Allen's early call sets stage for bullpen dominance
Right-hander escapes bases-loaded jam in 5th; starts string of 7 straight K's vs. Cubs
CLEVELAND -- When it comes to his relievers, Indians manager Terry Francona does not like assigning labels or limiting a pitcher to a particular inning. That has remained true for closer Cody Allen, who still has not been referred to specifically as a closer by his manager in the past two seasons.
The way Francona sees it, locking Allen into the ninth inning only does not make a lot of sense.
"I think what he's locked into is trying to win," Francona said.
Francona put that philosophy on full display in a 4-3 win over the Cubs on Thursday night, when the manager handed the ball to Allen with two outs and the bases loaded in the fifth inning. Allen recorded the game's most critical out, worked another inning and set the tone for a dominating night for the Cleveland bullpen.
Chicago worked into that situation in the fifth shortly before a downpour arrived at Progressive Field, necessitating a lengthy delay and eliminating Cleveland starter Danny Salazar from the equation. During the intermission, Francona talked over scenarios with pitching coach Mickey Callaway, trying to determine the best way to handle the pitching staff once play resumedd.
The Cubs had already scoreed two runs in the inning to pull the game into a 3-3 deadlock. Lefty-hitting catcher Miguel Montero was due to bat, so Francona considered turning to left-handed specialist Marc Rzepczynski.
"We knew Danny was done," Francona said. "We thought about going right to Zep. If there's a walk or a hit, then all of a sudden you get the line moving. And it kind of was just like, 'Cody would be a really good fit here.' But I didn't want to do it if [he wasn't OK with it]. So, we went and got him, and he was all fired up. That was good enough for me."
Allen had no issues with Francona's unconventional thinking.
"I said, 'Absolutely,'" Allen said. "If that's how you want to try and piece it together for us to win a ballgame, then I'm all for it. ... It's a big spot in the game. You have bases loaded and they've already done some damage in the inning. Whether that out comes in the ninth inning or the fifth inning or the third inning, there's a point in the game where it can be won or lost, and that was that point."
Cubs manager Joe Maddon was interested in seeing how Francona's decision might impact the later innings of the game.
"I thought it was fine," said Maddon, who is also known for thinking outside the box. "It's just a matter of how you're going to fill in the back side. We just didn't do anything after that."
Allen induced an inning-ending flyout off Montero's bat and then held Chicago in check again in the sixth, ending that inning with three straight called strikeouts. Next in line for Cleveland was right-hander Zach McAllister, who struck out the first four batters he faced for a run of seven consecutive whiffs (combined with Allen's showing).
Rzepczynski struck out one batter with two runners aboard in the eighth and righty Bryan Shaw handled the game's final four outs to earn the save. The Tribe's bullpen piled up nine strikeouts and allowed just one hit in 4 1/3 combined innings after the rain delay.
"Everyone wants to be successful and dominate hitters and put up zeros," McAllister said. "Everyone out there has confidence that whoever's coming in behind us can do that."
It is rare, however, that any relievers follow Allen.
Thursday presented unusual circumstances.
"You can't use your closer like that all the time," Francona said. "But, I'd rather lose with our best in the situations where the game's leveraged."