soler reach third base with two outs. No big deal: Shaw, who Francona said all season long in the few overblown struggles he had, was going to stick with him. Lo and behold, he got Javy Baez out.
Francona sent Shaw back out for the eighth inning to get Addison Russell out. It worked. Surely he would go to Cody Allen for a five out save with proclaimed baseball demigod Kyle Schwarber pinch hitting.
Wait, what? No, Terry, now you’re just pushing your luck and tempting fate.
Shaw, who throws a nasty cutter high in the zone ended up severing Schwarber’s bat while inducing a weak infield popup.
Dexter Fowler wound up hitting a single against the shift to prompt Francona to bring in Allen, who retired Bryant to end the eighth and despite allowing a leadoff single to Rizzo in the ninth, nailed down the save.
Oh, I also forgot that Carlos Santana played 4 ⅔ innings in left field for the first time in his career. No big deal. He caught the only ball hit his way, a routine fly ball in the first inning. He walked twice, so while he didn’t get a hit, he set up several chances for the Indians to score after having almost zero traffic on the bases in Game 2.
To recap Francona’s mastery in a Game 3 win that gives the Indians a 2-1 series lead in the World Series against the 103 win Cubs:
Start an ex-catcher, turned first basemen in the outfield to keep his bat in the lineup
Pull a starting pitcher that allowed three baserunners in 4 ⅔ innings in a scoreless game
Pinch hit for his relief ace, the ALCS MVP, despite the fact he used him in the fifth or a scoreless game and he only threw 17 pitches
Counted on Coco Crisp again and he came through, again
Pinch ran for Roberto Perez, forcing Yan Gomes to log his first postseason innings and at bat
Used Bryan Shaw for five outs, including vs. dangerous Kyle Schwarber
And while Francona always says “if you have a lead, you do what you can to win the game. Tomorrow it might rain or you might not have a lead,” Francona was both masterful at winning today’s game and keeping an eye on the next few games because:
Tomlin will start a possible Game 6 on 3 days rest and he’ll be fresh having thrown only threw 58 pitches
He pinch hit for Miller, pulling him after 17 pitches meaning he’ll be good to go in Game 4
He has Corey Kluber going with a 2-1 series lead and pulled him after 88 pitches 3 days ago
It may be hard to prove a manager’s positive impact on a single game. If players don’t execute, it’s sure easy enough to point to negatives. But every card Francona has played this postseason has worked and in the World Series, specifically Game 3, everything came up aces for the future Hall of Fame Manager.
POSTED 10/29/2016 11:42