Indians' pen stops the bleeding in Game 3 as World Series beckons

TORONTO -- The stakes weren't nearly so high, the crowd far more sympathetic. But the situation was starkly similar.

It was Sept. 17, first inning of a game against the Detroit Tigers, and the Cleveland Indians lost a starting pitcher to injury. Long-term, they were worried about Carlos Carrasco, who fractured the fifth metacarpal below his right pinkie finger and was lost for the duration of the season and playoffs. Short-term, though, there was a game to play, and manager Terry Francona used eight relievers to piece together 30 outs in a 1-0, 10-inning victory.

So, when Trevor Bauer was forced from Game 3 of the American League Championship Series on Monday night with two out in the first inning, blood dripping from a right pinky finger mangled three days earlier in an incident involving a drone, relievers Dan Otero and Zach McAllister turned to one another in the bullpen and agreed it was a familiar, if hardly ideal, predicament.

"Z-Mac and I were talking about how we're probably the only team prepared for this because we did it five times, I think, in September," Otero said, referring to the Carrasco game as well as a 19-inning marathon win (in Toronto) and several other games in which the bullpen carried a heavy load. "Obviously the stage and the lights are brighter. But whenever you can dwell back on past experiences, it helps. It wasn't anything completely foreign to us."

Otero was first out of the bullpen for four outs against the Toronto Blue Jays' mighty lineup. Then came Jeff Manship, who hadn't pitched in 16 days, for another four. Francona kept MacGyver-ing the pitching staff by going to McAllister for three outs and Bryan Shaw for five.

Then, with nine outs to go and a two-run lead, it became elementary. Well, sort of. Francona flip-flopped his two best relievers, going to closer Cody Allen in the seventh inning for five outs and high-leverage specialist Andrew Miller to record the final four in a 4-2 victory over the Jays. The win gave the Indians a 3-0 vice grip on the best-of-seven ALCS and put them on the precipice of their first World Series since 1997.

"Our bullpen, that's one of the most amazing jobs I've ever seen," Francona said. "I mean, starting with Otero to Manship to McAllister to Shaw. If anybody has a hiccup, we probably lose. And they all made pitches and against some really good hitters."

Said Bauer: "What words do you put on that? Unbelievable, right? Can't say enough positive stuff about everybody out there. Co-MVP to everybody down in the bullpen."

Otero said the Indians' relievers were prepared for the possibility that it would be a long night long before Bauer bled all over the mound during a six-pitch at-bat against Blue Jays shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.

Pitchers aren't allowed to work with a foreign substance, including a bandage, so Major League Baseball warned both teams that Bauer would have to leave the game if the scab on his finger broke. And Otero was already seated in the bullpen when he gazed at a television screen and noticed Bauer dabbing blood on his shirt.

Minutes later, the phone rang.

"You saw the blood gushing out, you saw [Blue Jays manager John] Gibbons come out, and you go, 'OK, well, he's probably going to come out of the game,'" Otero said. "So, a bunch of us started moving around, and then my name was called and I had the privilege of warming up in front of 60,000 screaming fans."

Otero gave up a solo homer to Michael Saunders, and after the Indians took a 2-1 lead, McAllister gave up the tying run in the fifth inning. But Otero, Manship and McAllister earn points for keeping the game close for the Indians to take the lead again in the sixth inning on a Jason Kipnis homer. Jose Ramirez added an RBI single to give Shaw a two-run advantage.

"We've had different games in September and throughout the year that have shown what the bullpen can do and the different pieces that we have down there. I think that definitely helped us out a little bit," Shaw said. "I think we had a couple bullpen games in September, and Tito does such a good job with all of us down there that it really helps."

Shaw took the Indians into the seventh inning, at which point Miller fully expected to be next in line. Instead, Francona went with Allen, preferring the right-hander against Toronto's righty-heavy middle of the order.

"I was a little surprised. I don't know how Cody was," Miller said. "For all this talk about flexible roles and stuff, it seemed like he had settled in as the closer. I'm not going to lie, I was like, 'Hey, I'm supposed to go in front of him.'"

By now, though, after the Indians lost Carrasco and fellow starter Danny Salazar (forearm strain) yet somehow are 6-0 in the postseason, who would doubt Francona's genius?

"I don't ever question what he does anymore," Otero said.

It all worked out because, well, of course it did. Allen plowed through Ezequiel Carrera, Justin Smoak and Josh Donaldson in the seventh inning, then got Edwin Encarnacion and Tulowitzki in the eighth before Miller finished it off.

As the Indians spilled onto the field, Bauer raised his arms in triumph, thankful for a bullpen that did it again, just as it did on Sept. 17, just as it had so many times before.

"We hated it for Carlos, but us going through that and winning that game like we did," Allen said, "there was no panic down there."

Said Miller: "It's probably fortunate that we kind of had this rundown a couple times in September, it seemed like. It's not ideal, but is it ever? Maybe we've been prepared for this. Maybe it's a positive. Trevor's injury is unfortunate. We want him on the mound. But it's almost just like, hey, it's another thing that's trying to keep us down."

As if that's even possible this October.