CLEVELAND — Trevor Bauer truly became a member of the Indians bullpen Monday afternoon.
After a Cy Young worthy regular season — shortened after a line drive broke Bauer’s right fibula Aug. 11 — Cleveland manager Terry Francona, in an attempt to strengthen a group that struggled for most of the regular season, made the decision to add the All-Star starter to the list of relievers for his postseason roster.
Cleveland’s bullpen went 15-29 during the regular season, finishing with a 4.60 ERA and allowing opponents to hit .253 against it. The Indians relief corps was ranked 13th out of 15 American League teams.
Francona used Bauer during both games in Houston — Bauer went 2⅔ innings, giving up a hit and an earned run while striking out three — but Bauer didn’t look like an actual Indians reliever until Game 3 in Cleveland — an 11-3 Astros win that completed the Indians’ ALDS elimination sweep.
After allowing a hit during a scoreless sixth inning, Bauer surrendered three runs on three hits and a pair of errors — both by the pitcher — in the seventh.
“When I came in I fully intended on protecting the lead and finishing the game myself,” Bauer said. “I think my stuff was elite, I executed pretty well pitch-wise — I obviously didn’t execute very well defensively — but it is what it is.”
No. 9 hitter Tony Kemp singled to right field to start the seventh inning, then moved to second when Bauer’s pickoff attempt sailed past first baseman Edwin Encarnacion and into the camera bay.
George Springer reached first — moving Kemp to third — on a swinging bunt that dribbled down the third-base line, and Kemp scored to tie the game at 2-all on Jose Altuve’s groundout to Francisco Lindor.
Alex Bregman followed with a weak shot to Bauer, whose throw pulled Lindor off the bag at second. Lindor tried to get Bregman at first but was late with the throw.
“The one to first was just a bad throw. It happens from time to time, and it was just unfortunate that it was such a bad throw that (Kemp) went to second,” Bauer said. “The one at second, obviously a very bad throw as well. I caught the ball, I turned around to throw it and I saw Frankie going to my right and the umpire crossing over to the left and I was in the middle of throwing and I kind of flinched and I made a bad throw.
“There’s no way around it. That should have been the end of the inning. It was a 2-2 game in the seventh and we had a good chance.”
The double play did not happen and the inning did not end. Instead, after Bauer walked Yuli Gurriel to load the bases, Marwin Gonzalez doubled down the left-field line to give Houston a 4-2 lead.
While the errors kept the inning going, the Astros hitters were the true cause of Bauer’s frustration.
“More deflating is the swinging bunt that gets tapped up the line and then the pop fly that just bloops in the perfect spot. Nothing got hit hard,” Bauer said. “I got what probably should have been about four or five outs that inning, plus the two that we had to get when I left. I didn’t help myself at all. It’s just one of those days.”
It was a day Bauer probably didn’t imagine while going 12-6 with a 2.21 ERA — the lowest for an Indians starter since Gaylord Perry’s 1.92 in 1972, the year he won the Cy Young — and 221 strikeouts in just 175⅓ innings. Not just the rough outing against the Astros in Game 3, but making three relief appearances in four days during the postseason.
“Pitching is pitching. That was my role,” Bauer said. “Tito and I and a couple of guys had a meeting in Chicago towards the end of the year. I let them know what I had to say and they told me what they had to say, and I told them, ‘When I leave this room I’m 100 percent bought in on my role.’
“That’s what I did. I left that room and got ready to pitch out of the bullpen. So … it is what it is.”
Bauer won’t let the final inning taint his career-best season, and he’s excited to see if he can improve upon his numbers next year.
“I think I had a very good year,” he said. “It was unfortunate that I got hit with the line drive. It kind of disrupted the flow for me personally. I have a lot of bitterness about that.
But we have a good group of core players, so there’s a lot of hope for the future.”
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