Last night’s World Series Game 3 wasn’t quite the pristine pitching match-up its 1-0 final score might indicate—there was an inconsistent strike zone, some very poor base running, Cleveland couldn’t score runners in scoring position for most of the game and each team ended up reaching for relief arms early.
Both starters, the Chicago Cubs’ Kyle Hendricks and the Cleveland Indians’ Josh Tomlin, exited in the fifth inning with the game in a scoreless tie. Given the high stakes and the strong bullpens of both teams (and, for Cleveland, the possibility of needing to save Tomlin for short rest in a Game 6) these decisions made sense. But they cut short a weird, beautiful pitching match-up of a style that is getting harder to come by.
Of the 143 pitches thrown by both starters, just one was above 90 mph. A match-up like this is not necessarily so remarkable in and of itself (technically, Jered Weaver and Doug Fister could provide this)—but in a pitching environment so dominated by speed, a competitive match-up in this vein kind of is.
Both Hendricks and Tomlin are known for their pinpoint command, and in a sense, both had career years this season. Hendricks tweaked his release point and diversified his pitch mix, and the result was limited contact for opposing hitters—giving him a 2.13 ERA, the lowest in baseball, even as most of his peripheral stats stayed fairly consistent from last year. Tomlin’s year, meanwhile, was a career one not in that he became one of his league’s top pitchers but in that he became the top version of himself. Always known for how few walks he issues and how many home runs he gives up, Tomlin managed to decrease his walk rate even more (to 1.03 per nine innings, the lowest in baseball) while increasing his home run rate (to 1.86 per nine, the second highest in baseball). This made him the only pitcher in history with more homers than walks over a career that has lasted longer than two seasons.
But while Hendricks was the greater of the two this season, Tomlin out-pitched him Friday night. Allowing two hits on 58 pitches compared to Hendricks’ six on 85, Tomlin kept the ball in the park even on a windy night, and a late run by Cleveland gave the Indians the 1-0 victory.
Game 4 is Saturday at 8 p.m. ET.