Two Relievers, Four Mistakes, Two Sweeps

If Colorado's Scott Oberg felt horrible Sunday night for turning a 2-run deficit into a 4-run hole his Rockies couldn't close or overcome against the Brewers, just imagine how Cleveland's Trevor Bauer feels after opening the way for a two-all tie to turn into a 4-2 hole and room enough for the Astros to break out the bludgeons. Maybe someone could arrange for the Indians and the Rockies to play a consolation game to take part of the sting away.

With a 6-0 shutout, the Brewers now await the finish of the Dodgers/Braves National League division series to learn who they'll beard in the League Championship Series. And, with an 11-3 demolition, the Astros now await the finish of the Red Sox/Yankees ALDS. Perhaps they were bound to get there by sweeps, but the manners in which they finished the sweeps will haunt their opposition for a very long time.

The Rockies' bats were so sound asleep during their set that not even their oft-remarked Coors Field advantage at the plate did them any favours Sunday. But the sixth inning will linger, only too long to follow. If another pitcher has done what Oberg did in a postseason skirmish I have yet to unearth it. If Oberg wanted to climb the nearest available Rocky Mountain and find a cave in which to hide for the winter, there wasn't a jury on earth that would rule him unjustified.

It began reasonably enough when Oberg rid himself of Jesus Aguilar — who'd hit Rockies starter German Marquez's hanging curve ball almost to the rear of the left field seats in the fifth — on a full-count low outside strike call, on a day plate umpire Ted Barrett was being rather generous about giving both sides the low strikes. Mike Moustakas followed with a soft liner for a base hit and Erik Kratz — the Brewers' edition of the old man down the road, making a postseason name for himself at age 38 after long years up and down from the Show, playing like anything but a backup catcher — ripped one off the base of the right field fence to set up first and third.

The Rockies pulled the infield in and Oberg struck out Brewers shortstop Orlando Arcia swinging. Then Curtis Granderson, the old reliable veteran, pinch hit for Brewers reliever Corey Knabel. Granderson looked at a strike. Oberg took the return throw, set his right foot on the pitching rubber as he prepared to work again from the stretch, then decided he'd just pop the ball into his glove as he'd done a few dozen times before.

Except that he dropped the ball. It hit the mound with a thud almost equal to the Rockies' fading hopes and Moustakas strolled home while Kratz strolled to third. "I had to take a step away from the mound a little bit, regroup, clear my head a little bit," Oberg told reporters after the game ended. "I still had a job to do and can't let that affect me moving forward."

"I wasn't watching Scott at the time," said Rockies manager Bud Black. "I was engaging in a couple of other things. Then I saw the balk was called. And as you know, by rule you can't contest a balk call. When it's called, it's called. But after the inning, [second base umpire] Alfonso [Marquez] told me that Scott was engaged on the rubber and the ball came out of his glove."

Oberg had his heart and head in the right place, but somehow his slider missed the memo. Two pitches later, it squirted through veteran backup catcher Tony Wolters and even Kratz, who runs like an earth mover with a broken treadle, could get home before anyone could even think of stopping him to try selling him a vacuum cleaner. What a sad change of fortune for Oberg and Wolters. It now seems like a season ago when Wolters smacked the tie-breaking RBI single and Oberg struck out the side to get the Rockies here in the first place, beating the Cubs in the wild card game in thirteen innings.

The Rockies were probably well past numb when Arcia and mid-game substitution Keon Broxton hit back-to-back bombs off closer Wade Davis in the ninth. The Brewers' effective enough starters and stingy bullpen throttled them so thoroughly that the only 2 runs they scored all set long were a pair late in Game One. They hit .146 team, slugged .188, and had a collective .210 on-base percentage for the division series, not to mention a team ERA of 4.39. The Brewers hit .272, slugged .437, and had a collective .370 on-base percentage and 28 hits. Brewers pitching had a 0.64 ERA for the series.

"You saw a lot of guys chasing bad pitches, including myself," Carlos Gonzalez — who may or may not be a Rockie after this winter, as he hits free agency with teammates D.J. LaMehieu (second baseman) and Adam Ottavino (setup relief) — lamented after it was over. "We were anxious. But at the same time, they have a great staff there. Their bullpen did a tremendous job."

The Indians' bullpen was their most vulnerable contingent against the Astros, with Andrew Miller worn down by injuries since his surrealistic 2016 postseason and one after another bull breaking down little by little by the time they won an American League Central that wasn't exactly a powerhouse to begin with. They were forced to ride Bauer, converted from starting for October, after returning from an August injury. When he saved their season-ender with 6 shutdown relief innings the Indians may have thought they solved one major issue.

And with the Tribe holding a 2-1 lead thanks to Francisco Lindor's tie-breaking home run off Astros Game 3 starter Dallas Keuchel in the fifth, Bauer had a near-spotless sixth and went to work in the seventh. Right out of the chute, he got himself into hot water when trying to pick off Tony Kemp, who'd singled. The throw went wild enough to hop the photographer's pit and Kemp took second. Then George Springer — whose homer off starter Mike Clevenger tied the Astros for the most consecutive postseason games hitting home runs — dribbled one in front of the plate that eluded Indians catcher Yan Gomes, sending Kemp to third.

Jose Altuve sent Kemp home with the tying run while forcing Springer at second. Alex Bregman, dangerous enough at the plate, bounced one right back to Bauer. Bauer turned to go for Altuve and hopefully start a double play, but the throw went far off line and both runners were safe. And, after Bauer walked Yuli Gurriel, Marwin Gonzalez broke the tie with a 2-run double to left. This seems to be Gonzalez's metier these days — his double also broke a Game 2 tie on Saturday.

Bauer is normally a pitcher who fields his position competently. He committed only 5 errors in his career before entering this postseason.

From there, the Astros were fast, loose, and merciless with the Indians' bullpen. Miller relieved Bauer and escaped with a walk and a fly-out and Cody Allen ended it with a strikeout.

But Springer with one out in the eighth hit his second homer of the day, making him the Astros's franchise leader for postseason bombs, and Allen was finished after an Altuve double, an intentional walk to Bregman, a wild pitch, and another intentional walk, this time to Gurriel. Brad Hand came in and surrendered an RBI single to Gonzalez before striking out Gattis. But he wild-pitched Bregman home with Carlos Correa at the plate, then fed Correa a pitch up just enough for Correa to send over the right field wall.

At 10-2, all that remained for the Indians was their final burial. Bregman hammered the coffin's last nail in with a ninth-inning RBI single. The Indians managed their third run in the bottom when Houston reliever Will Harris wild-pitched Edwin Encarnacion home, but it felt like little more than a consolation prize. Especially from an Astros team that played all set long as though the distance between last year's World Series triumph and this postseason was no wider than that needed to cross a small town street. The Indians didn't help themselves at the plate even allowing for Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole manhandling them in the first two games. Their top five hitters — Lindor, Michael Brantley, Jose Ramirez, Edwin Encarnacion, and Josh Donaldson — hit .157 together and struck out a combined 13 times.

And these Indians, too, though they changed little in personnel from their 2016 World Series team, face a winter of possible departures. Miller and Allen face free agency, to name two. There could be other changes, as well.

The Rockies and their fans should no further blame Oberg for the final defeat than the Indians and their fans should blame Bauer. Nobody told either team that it was ok for their bats to turn to balsa. But both men will surely be haunted for their mid-game catastrophes, even if they know in their guts that their teams' early winter vacations weren't really their fault. That won't stop fans from hanging goat horns upon their heads, foolishly enough, but it may enable both Oberg and Bauer to rest a little easier.

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