LOS ANGELES — If only the Cubs had come to Dodger Stadium Tuesday night.
Oh, wait. You say they were there? Yes, I suppose I saw players in blue-alt Cubs jerseys and gray trousers (as Pat Hughes would call them) running around in various places on the field in Los Angeles. But they barely did anything, and when they did, much of it was helping baseballs hit by Dodgers leave the premises.
The Dodgers defeated the Cubs soundly in Game 3 of the NLCS, 6-0, and honestly I really could end this recap right there and you’d barely miss a thing that you’re interested in.
Unless you’re interested in descriptions of Dodgers hits and home runs, and of former Cub Rich Hill totally dominating Cubs hitters.
I suppose that’s why you’re here, and so you shall get those descriptions, and more. If you’ve been a Cubs fan long enough, you likely remember this Rich Hill, a guy who looked, in 2006 and 2007, like he might be a mainstay in the Cubs rotation for some time. This game, and this one, and this one, and there were more like this in those years, games much like the one he threw in Game 3. Hill had a devastating 12-to-6 curveball back then, and it took him nearly a decade to get back to that level. He was working that curveball again Tuesday night, throwing it about 55 percent of the time and keeping Cubs hitters completely off balance.
Meanwhile, Jake Arrieta was throwing pretty well, although a single by Andrew Toles, a groundout by Hill and another single by Corey Seager made it 1-0 in the third inning. (I’ll give Jorge Soler a pass for overthrowing the cutoff man on that run -- he had no chance to throw Toles out, and Seager advanced to second, but was stranded.) Still — 1-0, it’s only the third inning, surely the Cubs would get to Hill...
Before that could happen (and it never did), the Dodgers got the key hits of the evening. Josh Reddick singled with one out in the fourth, but Jake got Adrian Gonzalez swinging.
Then there was the pitch that defined the night. Jake thought he had Yasmani Grandal struck out on a 2-2 sinker. It was called ball three.
I saw all over Twitter that TV viewers thought this was a strike. The @CubsUmp Twitter account was silent on this pitch, meaning it was within the realm of “usual” umpire ball-and-strike calls. I watched replays of this pitch after the game. Miguel Montero tried his best to frame it. It was close, borderline, could have been called a strike. But it wasn’t.
What a pitcher cannot do is let calls like that get to him, and Jake might have. Grandal fouled off the first 3-2 pitch and then yanked a fastball into the right-field seats for a 3-0 lead.
We all could have gone home at that point, because the Cubs simply were not hitting at all. They did have runners on first and second with one out in the second on walks, and a rare stolen base by Anthony Rizzo. A passed ball charged to Grandal put the runners in scoring position, but Addison Russell struck out and Montero grounded out. A two-out single by Kris Bryant in the third led nowhere. Same with a one-out single by Bryant in the sixth. By the time Dexter Fowler doubled with two out in the eighth — the first extra-base hit for the Cubs since Game 1 — the lead was 4-0 thanks to another homer off Jake, this one by Justin Turner.
Do not simply blame Rizzo, Russell and Ben Zobrist, who have been almost completely absent from the offense in this entire series. Almost no one has hit over the last two games, and now the Cubs are riding an 18-inning scoreless streak in which they’ve had six hits, three walks and only five runners past first base, and one of those (Rizzo in the ninth in Game 3 after he singled) was on defensive indifference.
One little beef I have with the Dodgers: What was Joc Pederson doing stealing third with one out in the eighth and the Dodgers already up 5-0? I know, I know, it’s a playoff game and the Cubs are a good team and... but that felt like piling on, to me, at least.
It’s real simple. The Cubs are going to have to start hitting, and though Wednesday isn’t a “must-win” (as they’d still have a shot at the series even if they lose), it would be much, much better to win Game 4 and make the series a best-of-three. This can be done — Julio Urias, who’s starting Game 4 for the Dodgers, isn’t likely to pitch much past the fourth inning and can be hit. It’s just a matter of doing it. The Cubs took a long BP session before Tuesday’s game, and I suspect they might not hit at all pre-game Wednesday. Joe Maddon is a big believer that BP is overrated, and I tend to agree with him.
A few thoughts about my visit to Dodger Stadium, a ballpark I had not seen since 1988: the place has been really spruced up since then, with much new seating and many more food options. Traffic and parking, which I truly feared, was much easier than expected. (Helps to arrive many hours early, though.) Parking attendants and Dodgers staff were friendly and helpful, and L.A. fans treated Cubs fans reasonably well. Of course, it helped that they were happy with what their team did on the night. Cubs fans represented well; I’d say there could have been as many as 10,000 in the crowd of 54,269, and I hope you heard “Let’s go Cubbies!” on the TV broadcast during the second-inning almost-rally.
As they have been famous for doing during the regular season, Dodger fans arrived late — the park wasn’t totally full till the third inning. OK, I get that, the game started at 5 p.m. local time and many were coming from work. But many also left before the final out; a good chunk of the seating area was empty by the time the Cubs came to bat in the ninth. You’d never see that at Wrigley if the Cubs were leading a postseason game 6-0.
One historical note about this one:
Arrieta now has 38 postseason Ks, tying Kerry Wood for the #Cubs club record— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) October 19, 2016
I’m sure Jake would trade that record for a postseason win.
I’ll give the final word here to Kris Bryant:
Bryant says #Cubs can bounce back. "We’ve done it all year. We’re here for a reason. Belief is very powerful, and I think we all have that"— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) October 19, 2016
These guys do believe in themselves, and they have had losses like this before and indeed bounced back, and at times into long winning streaks after them. They could use one of those streaks right now — say, the next three games. Doing that would mean winning the N.L. pennant Saturday at Wrigley Field, and what a party that would be.
In the meantime, there’s business to take care of later today at Dodger Stadium. John Lackey will take the mound for the Cubs, facing Urias — who will become the youngest pitcher ever to start a postseason game. (Current record-holder: Bret Saberhagen, who was 20 years, 175 days old when he started Game 2 of the 1984 ALCS. Urias is 20 years, 68 days old today.)
No matter Lackey’s age, he has pitched and won key postseason games in his long career. The Cubs signed him for that reason. They need him to pitch a big-boy game in Game 4.