Indians need quality start from righty in pivotal Game 3
By Mike Bauman
CHICAGO -- Let's say that Corey Kluber continues his postseason heroics on behalf of the Cleveland Indians and wins two more games in the 2016 World Series, even while pitching on short rest.
That could happen. In four postseason starts this October, Kluber is 3-1 with a 0.74 earned run average. In 24 1/3 innings he has given up 17 hits and walked seven, while striking out 29. This is historically good postseason pitching.
Indians manager Terry Francona took Kluber out of his Game 1 start after six-plus innings and just 88 pitches. This kept alive Cleveland's Plan A; giving the start to Kluber in Game 4 and, if necessary, Game 7. Both starts would be on three days' rest.
That's the Kluber section of Plan A, and it could work. But even chalking up those three victories -- two of them prematurely -- leaves the Indians one win short of the championship.
One other starter is going to have to help the Indians win one other game. We're not talking about a nine-inning shutout. Just five or six innings of competent pitching, something resembling the standard "quality start" measurement. Then let Andrew Miller, pitching multiple innings if necessary, take it from there and let Cody Allen close.
The logical nominee in this category would be Josh Tomlin. In this postseason he has already provided two starts that were described in the previous paragraph.
Tomlin won both of his postseason starts, one in the AL Division Series victory over Boston, the other over Toronto in the AL Championship Series. In those two starts, he gave up three runs over 10 2/3 innings. Another performance of that sort would be just about right for the Indians.
This sort of thing is easier said than done. But it isn't asking for a miracle, or even requesting an unprecedented level of achievement.
Tomlin is the scheduled starter for Game 3 of the World Series on Friday night against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. Game 3 often turns out to be a pivotal game in a best-of-seven series. This one might be even more important than usual.
In World Series with a 2-3-2 format, which was established in 1925, 43 series have been tied 1-1 going into Game 3. Teams that have won Game 3 have had an overall Series record of 30-13. However, the last two teams to win Game 3 after a 1-1 split (the 2014 Royals and 2013 Cardinals) went on to lose the Series.
Tomlin will be opposed by Kyle Hendricks, who typically has a lower public profile than other members of the Chicago rotation, such as Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta. But Hendricks has pitched as well as anyone this season, leading the Majors with an earned run average of 2.13. In the deciding Game 6 of the National League Championship Series, he outpitched Clayton Kershaw, shutting out the Dodgers on two hits over 7 1/3 innings.
"He's not going to break the radar gun either," Francona said of Hendricks on Thursday, before the Indians worked out at Wrigley Field. "But my goodness, he can command the baseball as good as anybody."
But the Indians are very happy with their half of this matchup. Tomlin came back strong from an August in which he struggled. And the Indians have high regard for his competitive nature.
"I just think he's built to pitch good all the time," Francona said of Tomlin. "I think when you get challenged, like tomorrow's going to be an incredible atmosphere, it feels good to send him to the mound. He's going to compete, and he makes the opposing team beat him. Doesn't walk people. You can't run on him. And sometimes the opposing team beats him, but he's not going to beat himself."
"He's not scared," first baseman Mike Napoli said. "I mean, he goes out there with 89 [mph] and hits corners, throws his cutter, control. I mean, he's got a big heart. I guess I could put it that way in a PG way. "
Tomlin sees this pressurized situation not as a burden, but as an opportunity.
"Oh, it's awesome," he said Thursday. "I think us as a team, we've earned this right. … It's an honor to be here. It's an honor to be playing the Cubs and we're going to enjoy the moment."
Tomlin's father, who is paralyzed from the chest down, will attend Game 3. Tomlin said that he was very happy that he and his father could share this World Series moment.
This will be the first World Series game at Wrigley Field in 71 years. The 2016 World Series may turn on the outcome of this game. Even for the Fall Classic, this is a very large occasion.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.