Thud! The sound of World Series Game 6 could be summed up by such a sound as 30,000-plus fans helplessly slumped back into their seats. The Cleveland Indians gambled by starting Josh Tomlin on short rest, and the Chicago Cubs collected when the wheel landed on black.
After the most impressive hitting performance of their postseason, the Cubs have tied the World Series at three games by defeating the Indians, 9-3. The 2016 MLB season will crown a champion with a season-defining Game 7 on Wednesday.
Cubs won’t be cut
The worry with pitching Tomlin on short rest was that he would not have the elite control that is required out of his finesse style. The seven game stretch of incredible pitching the Indians have gotten out of Tomlin included cutting down on the cutter and increasing the randomness of his pitch selection. Without perfect control, it could spell trouble.
In Game 6, pitching coach Mickey Callaway apparently had other plans or had adjusted assuming Tomlin would not have his normal control. Out went the randomness, back came the cutter. Twenty-five of the 48 pitches Tomlin would throw would be of the cut fastball variety. A far departure from his previously working game plan.
Before blame get laid upon that cutter though, only once in these 25 pitches did a Cubs batter manage to crack that pitch for a hit.
Tomlin only missed with his location once. Of course, Kris Bryant took that lone inside hanging curveball and gave it away as a souvenir. The curve was not kind to Tomlin on the night as he threw seven. Three were not close to the plate, one was a called strike, and the other three were whacked by the Cubs for loud-sounding hits.
While Tomlin, Callaway, and Perez had an obvious game plan of utilizing the cutter, the Cubs came in with a game plan of their own. They knew that Tomlin would be pitching away and that they need not worry about him blowing them away if they cheated. So, they sat on pitches to the outside zones and went the opposite way with them as Tyler Naquin and Lonnie Chisenhall had a busy night fielding line drives and pop flies between them.
… and a bloop. pic.twitter.com/1v0jDpRJo8
— MLB (@MLB) November 2, 2016
And, when he went away from the cutter, the Cubs hitters had no trouble as his full arsenal just was not working.
Exit velos off Tomlin so far: 85.6, 93.3, 106.2, 102.6, 100.6. He's fooling no one.
— Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) November 2, 2016
Let’s remember that Tyler Naquin is a rookie ballplayer who has had his share of struggles since MLB pitching adjusted to his hitting profile as he continues to be fed a steady diet of high heat. In the field, he has never been a plus fielder especially in center field. It was an obvious hole this past offseason that was only mildly addressed with the promotion of Naquin and signing of Rajai Davis.
Well, the weakness was exposed at the worst possible time. With Tomlin struggling to get outs in the first inning, an easy fly ball to right-center would have managed him to slip out with just a single run given up. Except, while Naquin was two feet from the ball, he never called for it and just let it drop. With two outs, the runners were going and both would score as Addison Russell was scored a Little League triple in the official books.
After the game, Chisenhall stepped up and took blame despite anyone who watched the play (including manager Terry Francona) clearly seeing that it was Naquin’s ball to catch. The Big Lon also was shown on camera in the dugout sitting next to Naquin talking with him (calming him down?) at several points. Leadership is not a passive task.
Lonnie Chisenhall took blame for the OF mishap. Tyler Naquin thought Lonnie was going to catch it. Terry Francona said it's Naquin's ball.
— Zack Meisel (@ZackMeisel) November 2, 2016
In the third, again, a fly ball would venture out to a similar plot on the outfield. This time, Chisenhall would camp under it and box out to ensure that no one would deter him from catching it. Not even a sprinting Naquin who was desperately trying to make up for his first inning snafu as he called out for a ball he never would have reached.
And, who would be the batter to see the plate with the bases loaded and two outs? The batter that could tighten up a 7-1 game and help put a pit in the stomachs of curse-believing Cubs fans. Why, it would be Naquin again. Jake Arrietta struck him out.
A tough night for Naquin, but remember a few things before you rake the rook over the coals.
- Naquin didn’t decide to pitch Tomlin on short rest instead of a bullpen game when the Little Cowboy clearly (in hindsight) didn’t have it in him.
- Naquin didn’t give up the grand slam that pretty much put the game away.
- Naquin didn’t make the call to let the rookie bat instead of subbing out for a veteran bat in that spot with Brandon Guyer, Rajai Davis, and Yan Gomes on the bench.
The Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians have the two longest championship droughts in Major League Baseball. It is only fitting that a World Series between these two ballclubs would go the distance. Despite a media proclamation that the Tribe was overmatched from the beginning, the Indians have held their own and demonstrated that they are a worthy competitor to these Cubbies.
Expect an amazing finish to the 2016 baseball season. Given the injuries, the Indians pitching staff has been held together by bubble gum and shoestrings all postseason. It is a sports miracle that the team has made it this far.
The grit and determination might have been used up by the third win in the World Series. Then again, it might not be. Every single available arm, bat, and glove will be available for this season-defining game. Because Baseball anything can happen.
Momentum is that day’s starting pitcher. The Indians have Corey Kluber. The Cubs have Kyle Hendricks. Let’s play ball.