Game 3 blanking of Cubs sets new MLB postseason standard
By Matt Kelly
The Indians' pitching staff has been anything but conventional this postseason. But as they proved yet again in Friday's 1-0 victory over the Cubs in Game 3 of the World Series at Wrigley Field, Cleveland's arms have been dominant nonetheless.
With a five-hit shutout in the first Fall Classic game at the Friendly Confines in 71 years, Cleveland became the first team to record five shutout victories in a single postseason.
The Indians' five shutouts, which includes one in the American League Division Series win over Boston, two in the team's AL Championship Series triumph over Toronto and two in the first three games of the World Series, separates them from four other teams (the 1905 New York Giants, '98 Yankees and 2010 and '12 Giants). All four of those teams went on to win the World Series. Meanwhile, the Cubs must now try to become the first team to win a championship after being shut out four separate times in a single postseason.
Josh Tomlin took the mound for an emotional Game 3 start Friday, as his father Jerry -- who became paralyzed from the chest down just two months ago -- looked on from the Wrigley Field grandstands. With that and all the natural pressure of a first World Series start on his mind, all Tomlin did was toss 4 2/3 innings of two-hit ball.
"What he's gone through, I mean, that's nothing to what we're going through right now," Tomlin said of his father. "So to be able to find him and see him in the stands, it kind of calmed me down and just let me go out there and settle into the game and try to go out there and do the best that I could for him."
The right-hander followed the same script Indians pitchers have used in this Series and throughout October, tossing a steady diet of breaking balls to keep Chicago's hitters off-balance in a tight pitchers' duel. In fact, on a night when the wind was blowing out at speeds upward of 20 mph of Wrigley, the farthest fly ball of the night, hit by Cubs catcher Willson Contreras in the bottom of the fourth, traveled just 325 feet according to Statcast™. Prior to Friday, the shortest "max distance" fly ball for any other postseason game was 371 feet (Jose Ramirez, Indians, in Game 1 of the ALCS). Furthermore, the hardest-hit ball by either team all night was a 101.9 mph grounder by Francisco Lindor that turned into an inning-ending double play, which was the weakest hardest-hit ball of any postseason game this year.
Prior to Friday, the shortest fly ball for any other postseason game went 369 feet. The hardest-hit ball by either team all night was a 101.9 mph grounder by Francisco Lindor that turned into an inning-ending double play, which was the weakest hardest-hit ball of any postseason game this year.
Indians manager Terry Francona has been super-aggressive all month, pulling his starters to get to his dominant arms in the bullpen. Friday was no different, as Francona immediately called on Andrew Miller when the Cubs got their first baserunner to second base with two outs in the bottom of the fifth with the game still scoreless.
As usual, the move paid off. Miller got Addison Russell to ground out after just three pitches to end the fifth before striking out the side -- and the Cubs' top three in the order, no less -- in the sixth. In doing so, Miller set a new record of his own with 15 scoreless innings to begin this postseason, passing Hall of Famer Goose Gossage (14 1/3 scoreless frames in 1981) for the most of any reliever in a single postseason.
"Everybody's ready to play whenever they get a chance," Miller said postgame. "It's such a blast to be a part of."
Francona was forced to shelve Miller in the top of the seventh so that Coco Crisp could pinch-hit with runners on first and third -- and that move paid off too when Crisp hit a tie-breaking RBI single to give Cleveland a 1-0 lead. Workhorse Bryan Shaw and closer Cody Allen took it from there, as the duo combined to preserve the slimmest of margins, stranding Cubs runners in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. Cleveland pitchers danced the tight rope all night, holding the Cubs hitless over 14 at-bats with runners on base. The Indians are now 23-0 this season when Miller and Allen both appear in the same game.
The talk surrounding Cleveland coming into this postseason centered on the team's depleted rotation after injuries to Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar. But three games into the World Series, the conversation has shifted to just how dominant the Indians' pitching has been. In fact, Cleveland's staff is boasting a 1.65 ERA this postseason; in the Division Era (1969-present), only the 1983 Orioles have posted a lower ERA (1.10) while reaching the World Series.
That team went on to win it all, besting the Phillies in five games in the Fall Classic. Now, the Indians stand just two wins shy of their first title since 1948.
"We needed something, anything, just to put a run across," Francona said after Game 3, "and our staff made it hold up, which was a remarkable effort. To hold that lineup down like that -- that's a heck of a win."
Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.