By HAL McCOY
If Terry (Tito) Francona doesn’t win American League Manager of the Year they should anchor the trophy with cement blocks and toss it into Lake Erie.
The Cleveland Indians manager, a utility player for the Cincinnati Reds briefly in 1987, has faced more adversity than a possum on a freeway. He calmly shifts the tobacco wad in his cheeks and goes about his business of directing victories.
AND THAT’S THE Indians are one victory away from advancing to the 2016 World Series after a 4-2 decision over the Toronto Blue Jays, taking a three games to none lead in the ALCS.
His starting pitcher Monday night, Trevor Bauer, walked to the mound with 10 stitches in his pinky pitching finger. He sliced the finger Friday morning doing maintenance on his drone.
He retired two Blue Jays in the first and walked two, but blood was dripping from the ripped stitches, soaking his uniform pants and spotting the pitching rubber.
That’s a no-no in baseball — there is no bleeding on the ball in baseball. Umpires said he had to go.
SO FRANCONA ENACTED ONE of his famous adjustment dances. He followed Bauer with Dan Otero, Jeff Manship, Zach McAllister and Bryan Shaw to get him the last out of the first and through the sixth.
With the Tribe leading, 4-2, everybody in the baseball world expected to see Andrew Miller in the seventh. That’s called Miller Time and it has been when Francona has employed him throughout the post-season.
That, though, isn’t the way Francona operates. He stunned and shocked everybody by bringing in closer Cody Allen to pitch the in the seventh, the first time all year he has been in a game that early.
And he permitted Allen to start the eighth. Allen retired the first two, striking out Troy Tulowitzki for the second out.
WHAT’S THIS? IT WAS Francona walking to the mound to remove Allen with two out and nobody on. Now it was Miller Time. He struck out Russell Martin to finish the inning, Miller’s 11th strikeout of the 13 Blue Jays he had faced in the ALCS.
Former Reds catcher Dioner Navarro, pinch-hitting to open the bottom of the ninth, singled off Miller.
That meant the next three hitters represented the tying run. Miller struck out Kevin Pillar, struck out Melvin Upton Jr. and Darwin Barney grounded to short to end it. And Miller owned 15 strikeouts of the 19 Jays he has faced in the ALCS.
“I know it was a different way to win this game, but the alternative was to lose and we didn’t want to do that,” said Francona.
THE CLEVELAND BULLPEN held the Blue Jays to two runs, seven hits and one walk over 8 1/3 innings.
So, without starting pitchers Danny Salaraz and Carlos Carrasco — and now Trevor Bauer — and without star outfielder Michael Brantley and catcher Yan Gomes, Francona has guided his team to six straight postseason wins and is one victory away from the World Series.
There was one danger moment for the Tribe. The Jays had two on with two out in the seventh. Josh Donaldson lined one to left, but Coco Crisp, the human cereal box, made a diving catch, emphasizing the defense Cleveland is playing. The Indians haven’t made an error in the three games and many of the plays they perform are listed under spectacular.
OFFENSIVELY, THE TRIBE offense reminded one of Dean Martin’s song, ‘That’s Amore,’ with the lyrics, “Scuzza me, but you see, back in old Napoli that’s amore.
Cleveland first baseman Mike Napoli was the offensive show with two hits (double,home run), a walk, two RBI and two runs scored.
When the game began he was 0 for his last 25 against right handed pitchers, 2 for 18 in this postseason and 0 for 9 for his career against Toronto starter Marcus Stroman.
He started the scoring in the first with a two-out double off Stroman that gave the Tribe a 1-0 lead. Toronto’s Michael Saunders homered in the second off Dan Otero to tie it, 1-1.
Napoli retrieved the lead in the fourth with a home run to give the Indians a 2-1 lead.
THE BLUE JAYS TIED IT again, 2-2, in the fifth on a ground ball against Zach McAllister and that was it for Toronto.
Jason Kipnis, slumping during the postseason, told a teammate during batting practice, “I’ll use a tree trunk if I can break this slump.” He broke it leading off the sixth with a home run. And the Tribe added a run when Napoli walked and scored on a single by Jose Ramirez.
It was enough for the monstrous win and Francona lives another day to wear the baseball genius hat.
And get this one. The Tribe has given ukp 10 runs in the postseason against Boston (ALDS) and Toronto (ALCS) — one run at time. They haven’t given up more than one run in any inning. And five times after the opponent scored one run, the Indians came back in their next at bat to score. Beating them is like trying to trap a rattlesnake with a salad fork.