By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — The belief of some baseball observers is that a manager has minimal impact on teams winning games. That may have been closer to the truth in another era, as the Indians’ 1-0 win against the Cubs in Game 3 of the World Series on Friday night demonstrated.
With bullpen decisions to be made from the fourth inning on these days, it’s evident that Indians manager Terry Francona and Cubs manager Joe Maddon are deeply involved in the outcome of these contests on baseball’s biggest stage. Francona has had a secret weapon since Aug. 1 in the form of star reliever Andrew Miller, who has changed the way Cleveland has handled games from the fifth inning on in this postseason.
Miller was deployed again in Game 3, coming up big with 1 1/3 innings of scoreless relief as part of the an Indians quartet that held the Cubs to just five hits and shut them out for the second time in three games. Cleveland leads the series 2-1.
“I don’t think we want to use Andrew for 2 1/3 innings every time out,” Francona said. “In the National League games, it’s going to be harder to keep him in there (with the pitcher’s spot coming up). I thought he did what he had to do. He threw 19 pitches. That was plenty for tonight.”
With Indians starter Josh Tomlin having gone only 58 pitches 4 2/3 innings,Francona pulled him in in favor of Miller, who retired pinch-hitter Miguel Montero to strand a runner in scoring position.
The bigger picture was all about Miller striking out Dexter Fowler, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo in order to wipe out the Cubs’ best hitters in the sixth inning.
Francona then pushed the right and logical button in the top of the seventh, sending up pinch-hitter Coco Crisp for Miller. Crisp drilled an RBI single that plated the game’s lone run.
“It is so tough to score in the postseason because the game is different,” Cubs outfielder Chris Coghlan said. “You don’t normally see Andrew Miller in the fifth inning of a regular-season game. The game is so different in postseason now. Regular-season tendencies by managers mean nothing when you get to the postseason.”
The day of managers watching their starters go six or seven innings and turning the game over to two pitchers is in the rearview mirror.
“They have a much greater impact on games,” Coghlan said of managers. “One hundred percent, I agree with the concept the manager is so influential in the outcome of a game. They get involved with so many matchups early in postseason. Back in the day, you just played your best players and hoped for the right results. Now everybody mixes and matches matchups and platoons. For sure, it is vital more now to have a manager that puts you in the right position.”
Bullpens dominating games isn’t a new concept. The Royals won two straight American League pennants and a World Series title with one of the best bullpens in 2014 and 2015. On Friday, Cleveland’s relief trio of Miller, Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen logged 4 1/3 scoreless innings.
“The game has changed a little bit,” Montero said. “I am not going to lie about it. It’s all about matching up, reverse splits.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.