CLEVELAND -- There was no confusion when the bullpen door swung open and Andrew Miller emerged. Indians starter Trevor Bauer was fine. He even doffed his cap in response to a roaring standing ovation, despite exiting his Thursday start before the end of the fifth inning.No, this is October. This
CLEVELAND -- There was no confusion when the bullpen door swung open and Andrew Miller emerged. Indians starter Trevor Bauer was fine. He even doffed his cap in response to a roaring standing ovation, despite exiting his Thursday start before the end of the fifth inning.
No, this is October. This is when a win-or-go home mentality is imperative and Indians manager Terry Francona has been through it plenty. During Game 1 of the American League Division Series, Francona threw out the book, asked more than most would of a bullpen and pulled off a 5-4 victory over the Red Sox in Game 1 of the American League Division Series at Progressive Field.
"Nobody ever said you have to be conventional to win," Francona said.
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Conventional has not been an adjective applied to Francona in quite some time. Cleveland fans are well versed in Tito's affinity for leveraging his relievers, but a national audience was treated to an extreme example in the opener of this best-of-five series. After decent enough effort from Bauer, and an offensive outburst that will be remembered around these parts for years to come, Francona asked his bullpen to record 13 outs.
The Indians manager joked that ace Corey Kluber, who is slated to take the ball in Game 2 on Friday (4:30 p.m. ET on TBS) will have a pitch count of 165-170 for his start. Kidding aside, knowing that the durable Kluber was on deck, and an off-day loomed Saturday, made pushing his bullpen a little more feasible for Francona.
Two nights ago, the baseball world watched as Baltimore manager Buck Showalter held his relief ace, Zach Britton, out of the AL Wild Card Game, waiting for a save situation. That scenario would never come up with Francona, who wields his bullpen arms as situational weapons. Miller represents the best option in Francona's arsenal and the manager turned to him with two outs in the fifth against Boston.
Asked if he was surprised to see Miller enter the game at that point, Indians first baseman Mike Napoli smirked.
"I'm never surprised with anything Tito does," Napoli replied.
A three-run flurry in the third inning -- powered by home runs from Roberto Pérez, Jason Kipnis and Francisco Lindor -- pushed Cleveland to a 4-2 advantage. In the top of the fifth, though, Bauer yielded a home run to Sandy Leon, trimming the Tribe's lead to one run. Francona let Bauer collect two more outs before summoning Miller from the center-field bullpen.
When the Indians acquired Miller in a blockbuster trade with the Yankees on July 31, the left-hander knew the landscape. Miller would not be a closer, but rather a high-leverage reliever. In his two months with the Tribe, Miller appeared in every inning from the sixth through the 10th, notching wins, holds and saves. In the process, Francona was better able to align Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, Dan Otero and others with specific segments of opposing lineups.
The fifth inning, though? Miller had not entered a game that early since May 14, 2013.
"I knew to be ready early. I think everybody is at this point," Miller said. "The playoffs are a different animal. And it's something that, whenever Tito asks anybody to pitch, we're all going to be ready to go. That's the reality of the situation."
The crowd buzzed with concern after Miller immediately gave up a double to Brock Holt and then issued a walk to Mookie Betts, setting up a critical confrontation with slugger David Ortiz. They battled for five pitches, but Miller came out on top with a sweeping slider that alluded Big Papi's bat.
"I found a way," Miller said. "I think [I was] a little excited, a little over-amped."
Miller settled down and pieced together two shutout innings, bridging the gap to Shaw. The setup man retired Dustin Pedroia to end the seventh, but flinched in the eighth by giving up a home run to Holt. Two batters later, Francona asked Allen to handle the final five outs. That was the cost of turning to Miller so early in the contest.
Allen sidestepped the potential harm of two hits -- one in the eighth and another in the ninth -- to finish the job.
"We knew there might be a game or two throughout October where we had to do that," Allen said of how much the bullpen worked. "At this point in the season, you can't really do anything except get ready. You just go out there and keep throwing until they take you out."
That was certainly put to the test, as Miller and Allen logged 80 pitches combined. Bauer threw 78.
Francona will worry about Friday's game when he gets there.
"We were trying to win the game tonight," he said.
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.