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Cleveland Indians

Spector | Bauer fails to deliver knockout blow yet again

Jesse Spector

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Cleveland Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer, second from right, waits to be pulled from the game against the New York Yankees during the second inning in Game 4 of baseball's American League Division Series, Monday, Oct. 9, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

NEW YORK – Trevor Bauer was very excited about pitching on three days’ rest in Game 4 of the American League division series at Yankee Stadium.

“I consider this normal rest for me,” Bauer said Sunday, when it was made official that he would be Cleveland’s starter on Monday. “I enjoy pitching on short – I guess, technical definition of short – (rest). But if I could draw it out, personally, this is how I’d pitch every time. Take my normal two days’ recovery after my start and then do my day-before routine today, and then roll it out there tomorrow. So I’m feeling very confident where I’m at.”

Trevor Bauer was very excited about how he pitched on three days’ rest in Game 4 of the American League division series at Yankee Stadium.

“I thought my stuff was better than Game 1,” said Bauer, who tossed 6.2 innings of two-hit shutout ball in the series opener. “Velo was up. Curveball had more depth to it, I thought. Thought I located pretty well.”

Bauer and his teammates are heading back to Cleveland with their season on the line after the righthander could not get out of the second inning and the Yankees rolled to a 7-3 win to force a winner-take-all Game 5 on Wednesday.

Wait, what? Bauer loves pitching on short rest. He came out of the gate looking brilliant as he struck out the first two Yankees batters, and got Gary Sanchez out on soft contact after a walk to Didi Gregorius in between. How could he not have made it past the next inning?

“Little things didn’t go my way,” Bauer said. “(Todd) Frazier hits my best pitch, and it lands on the line for a double. (Brett) Gardner gets jammed, and the ball rolls up the middle instead of going to someone. I thought I had a strikeout on (Aaron) Hicks, and the umpire didn’t see it that way. Just little things like that. … And, I think, just, as a team, we didn’t play the greatest defense tonight.”

All of those things are true. In the second inning, after Greg Bird grounded out, Starlin Castro reached on an error by Giovanny Urshela that really was a harsh scoring decision considering that what happened was Castro smashed a 103-mile per hour line drive off Urshela’s shin. Chase Headley then fanned for the inning’s second out, and that’s when the wheels came off for Bauer.

Castro went to second base on a passed ball, and Frazier hit his double off the chalk in left field – while he was fortunate to land it there, the ball was well struck and only missed being a homer by 20 feet. Then came Hicks not getting called out on a two-strike check swing – Bauer was right that he should have been – and making it 2-0 with an RBI single on a ball that Bauer did not happen to mention was smoked to right field.

Gardner’s single was a ground ball, but Bauer talking about how he jammed the Yankees’ leadoff man undersells the fact of the 99-mph exit velocity – another sharply-hit ball. Then, after three mound visits, one from pitching coach Mickey Callaway and two from catcher Roberto Perez, Bauer served up another rocket to Aaron Judge – a two-run double for the presumptive Rookie of the Year’s only hit so far in the series.

So, yes, there were little things that didn’t go Bauer’s way, but also great big things in the fact that as good as his stuff may have been, the Yankees were teeing off and hitting lasers in the second inning.

Cleveland Indians first baseman Carlos Santana (41) talks with pitcher Trevor Bauer during the second inning in Game 4 of baseball's American League Division Series against the New York Yankees, Monday, Oct. 9, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Cleveland Indians first baseman Carlos Santana (41) talks with pitcher Trevor Bauer during the second inning in Game 4 of baseball’s American League Division Series against the New York Yankees, Monday, Oct. 9, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

But at least Bauer has a track record to back up his love of short rest, right? Well, not so much. In fact, this season, Bauer was 7-1 with a 3.83 ERA on five days’ rest, and 7-3 with a 4.48 ERA on the regular four days’ rest.

Bauer also had two starts this year on short rest. On Aug. 19, two days after getting the last two outs of the second game of a doubleheader in Minnesota (on what would have normally been a throw day following his August 14 start), Bauer held the Royals scoreless for 6.1 innings. Earlier in the year, Bauer had a start in Kansas City where he was forced out by a two-hour rain delay in the second inning, and he returned on two days’ rest to get hammered by the Rockies in Denver.

None of this speaks to someone who should believe that he’s most effective on short rest, and neither should the big one: Bauer’s one other career start on three days’ rest, Game 5 of last year’s World Series, when the tide started turning in the Cubs’ favor. That night, Chicago scored all of its runs in a 3-2 win against Bauer in the fourth inning after he’d looked brilliant through three.

“I’m not a slave to the results, like a lot of people are,” Bauer said. “I look at the things I can control, and I think if you look at last time and this time, my stuff was better, I located better, I had some things go against me last time. I think there was a bunt, a swinging bunt last year in the World Series. Again, like I said, the double lands on the line tonight. Gardner hits a ground ball that sneaks up the middle, that could’ve gone to someone, little things like that. Overall, I think the stuff I can control, which is my stuff, my execution, my preparation, my mindset, all that was on point, and I think I executed well.”

Bauer remembers the Javier Baez bunt single in that fateful fourth inning, but conveniently dismisses how that frame opened: A Kris Bryant homer, followed by an Anthony Rizzo double and a Ben Zobrist single.

A lot of the blame for that night has to go to Terry Francona, who had managed his bullpen so aggressively last October, but decided to let Bauer face Chicago’s top hitters a third time. Francona also deserves some blame for not only putting Bauer in this position again, but plotting out the series rotation so that Bauer on short rest was his top option for Game 4 rather than, say, Josh Tomlin.

Cleveland still has Corey Kluber going on normal rest in Game 5, home-field advantage for that decisive contest, and every reason to be confident in that. But, just like last year, when given three chances to close out a series, it’s again going to come down to that third chance, and in no small part because of Bauer.

Francona gave those chances to Bauer, but it cannot be ignored that Bauer is the one who asked for them, and who failed to deliver each time. And after Monday night’s debacle, the righty had everyone and everything to blame but himself. Bauer might not think he’s a slave to the results, but the results that he got in Game 4 are the reason that there’s going to be a Game 5.

Jesse Spector is a national columnist for FanRag Sports, based in New York. The host of "Jesse Spector Is..." on Tampa Bay Lightning Power Play Radio, Jesse is the former national baseball writer and national hockey writer for Sporting News. Before that, he was the Rangers beat writer for the New York Daily News, and the writer of the Touching Base baseball blog. Jesse also has written for Newsday, Baseball America, ESPN SportsTicker, and The Associated Press.

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