SAN FRANCISCO — How do I even begin to describe this one?
That’s a beginning, I guess, although that’s really the ending, which came as the clock approached midnight in San Francisco, nearly 2 a.m. in Chicago. Were you awake when Joe Panik’s double got past Albert Almora Jr., bouncing off the brick in right-center field, scoring Brandon Crawford with the winning run?
Watching a postseason game in the other team’s ballpark is tough enough. The dejection you feel when that team wins in a walkoff — even though a significant number of fans had departed by that time, likely having work or school in the morning -- is perhaps unlike any other feeling in sports. And I sure hope I don’t have to feel that again this month. Fortunately, the Cubs still lead this series two games to one.
Maybe I should start at the beginning, or near there, anyway. Addison Russell got hit by a pitch in the second inning, Javier Baez dribbled a ball down the third-base line and reached, and one out later, this happened:
Beyond the fact that ball was crushed:
There was this:
Bumgarner had never given up a home run to a pitcher. Until just now. 3-0 Cubs.— Andrew Baggarly (@extrabaggs) October 11, 2016
Well, that was a good beginning, all right. But there was still work to be done. Jake Arrieta became the fourth Cubs pitcher to homer in the postseason, and the first since... Saturday at Wrigley Field. And:
Cy Youngs with a postseason HR: Bob Gibson, Rick Sutcliffe, Steve Carlton and Jake Arrieta. So...Cubs 2, all other teams 2.— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) October 11, 2016
I could go on all day with tweets like those, but I’m going to take back this recap for myself. OK, indulge me just one more:
No visiting pitcher homered at AT&T Park during the 2015 or 2016 regular seasons. Last opposing pitcher with HR there: Zack Greinke 9/13/14— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) October 11, 2016
The Cubs got two more runners on base in the second inning after Arrieta’s homer, on a single by Dexter Fowler and a walk drawn by Kris Bryant, but Anthony Rizzo lined to Crawford to end the inning.
The relief pitching failures I’m going to document here wouldn’t have made a bit of difference if the Cubs could have hit with RISP. They were 2-for-11 in that category Monday night, leaving 10 men on base, and had RISP in the first, second and third innings off Madison Bumgarner. Sure, they got MadBum out of the game after five innings, but they could have and probably should have knocked him out earlier and scored five or six runs and then you’d all have gotten to bed a lot earlier and we’d be celebrating this morning.
Jake allowed a run in the third and another in the fifth, both rallies started by Denard Span, who doubled and scored on a Buster Posey single to make it 3-1, and tripled and came home on a sacrifice fly to make it 3-2.
In the sixth, the Cubs might have caught a break on a terrific play by Baez that was reviewed:
The Twitterverse lit up after that one and the Giants fans at the ballpark booed loudly when it was ruled “call stands.” Did Rizzo keep a tiny bit of his foot on first base after he caught Baez’s throw, before it came off? Or was there simply not enough evidence to overturn the call?
Two ground outs later, Jake was done for the evening, as Joe Maddon double-switched Jason Heyward into the game in right field and Pedro Strop entered to pitch. Strop did his job, retiring the first two Giants in the seventh on just seven pitches.
Now, here’s where you could quibble a bit with Maddon’s relief choices. The whole idea, I thought, of acquiring Aroldis Chapman, was to set up a seventh-eight-ninth trio of Strop, Hector Rondon and Chapman. One inning from each.
Instead, Maddon decided to play strictly with the platoon in the seventh and eighth. Travis Wood entered to face Span. OK, that worked: one pitch, one out, a line drive to Ben Zobrist in left.
But the Cubs still could not score. They had just three baserunners between the third and ninth, one on an error by Conor Gillaspie in the fifth on a ball hit by Baez, who reached second but was stranded.
Wood started the eighth. I guess the idea was that he’d get Brandon Belt, then Hector would come in and retire Posey and Hunter Pence, and on we’d go to the ninth.
That plan was torn up and scattered all over the Bay Area when Belt singled and Hector walked Posey.
Aroldis Chapman, it’s your turn. Previously, Chapman had let it be known that he preferred to throw only one inning, but this was not the case for the postseason:
Chapman said he told Maddon before the NLDS started he was willing to pitch whenever he was needed. #Cubs— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) October 11, 2016
Chapman: "I didn't have any problems with [coming in the 8th]. I told [Maddon] that, whatever he needs me for I'm ready to do" #Cubs— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) October 11, 2016
It’s not so much the number of innings as the situation. Chapman appears to be at his best when he enters with no one on base, a “clean” inning, if you will. He did strike out Pence, but then Gillaspie — who the Giants didn’t sign until spring training had almost begun and who spent the first couple of weeks of 2016 in Triple-A — tripled in two runs to give the Giants their first lead.
Now, here’s my potential quibble with Maddon. Heyward had been in the game for just a bit more than one inning. When Chapman entered, he got double-switched out for Albert Almora Jr.
Does Heyward catch up to that ball and grab it? The fantastic catch [VIDEO] he made in this same ballpark in May was in almost exactly that location (just a bit deeper). There’s no question Almora is a fine defensive outfielder. But... I think maybe Heyward catches that ball and we’re celebrating this morning. Here’s Joe’s explanation:
I guess that makes sense, and as I said, Almora’s a very good outfielder. But Heyward’s experience might have been worth keeping him in the game at that point.
It got worse. Crawford singled in Gillaspie and it was 5-3, and the Cubs had just three outs remaining. A walk to Panik brought Maddon out, and Chapman was removed mid-inning for the first time as a Cub. Justin Grimm retired the only two batters he faced to end the disastrous frame.
But I remembered: The Cubs won the most games of any team in baseball in 2016 trailing entering the ninth. And the Giants lost the most games of any team in baseball in 2016 when leading entering the ninth.
It didn’t take long for the Cubs fans at AT&T Park to get back on their feet. Fowler drew a leadoff walk off Sergio Romo. And then:
That’s... almost impossible. The Chevron ad on the wall in left field has a smiling car that sticks up a bit above the top of the wall. The ball hit the top of that car and bounced into the seats. If that’s not there, Blanco might have caught the ball, or it might have hit the top of the wall and bounced back in play.
It’s 5-5 and there still isn’t anyone out.
But quickly, Romo recovered and retired Rizzo, Almora and Zobrist and to the bottom of the ninth we went.
At this point, the Cubs have just two relievers left, Mike Montgomery and Carl Edwards Jr. CJ isn’t stretched out to go multiple innings and Montgomery is, so on came the latter.
And the honest truth is, he was really, really good, showing all of us why the Cubs went out of their way to acquire him last July. Even when he lost his command for a bit and Chris Bosio had to trudge out to the mound, he didn’t lose his composure. A one-out walk in the bottom of the ninth resulted in an inning-ending double play when Almora made this outstanding diving catch [VIDEO].
Montgomery got through the 11th unscathed, gave up a harmless leadoff single in the 11th and a two-out hit in the 12th, four innings of outstanding two-hit relief with just one walk (before the Giants’ 13th-inning rally). He’s the first Cubs pitcher to make a four-inning relief appearance in a postseason game since Les Lancaster did it — also against the Giants, in Game 2 of the 1989 NLCS.
But the Cubs could do nothing with the Giants pen after Bryant’s homer. They set down 13 in a row, including getting a ball hit by Almora that was ruled trapped on the field reversed on review [VIDEO].
Then the Cubs finally broke through in the 13th. The inning alone set a team record:
Baez and Willson Contreras singled with one out and then Maddon had another choice. Would he let Chris Coghlan (who’d entered in the ninth to play left) face lefty Ty Blach? The only position player left was David Ross.
Ross batted for Coghlan. He hit into a double play to end the inning. Give Grandpa Rossy credit, he made it close at first:
And then came the end, the doubles in the 13th that sent Giants fans — some of whom had been warned on the massive video board that their ferry rides would not be running after midnight — home happy, and left the fairly significant minority of Cubs fans in the crowd (I’d say perhaps as many as 10 percent, 4,000 or 5,000) stunned.
I don’t want to make comparisons to previous Cubs losses or be the guy to (again) tell you that the Cubs still haven’t won a postseason game west of St. Louis ... oh, wait. I just did. But that’s not the important thing here. The Cubs just got beat. It was one of the most remarkable baseball games I’ve ever seen any time, anywhere, much less being an elimination game in October. It hurts, it sucks that the Cubs lost, but this is a good and resilient team and Maddon won’t let them dwell on it. I’m sure they’re already past it and preparing for Game 4.
Here’s where I compliment the Giants and their fans. The security lines were orderly and professionally run, entry to the park was easy, despite the large and early-arriving crowds. Giants fans were unfailingly friendly to Cubs fans, all agreed that this was a fantastic game, I didn’t find anyone trying to rub my nose in the loss (such as what happened in San Diego in 1984). It’s what makes the Giants an easy team to like, even if you’re not a fan (and not this week, that’s for sure). And, of course, I hope the Cubs score early and often in Game 4 and put things away so there isn’t any need for late-inning dramatics or tension.
I’m exhausted this morning, wired after returning from the game and operating on only a few hours’ sleep, and likely, so are you after this marathon. At five hours, four minutes, just 12 other postseason games in history were longer by time, most recently the 14-inning Game 1 of last year’s World Series.
The teams will meet again at 7:40 p.m. CT Tuesday for Game 4. It is my fervent hope, and yours too, I’m sure, that this will be the last game of this series. John Lackey, who’s pitched, and won, multiple postseason elimination games, goes for the Cubs, and Matt Moore — who pitched four seasons for Joe Maddon in Tampa -- starts for the Giants. The Cubs could have an advantage, as several Giants relievers threw 28 pitches or more Monday night, while even with the bullpen nearly emptied by Joe Maddon, Cubs relievers should be ready to go (except Montgomery).
Get some rest today, if you can. Hopefully, you’ll need it for a celebration later this evening.
SITE NOTE: Cub Tracks, which normally runs at 7 a.m. CT on Tuesdays, is being delayed until midday so we can bring you the latest linkage about Game 3 and other Cubs happenings.