CHICAGO - There were moments, amid a roaring crowd of 41,703 fans Friday at Wrigley Field, when Josh Tomlin's eyes would shift to section 122, just left of home plate, and locate his father in the stands.
He knew that at if any time the game started to speed up too much for him, Tomlin could look at his dad in the crowd, draw comfort from him and settle down. Tomlin used that tactic a few times during what was a solid start in the Cleveland Indians' 1-0 Game 3 win against the Chicago Cubs. The victory gave Cleveland the series lead in the Fall Classic.
"It was probably one of the more emotional and stressful starts in my entire life," Tomlin said. "(My father) has meant so much to me and my career, to be able to see him and find him throughout the game ... it was pretty special and something I'm going to remember for the rest of my life."
Tomlin's father, Jerry, attendance at the game almost wasn't possible. While they might not have envisioned Tomlin's World Series debut coming with Jerry watching in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the chest down in mid-August because of an arteriovenous malformation, it didn't diminish the experience.
Tomlin had made sure to look for his dad in the crowd before the game, spotting him as he walked over to the weight room.
"How could you plan it out or write it out any better than what it is?" Jerry Tomlin told reporters. "To be here for this historic thing they're having here and to be the first World Series here and my first World Series and my son to be here, I don't know, man, it's just hard to explain."
The Indians' righthander never let the emotions of the day overwhelm him. Tomlin delivered on the big stage – the first World Series game played at Wrigley in 71 years – tossing 4 ⅔ scoreless innings while limiting a potent Cubs lineup to only two hits.
Friday night featured the first time in Major League Baseball postseason history that both starting pitchers were pulled from the game with less than five innings pitched and no runs allowed.
It's been rare in the regular season, too, occurring only 18 times in MLB history. Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks held Cleveland scoreless in 4 ⅓ innings, allowing six hits, two walks while striking out six.
Knowing what Tomlin has endured with his father's health issues in the last two months, the Indians have rallied around the 32 year old who is in his seventh season in the big leagues. Cleveland pitching coach Mickey Callaway figured he was just as emotional as Tomlin while watching his start against the Cubs.
"I care about these guys like they're my sons and I love every one of them," Callaway said. "So when anything like that is happening, I'm their biggest supporter."
Added second baseman Jason Kipnis: "We feel very confident with him on the mound because he's a bulldog of a competitor, he pounds the strike zone and he's everything you want out of a pitcher."
Tomlin could be called on to start Game 6 if the series advances that far. He said there will be no issues with being ready whenever he's needed after throwing just 58 pitches on Friday.
Corey Kluber, Cleveland's Game 4 starter Saturday, has understandably garnered most of the attention. But the duo have combined to be almost unstoppable in the playoffs, allowing only five earned runs in 39 ⅔ innings this postseason (1.13 ERA).
Tomlin, perhaps overlooked as an impact starter for the Indians' injury-ravaged rotation, has helped set up Cleveland to take hold of the World Series.
"We're incredibly happy for him that he stepped up on this stage," said Indians lefty Andrew Miller. "We're not surprised in his ability as a pitcher, but he's got a lot going on behind the scenes. For him to have this storybook-type outing is incredible."
Montemurro writes for The Journal News, a property of the USA TODAY Network.