Errors are not the best way to measure a fielder’s quality. You know that. I know you know that. But still, here’s a fact for you: Kris Bryant committed just 14 errors all season, and only 12 at third base. Among players with as many innings at the position, that was the fourth-lowest total in the National League. He wasn’t spectacular, but he wasn’t bad, either—and he certainly defied expectations that he’d be unable to maneuver his 6-foot-5 frame into passable defense at the hot corner.
But Bryant committed two errors in a single inning last night, and cost the Cubs the lead, the game, and possibly the World Series in the process. In a night chock-a-block with goats for the Cubs—John Lackey pitched poorly, Joe Maddon left him in too long, and the Chicago bats once again failed to get to Corey Kluber—Bryant’s errors stand out for the degree to which they arrived in defiance of any reasonable expectation for the game’s progress through the night.
Maddon will get rightfully excoriated for his decision to leave Lackey in the game to hit in the fourth, but he’s shown an uncommon faith in his pitchers all season. That’s not new. Bryant’s miscues are.
Here’s how it all went down. Carlos Santana—freed of the burden of “playing” left field—led off the inning with a home run, tying the game and silencing what had been, to that point, a raucous and joyful Wrigley crowd. Still, even after the blast, there wasn’t all that much to be upset about, from the Cubs’ perspective. Lackey had pitched reasonably well to that point, and a home run allowed to Santana is the kind of thing that happens sometimes.
So, too, is a groundout by Jose Ramirez, which is what happened next. All fine. All normal. All different from what came next. Lonnie Chisenhall, who to that point had been most notable in three World Series games for inexplicably flubbing a Jorge Soler fly ball down the right-field line in Game 3, took Lackey’s first pitch for a strike. Then he fouled one off. And another. And another. The count was 0-2 on a so-so-hitter with one out in a tie game. Still not the worst place in the world to be, if you’re Chicago.
And then, a ground ball to third base. Bryant fielded the ball cleanly, but his throw sailed wide of Anthony Rizzo at first base, putting Chisenhall on. Roberto Perez moved Chisenhall over with a groundout, and an intentional walk to Tyler Naquin—which you can justify even though it was Tyler Naquin—put runners on first and second with two outs and a chance to move into the bottom of the frame with a tie game.
Kluber was at the plate, and took the count to 3-1 before fouling off a pitch to bring things 3-2. Here, again, a chance to get out of it relatively unscathed. And with the pitcher up! And then, a half-bunt, half-swing, shot into the dark. The ball dribbled along the third base line harmlessly, slowing quickly as it moved through the Wrigley grass, and Bryant charged. He’s usually reasonably good at making these sorts of plays—not as good, to be fair, as Javy Baez charging on a similar play—but this was not one of his finer moments.
The throw over to first base, from an odd angle and arm slot for Bryant, bounced off of Rizzo’s glove at first base, Chisenhall scored, and Naquin moved over to third. He’d was kept there, as Lackey got out of the inning one batter later, but the damage was done. The Cubs would never reclaim the lead.
There are other things worth talking about, of course. First, Corey Kluber put to rest notions that he a) wouldn’t be able to pitch on short rest, and b) would get beat up by a Cubs team getting a second look at him by throwing six very able innings, striking out six and walking one. His stuff wasn’t nearly as good as it was in Game 1–and he didn’t have the zone he did then, either–but don’t let the Cubs’ bad plate approach lull you into thinking Kluber didn't pitch his butt off. He did.
The Indians’ hitters, too, deserve credit for capitalizing on Chicago miscues, both in the field and on the mound. Travis Wood, who oddly got put into a game the Cubs had to win, caught a little too much of the plate on a seventh-inning pitch to Jason Kipnis, and Kipnis turned on it rather impressively and sent it sailing into the right-field bleachers. That put the Indians up 7-1, and a late Dexter Fowler homer couldn’t sully what was a coming-out party for Cleveland’s bats.
Cleveland now finds itself in the enviable position of being up 3-1 in a series with two games left to play at home, Andrew Miller humming right along (that home run notwithstanding), and Cody Allen barely used. Some will question Terry Francona’s decision to keep Miller in there for a second inning tonight, but I’m not one of them. The man’s in a groove. Tito could have thrown him out there for six innings and he’d be ready to go tomorrow. Better to give him some work in-game than to loosen him up in the bullpen for nothing.
In postgame interviews, Cleveland’s stars, young and old, were as light as can be. They know this Cubs team doesn’t have a lot of quit in it, and they’re not counting their hardware just yet, but they’re also pretty darn confident in their chances the rest of the way. That’s fair. Cleveland wasn’t the best team coming into this series, but they’ve been the best team through its first four games, by a long shot, and they deserve the position they’re in. So too do the Cubs. They’ll sleep uneasily tonight. Cleveland will nod off just fine.