CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Indians’ wounded pitching staff had racked up out after out throughout the postseason, shutting down three of best offenses in baseball.
Then came Tuesday night.
With a second chance to wrap up the franchise’s first World Series title since 1948, the pitchers struggled mightily in a 9-3 loss to the Chicago Cubs in Game 6 at Progressive Field.
By losing two games in a row, the Indians have been forced into a winner-take-all Game 7 on Wednesday night. Ace Corey Kluber, who has two of Cleveland’s three wins in the series, will face Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks.
“Sooner or later our guys were going to have a bad game,” Indians catcher Roberto Perez said. “You’re not going to hold down good teams every single game. You’re going to give up some runs.”
The nine runs allowed were easily the most by the Indians in 14 games during this postseason, surpassing the five they gave up to the Toronto Blue Jays in Game 4 over the American League Championship Series.
Furthermore, the Indians had been touched for just 35 runs in their first 13 playoffs game. The Cubs had managed just 10 runs in the first five games of this series.
Perhaps the law of averages finally caught up to a pitching staff that has overcome injuries to starting pitchers Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar and Trevor Bauer. The Indians swept the Boston Red Sox in their American League Division Series, beat the Blue Jays in five games then split six games with the Cubs.
However, losing pitching Josh Tomlin was having none of that talk after getting rocked for six runs and six hits in 2.1 innings.
“It was a matter of not executing pitches,” Tomlin said. “I made some bad pitches and I paid for them, the team paid for them. It was disappointing to go out there and not pitch the way I know I’m capable of pitching.”
Tomlin retired the game’s first two batters, then the Cubs erupted for three first-inning runs.
Kris Bryant hit a 433-foot home run to left field, the first Tomlin allowed on an 0-2 pitch all season. Anthony Rizzo and Ben Zobrist followed with singles to put runners on the corners.
Tomlin appeared to get out of the jam when he induced Addison Russell to hit a pop up into center field. However, a miscommunication between rookie center fielder Tyler Naquin and right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall caused the ball to fall between them for a two-run double and the Cubs were suddenly up 3-0.
Indians manager Terry Francona has often said Tomlin is as good a teammate as he has ever been around. Tomlin lived up to the lofty praise by refusing to blame either outfielder.
“Those things happen sometimes,” Tomlin said. “I made a bad pitch to Bryant, I made a bad pitch to Rizzo and I made a bad pitch to Zobrist. If I don’t make three bad pitches, we’re out of the inning with no runs. That’s on me.”
Naquin has had lapses in communicating throughout the year but it never proved as costly as Tuesday night.
“I have to take control there,” Naquin said. “The crowd was loud but I have to yell louder and take control. That was a big mistake.”
Tomlin was pulled in the third inning after the Cubs loaded the bases.
The reliable Dan Otero, who had allowed only one run in six innings this postseason, relieved and served up a grand slam to Russell on an 0-2 pitch, a clout that carried 434 feet to center field.
That made it 7-0 and the games was effectively over. Though the Indians cut the lead to 7-2 in the fifth inning, rookie right-hander Mike Clevinger gave up a two-run home run to Rizzo in the ninth inning.
Tomlin said he had no feel for his curveball, which had been such an effective pitch while he went 2-0 with a 1.76 ERA in his first three postseason starts, and instead was forced to go with his cutter more often.
For just the second time in his seven-year career, Tomlin was pitching on short rest. The only other time he pitched with just three days off between starts was in his second career outing on July 31, 2010.
However, he said he felt no ill effects, especially after being limited to just 4.2 innings last Friday in Game 3.
“It was all a matter of executing pitches,” Tomlin said. “That’s it.”
Tomlin’s tough night, though, set up what should be great theatre on Wednesday night in Game 7 between the title-starved Indians and the Cubs, who last won the World Series in 1908.
Though his team missed it second chance to secure the title, Francona maintained his sense of humor.
“I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s a really important game tomorrow,” he said with a smile.