Back in 2008, almost everyone who attended the Cubs' two Division Series games against the Dodgers remarked about how weird, almost funereal, Wrigley Field seemed those two evenings, not even close to a playoff atmosphere.
Monday night, almost as if to make up for all of that, the old ballyard was loud, boisterous, hopeful and beyond thrilled at the Cubs' 8-6 win over the Cardinals that put them one win away from eliminating their arch-rivals from this year's postseason.
Read that last part again, please: "eliminating their arch-rivals from this year's postseason." The players seem to feel this rivalry almost as much as we do as fans; the teams have played tough, close, competitive games all year. Game 3 of the NLDS was no exception, but the Cubs posted the win and in so doing, erased a significant postseason record.
The Cubs crushed six home runs out of Wrigley Field Monday night, breaking a postseason mark previously held by five teams, including the 1984 Cubs. Here are the previous teams to hit five home runs in a postseason game:
And if you think it had been a long time since you'd seen any Cubs team hit six home runs in a game at Wrigley Field, you're right -- nine years, since September 17, 2006, and I include that for amusement value, since that team lost 96 games and this year's model... well, they're a lot better. The first six men in the Cubs lineup -- Dexter Fowler, Jorge Soler, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro and Kyle Schwarber -- all went deep, and even though the wind was howling out to right field with occasional gusts over 25 miles per hour, not one of those blasts needed any help from the wind at all.
Schwarber was first, giving the Cubs a 1-0 lead in the second inning. Jake Arrieta seemed to be sailing along until he got uncharacteristically wild in the fourth, walking the first two batters he faced. He recovered by striking out Jason Heyward, but then Jhonny Peralta doubled in both runners and the Cardinals led 2-1, temporarily silencing the sellout throng.
The Cubs got the run right back in the bottom of the inning on Castro's home run. With two out, Addison Russell sliced a ball high off the left-field wall and (somewhat foolishly, I thought) tried to take third:
There were two out -- it would have taken a hit to score Russell from second base, there was really no need to try for three. Russell suffered what was described as "hamstring tightness" and I think you can see him take a minor misstep as he rounds second base. Fortunately, it doesn't seem serious:
#Cubs Addison Russell (left hamstring) says he felt better after treatment. He'll be re-examined on Tuesday. Enjoyed watching all the HRs— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) October 13, 2015
Javier Baez ran for Russell and stayed in the game at shortstop. Baez later made a throwing error (tough error, I thought, that one could have been ruled a hit), but also singled twice. Here's Russell discussing the injury:
And Joe Maddon on Russell:
The Cubs rallied for three runs in the fifth, taking the lead they would never let go of. Soler singled with one out and Bryant and Rizzo went deep back-to-back. The crowd got loud after Bryant's homer and though I didn't think it possible, got even louder following Rizzo's. I don't know if this comes across well enough on the TV broadcast, but I don't think I've ever heard Wrigley as loud as it was during that inning. The Cubs got two more baserunners in that inning, but Miguel Montero -- the only Cubs starter who played the full game and didn't homer -- struck out to end the rally.
This game was not one of Arrieta's finest moments. With a 5-2 lead he allowed a leadoff single in the sixth and then Jason Heyward, who is 8-for-21 vs. Jake in the regular season, launched a homer to left to make it 5-4. Jake struck out the next two hitters and would likely have been allowed to finish the inning, but he hit pinch-hitter Brandon Moss. With Jake's pitch count at 97, Joe Maddon wisely lifted him for Clayton Richard, who needed just two pitches to get Kolten Wong to hit a comebacker to end the inning.
A bit of trivia to interrupt this recap: by appearing in this game, Richard became the fourth player to appear in a postseason game for both Chicago teams. The others: Vance Law, Lance Johnson and Neal Cotts.
In the bottom of the inning, Chris Coghlan, batting for Richard, singled, and one out later Soler hit the Cubs' fifth homer of the evening. That made Soler's postseason batting line:
Jorge Soler's #Postseason career: BB 2B HR BB BB BB BB 1B HR— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) October 13, 2015
He's the first player in major-league history to reach base in his first nine postseason plate appearances. After that, Jorge was given the rest of the evening off and Coghlan replaced him in right field. A good thing to do, I think, given Soler's injuries this year, though he has shown no sign that they're bothering him at all this October.
So it was up to the Cubs' bullpen, which has done a very good job in this series. Trevor Cahill and Travis Wood threw a scoreless seventh, interrupted only by a single by Stephen Piscotty and the aforementioned Baez error. Pedro Strop, who's had trouble with the Cardinals this year (though mostly in St. Louis), threw a 1-2-3 eighth, and then Fowler completed the long-ball barrage with this one, that brought the crowd to its loudest:
Too bad the TBS announcers didn't seize the moment. They sounded almost bored on that call.
Hector Rondon was the only pitcher warming up during that eighth inning, so he entered to finish up, even though Fowler's homer took the game out of a save situation. He gave up a one-out single and was two strikes away from ending it unscathed when Piscotty yanked a homer into the right-field bleachers to make it 8-6.
Nervous time? Not really. With everyone standing and screaming, Rondon got Matt Holliday to ground to Castro and Wrigley Field exploded in joy:
Again, I don't think you can sense how loud the place was from those videos. Beyond anything I have ever heard. And are you all OK with the "rally towels" now?
The Cubs ended another streak Monday evening: this was their first postseason win at Wrigley Field since Game 2 of the 2003 NLCS. They'd lost five straight Wrigley Field postseason games after that, until Monday. Perhaps this tweet sums up this one best:
Arrieta allows as many runs tonight as he allowed in his previous 10 starts COMBINED and the #Cubs STILL win. It's simply their year.— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) October 13, 2015
I fervently hope that he's right.
Given the odd 5:07 starting time, the crowd was somewhat late-arriving, but over the last 30 minutes before game time, the park filled up quickly. Unlike regular-season games, very, very few people left their seats at any time. Beer sales must have been down, as I didn't see many in the bleachers going back and forth for drinks, instead wanting to soak in every moment of this one. The announced crowd of 42,411 was the largest for any game at Wrigley Field since the fire department set maximum-capacity rules in 1978. Before that the bleachers were routinely oversold and for some games, fans were allowed to sit in the aisles. Previous post-1978 record: 42,374 on August 20, 2011, also against the Cardinals.
Leaving the ballpark didn't feel any different from leaving any other Cubs win this year. Crowds moved swiftly down Waveland past the vendors yelling "$10 shirts!" with people slapping high-fives with total strangers, with everyone knowing there's still work to be done, beginning late Tuesday afternoon.
Game 4 begins at 3:37 CT, which means there will be some shadows across the infield when Jason Hammel takes the mound. Jason, pitch the game of your life, please. The Cardinals, facing elimination, are going with Game 1 starter John Lackey. Lackey, who has been very tough on the Cubs all year including that Game 1 start, has not started on three days' rest all season, in fact, hasn't done it in 10 years, and that was two teams and one Tommy John surgery ago. Let's hope the short rest will be the key to the Cubs unlocking their offense against Lackey.
Go Cubs. I don't want to go back to St. Louis and I'm absolutely certain the Cubs don't want to, either. Let's win this thing this afternoon. The game preview will post at 1:30 p.m. CT.