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Tribe bullpen toughs out nail-biter

Miller escapes jam; Allen notches four-out save
MLB.com @MLBastian

CLEVELAND -- When the bullpen phone rang on Wednesday night, Indians closer Cody Allen was ready. It did not matter that the ninth inning had not arrived. As Cleveland showed the world in October, its relievers are not only overpowering, but also adaptable.

In a 7-6 victory at Progressive Field, the Indians gave the Astros a glimpse of the formula that worked so well in the Tribe's run to the World Series. Allen worked a four-out save and relief ace Andrew Miller pitched out of a critical jam in the seventh. If Cleveland and Houston meet their goal of reaching the postseason this year, expect more of the same from Indians manager Terry Francona.

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CLEVELAND -- When the bullpen phone rang on Wednesday night, Indians closer Cody Allen was ready. It did not matter that the ninth inning had not arrived. As Cleveland showed the world in October, its relievers are not only overpowering, but also adaptable.

In a 7-6 victory at Progressive Field, the Indians gave the Astros a glimpse of the formula that worked so well in the Tribe's run to the World Series. Allen worked a four-out save and relief ace Andrew Miller pitched out of a critical jam in the seventh. If Cleveland and Houston meet their goal of reaching the postseason this year, expect more of the same from Indians manager Terry Francona.

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"He's the best in baseball at managing a bullpen," Allen said. "We all just pitch when we're asked to and try to get as many outs as we can."

The relentless Astros offense did its best to chip away at Cleveland's early-game lead, but having the game go from a potential blowout to a nail-biter played into the Tribe's hands. When things got dicey, Francona turned to his dynamic relief duo.

Video: HOU@CLE: Miller K's McCann, escapes bases-loaded jam

All Miller has done this month is pile up 12 strikeouts against three walks with no runs allowed in 10 innings. As for Allen, the right-hander with the knee-buckling knuckle-curve has 17 strikeouts and one walk with one run yielded in eight innings. Allen typically handles the ninth, but he is capable of going multiple innings. Miller and his vicious slider are on call for any high-leverage situations.

"Those two guys are elite," Astros catcher Brian McCann said. "The plan when you come in here is to have the lead, and then we hand it off to our bullpen. We battled tonight."

Houston got Miller to bend in the seventh, but the reliever refused to break.

Working with a 5-4 lead, Miller took over in the seventh for starter Trevor Bauer. The lefty opened with a strikeout of Norichika Aoki, but then watched first baseman Carlos Santana boot a grounder from Marwin Gonzalez to open the door for Houston. Miller followed with a walk to Josh Reddick before hitting Carlos Beltran with a pitch.

The Astros had the bases loaded against a human-looking Miller.

Carlos Correa then locked horns with the lefty for eight pitches -- the last a slider that dove low and in and under the shortstop's bat. Next came a four-pitch confrontation with McCann, who watched a 1-2 slider pop into the glove of catcher Roberto Perez for another strikeout. After 35 pitches, the inning was over.

Video: HOU@CLE: Francona discusses big win in a close game

"They really pushed him," Francona said. "You saw in the end, not just his ability to have good stuff and pitch, but his competitiveness. He reached back for some really good stuff there, and he needed it."

The Indians padded their lead, 7-4, in the sixth inning, but Houston clawed back with two runs in the eighth against setup man Bryan Shaw. Before the frame began, Francona's plan was to go to Allen if the lineup reached the lefty-swinging Reddick. With a runner on second and two outs, Reddick was due up, and the manager turned to his closer.

"The entire league is punching out against him at a pretty good rate," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "He's got a great demeanor -- a closer mentality. I'd prefer when we play Cleveland that he doesn't pitch."

Allen showed why, facing the minimum the rest of the way. The closer induced an inning-ending groundout from Reddick to end the eighth, then set Beltran, Correa and McCann down in order in the ninth. The final two outs were strikeouts.

"That was fun to watch," Francona said. "That was two good teams playing."

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast.

Cleveland Indians, Cody Allen, Andrew Miller