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Terry Francona’s plan for starting Trevor Bauer backfires

Cleveland Indians' position players giving their starting pitcher

Cleveland Indians' position players giving their starting pitcher Trevor Bauer comfort after struggling in the bottom of the second inning against the New York Yankees in the ALDS game 4 at Yankee Stadium. Oct. 9, 2017. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Even in baseball’s age of analytics, when numbers can explain and predict just about anything, there still is room for the old-fashioned law of averages. That is to say, it was natural to assume that Trevor Bauer was not going to be as good in his second start as he had been in the first, especially on three days’ rest.

Actually, there had been two elements of surprise in the Indians pitcher’s performance last Thursday in Game 1 of the Division Series. One was the fact he shut out the Yankees for 6 2⁄3 innings. The other was that he started in the first place. Logic suggested that the ace, Corey Kluber, would get the assignment.

Bauer’s superb effort that night reinforced Terry Francona’s reputation as a visionary manager, perhaps the best in the sport. Francona pulled off another surprise for Game 4 Monday night at Yankee Stadium, choosing to go with Bauer again so soon.

Francona said Monday afternoon that part of his rationale for the whole series was that Bauer was adept at pitching without the customary four days of rest. Bauer said late Sunday night, when the choice was announced: “I consider this normal rest for me. I enjoy pitching on short, I guess, the technical definition of short. If I could draw it up, personally, this is how I’d pitch every time. Take my normal two days’ recovery after my start, then do my day-before routine and then roll it out there.”

This all did not work according to plan on Monday. It was Bauer himself who was rolled out of there, only two outs into the second inning and down 4-0.

True, all four runs were unearned because third baseman Giovanny Urshela booted a grounder (literally booted, the ball kicked off his shin) and extended the inning. But there was nothing unearned about the Yankees hits: Todd Frazier’s searing double down the leftfield line, singles to centerfield by Aaron Hicks and Brett Gardner and a scorching double to the leftfield fence by Aaron Judge.

After the latter, Francona slowly walked to the mound to remove Bauer, having seen his strategy go up in flames. It was a good bet that, no matter what, the Indians manager would not face anything like the wrath Joe Girardi absorbed for his admittedly poor decisions in Game 2. Francona has two World Series titles and came within one run of winning a third last fall. Still, Bauer’s short stint was a fresh reminder that, for a manager, angst always is close at hand.

“I know I used to kid with some of my friends when I left Boston — and I’d been in Philadelphia — I said the next place I ought to go is Beirut,” he said. “But, you know what? You can’t have all the passion that you have in places like New York, Boston, Philadelphia without having some of the headaches that come with it. That’s just the way it is. There’s tons of passion and sometimes the manager just goes home with a headache.”

During the postseason, there is passion in every park, and the headaches can linger, maybe all winter.

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