The managerial wizardry of Terry Francona continues and his concert pianist’s touch has his Cleveland Indians one victory away from the 2016 World Series trophy that will put black clouds over Chicago once again.
It will be 109 years since the Chicago Cubs cashed a World Series winner’s check.
Francona made two riverboat gambler’s moves in Game 4 Saturday night against the dormant Cubs and came up aces — with one huge ace of spades.
THAT WOULD BE PITCHER Corey Kluber. Francona decided to start Kluber on only three days of rest and Kluber pitched as though he was coming off a long winter’s nap.
He gave up a run to the Cubs in the first inning, then nothing more — six innings, one run, six hits, one walk, six strikeouts.
The Tribe, though, never blinked and it was one of Francona’s other gambols, or gambles, that paid off in a 7-2 annihilation in Wrigley Field that gave Cleveland a three games to one lead.
Without the designated hitter, Francona had to find a way to get his normal DH, Carlos Santana, into the game.
So he removed first baseman Mike Napolis, a move that didn’t make Napoli happy, but all’s well that ends well.
AFTER THE CUBS SCORED a run in the first off Kluber on a leadoff double by Dexter Fowler and a single by Anthony Rizzo, the Tribe scored two in the top of the second.
And how did they do that? Well, it started with Mr. Santana putting a smile even on Napoli’s face in the dugout by drilling a 3-and-2 John Lackey pitch into the right field seats for a home run.
During the season, Lackey gave up only seven hits on 3-and-2 pitches, a .109 average. But on this night he gave up three 3-and-2 hits all three figuring in runs scored.
After Santana’s home run, two errors by usually gold-handed third baseman Kris Bryant led to another run and a 2-1 lead.
Bryant made a nifty stop on Lonnie Chisenhall’s grounder in the hole, but his throw to first base was high, wide and ugly, banging against the brick wall behind first base.
With Chisenhall on second, Cubs manager Joe Maddon decided to walk Tyler Naquin intentionally because pitcher Kluber was next.
Kluber nubbed one up the third base line and Bryant fielded it in time, but threw wide to first base for another error and Chisenhall scored to make it 2-1.
IT BECAME 3-1 IN the third. Jason Kipnis doubled to the right field corner. Lackey was 2-and-2 on Francisco Lindor and threw strike three — but umpre Marvin Hudson called it ball three. Hudson’s strike zone early in the game clearly was not one that matches the rulebook.
So on 3-and-2 Lindor drove a run-scoring single to center and it was 3-1.
Lackey walked Lindor to open the sixth and he came around to score after Santana singled off Lackey’s glove and Lindor scored on Chisenhall’s sacrifice fly.
THE SILENCER WAS applied to Wrigley Field in the top of the seventh when Jason Kipnis drilled a three-run home run off former Reds pitcher Travis Wood to make it 7-1. Kipnis later singled in the ninth, his third hit — double, homer, single.
And his three-run homer has a famous footnote attached. It was the first three-run home run hit in Wrigley Field during a World Series since Babe Ruth’s famous ‘called’ shot against Charlie Root in the fifth inning of Game 3 in 1932.
So far in four games, the Tribe has outhomered the power-laden Cubs lineup 4-1. The Cubs, extremely patient hitters during their 103-win regular season, are out of whack at the plate, swinging early and often, usually futilely, and flailing at pitches out of the strike zone.
AND EVEN WITH THE six-run cushion, Francona went for the jugular by bringing in the practically peerless Andrew Miller.
He retired the Cubs in the seventh on six pitches then suffered a minor hiccup. Dexter Fowler homered with one out in the eighth, ending Miller’s postseason scoreless streak at 24 2/3 innings. But the Tribe is 9-0 in games in which Miller stands on the rubber.
Trevor Bauer goes for the Series clincher Sunday night against Chicago’s Jon Lester. It is for certain Bauer didn’t fiddle with any drones this weekend after requiring 10 stitches to close a wound on the little finger of his pitching hand just before the World Series began. He hopes to fiddle with the Cubs.