This team, man. This team!
I have got to stop thinking sad, negative thoughts about the Chicago Cubs during postseason games, because clearly they certainly don’t do that, not even after some questionable managing choices and poor bullpen work gave away a 3-1 lead in the eighth inning of Game 1 of the NLCS.
Not after yet another late-inning rally, given an exclamation point (or 1,000!) by Miguel Montero’s pinch-hit grand slam, led the Cubs to an 8-4 win over the Dodgers and a 1-0 lead in the National League Championship Series. This video has Pat & Ron’s radio call:
Yet another “never” was erased from the Cubs’ record book: it’s their first-ever postseason win over the Dodgers. It also broke a seven-game Cubs NLCS losing streak dating back to 2003. And:
I don’t think I’ve ever heard the ol’ ballyard that loud. Ever. And after Miggy made a joyous curtain call, no one had even sat down before Dexter Fowler put even more exclamation points on this win by hitting Joe Blanton’s next pitch into the seats for another homer.
Those blasts turned a tight game into a blowout, something the Cubs surely needed after two tense games in San Francisco.
There’s a lot more to unpack about this win, so let’s go back to the beginning.
Jon Lester didn’t have his best stuff and worked very slowly over the first couple of innings, but didn’t give up a run until there were two out in the fifth. That was, in part, because of some outstanding defense. Fowler made two of those plays, one in the third and this one in the fourth that ruined his belt:
And in the fifth, Addison Russell made this shoestring grab [VIDEO] off the bat of Kiké Hernandez.
By that time the Cubs had fashioned a 3-0 lead. Fowler led off the first inning with a single and Kris Bryant doubled to left, with Fowler scoring. In the second, Jason Heyward tripled down the right-field line — so good to see him hit that ball with authority! Javier Baez blooped a double into center and Heyward scored. Javy advanced to third on a wild pitch while Jon Lester was at the plate. Lester squared to bunt, and then Javy was Javy (this video includes the double and the wild pitch, and once again, Pat Hughes on the call):
During that video you can hear Joe Buck saying “The baseball IQ for this young man is pretty high,” and of course we’ve seen that all year. If anything, that IQ has gone even higher during the postseason.
On Javy’s steal: It was noted during the game that it was the first steal of home in the postseason since Elvis Andrus did it in Game 2 of the 2010 ALCS (part of a double steal), and the first by a Cub in the postseason since Jimmy Slagle in 1907. However!
Just went through Retrosheet box scores & play-by-play for 1907 World Series and I do not see this supposed Cubs steal of home.— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) October 16, 2016
I looked too, and I didn’t see it either. Mike Bojanowski got the answer for us:
The play in question was 10/11/1907, fourth game, seventh inning, at Detroit. Situation was: Frank Chance at first, Slagle at third, two out. Chance broke for second, deliberately catching himself in a rundown, Slagle broke for home and scored, Chance was the third out, tagged between bases as part of the rundown.
The Sporting News Record Book, Neft & Cohen, and the Elias Book of Baseball Records all call this a steal of home.
So although none of the online boxscores note that as a steal of home, it certainly was.
Even with Lester not at his best, the Cubs brought that 3-0 lead into the fifth, in part thanks to this perfect throw by Ben Zobrist:
The Cubs, believe it or not, ranked 28th in the major leagues in outfield assists this year.
With two out in the fifth, Andre Ethier pinch-hit for Kenta Maeda and homered off Lester. Dave Roberts wasn’t going to go any further with Maeda, pulling him after four innings and 66 pitches. Good, I thought: give more work to the already-overworked Dodgers bullpen.
But that Dodger pen kept the Cubs down through the fifth, sixth and seventh: just a walk to Bryant in the fifth and a double by Baez in the sixth were the only Cubs baserunners through that time.
Still, Lester managed to get through the sixth with that 3-1 lead. And then Joe Maddon decided to get cute again, just as he had Monday in San Francisco, by taking Lester out of the game after only 77 pitches. Too many moves, Joe!
Jorge Soler batted for Lester with Baez on second and two out. Dodgers reliever Pedro Baez got him to ground to short. This even though Lester had drawn two walks — the first time he had ever done that in any game, and this is fun:
That left things up to the Cubs bullpen. Travis Wood and Carl Edwards Jr. threw a scoreless seventh, but again, the Cubs went down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the inning.
Mike Montgomery, who’d been so good in San Francisco, wasn’t. Pinch-hitter Andrew Toles singled, so Joe summoned Pedro Strop, who walked another pinch-hitter, Chase Utley. That brought Justin Turner to the plate. He grounded to Kris Bryant, but Toles’ speed beat Bryant to third base [VIDEO] and the bases were loaded with nobody out.
Yes, KB probably should have gone to second on that one. He stumbled just a tiny bit after picking up the ball and that was likely the difference between safe and out.
Joe again went to the pen, this time for Aroldis Chapman.
Chapman always seems at his best when he starts innings. He wound up giving up runs in San Francisco when he came in with runners on, and that was the case again in this inning. He struck out the first two batters he faced, and with the crowd up and roaring, Adrian Gonzalez timed a Chapman fastball well and lined it up the middle, scoring two runs, tying the game, and silencing the sellout crowd.
Chapman recovered to get Yasmani Grandal on a grounder to short to end the inning.
It felt at the ballpark like you probably felt at home. That the Dodgers were going to come back somehow, with Chapman likely out of the game after 17 pitches.
But this team, man. This team!
Zobrist doubled to deep right field and Russell grounded out. That’s when Roberts began to take over the “inexplicable managerial decisions” title from Maddon. He ordered Heyward intentionally walked. That one was somewhat defensible: one out, first base open, set up a possible double play. Baez hit a fly ball to right for the second out.
Maddon sent Chris Coghlan up to bat for David Ross. A decoy again, just as in San Francisco, I was certain: the Dodgers had lefthander Grant Dayton ready to go in the bullpen. Of course, if Roberts brings Dayton in, Joe certainly counters — again — with Willson Contreras. So not bringing in Dayton here is reasonable, but the next move wasn’t.
Roberts ordered another intentional walk.
This, I don’t understand at all. Loading the bases, putting the lead run in scoring position?
Joe sent Montero up to bat for Chapman. And Dayton continued to warm up in the bullpen instead of coming into the game.
Miguel Montero had a rough year overall, but had a decent .727 OPS against right-handed pitching during the regular season. Against lefties he hit .189/.250/.189 (7-for-37, all singles).
And yet, Roberts let Blanton face Miggy.
Two sliders, one fouled off, one missed, but the third slider from Blanton wound up in the seats and sent the crowd into euphoria. Incidentally, a few minutes later I saw a very happy young man, about 10 years old, with a baseball in his hand, walking with his mom and Cubs security out of the bleachers. I hope he got to meet Miggy and have his photo taken when he returned that precious baseball.
Dex’s homer was the cherry on top. Blanton gave up one more hit, a double to Bryant, before Roberts finally put Dayton in the game to pitch to Rizzo, who popped up to end one of the best postseason innings the Cubs have ever had.
Hector Rondon gave up a run in the ninth, but with a runner on second and one out, Utley smashed a line drive right at Rizzo:
And thus ended Game 1, and the third straight Cubs postseason game with incredible theater.
The weather was perfect, temperatures in the upper 60s with a strong wind blowing out, a wind that gave Ethier’s homer a bit of help. Miggy’s, though...
Montero!!!! 105.3 MPH and projected at 402ft..... What a clutch HR.— Daren Willman (@darenw) October 16, 2016
Between Montero, Fowler and Bryant, the Cubs were smashing baseballs really, really hard off Blanton that inning:
We are only five games into this postseason and we’ve already seen a full October’s worth of thrills, great plays, clutch hitting, relief pitching both bad and good.
Game 2, if anything, could be more interesting. The Dodgers are going with Clayton Kershaw, who got hit pretty hard by the Nationals in Game 4 of their division series, and who threw in relief in Game 5. The Cubs have not faced Kershaw this year but hit him pretty well at Wrigley in 2014 and 2015 (even though the Dodgers won the 2014 game).
Kyle Hendricks, who was hit in the pitching arm during the division series — only a bruise — was declared healthy, and will go for the Cubs.
Go Cubs. As good as this postseason has been, the best, I am certain, is yet to come.