LOS ANGELES — Early in Wednesday’s game, I spotted Tom Ricketts sitting behind the Cubs dugout. About the third inning, when the game was still a tense, scoreless affair and some of us were wondering if the Cubs would ever score a run again, I noticed his seat empty.
By the time he got back a couple of innings later, the Cubs had exploded for five runs, including a pair of homers by two of the slumpiest Cubs during the NLCS, Addison Russell and Anthony Rizzo, on their way to a 10-2 blowout of the Dodgers and a 2-2 tie in the series.
Not that Tom had anything to do with any of this, but I’m sure he was as happy as the rest of the large mob of Cubs fans at Dodger Stadium for Game 4. He sure looked like it, holding up a “W” flag after the game.
You could sense that the Cubs were about to break through, even though they went through the first three innings without a hit. Javier Baez drew a rare walk in the second and Willson Contreras reached on an error. With two out, Russell came up and hit a deep fly ball to left to end the inning. That ball was well-struck and it gave great hope that maybe, just maybe, Russell could break through.
John Lackey struggled through the first three innings, but wound up matching Dodger starter Julio Urias with scoreless frames, helped out in part when Contreras picked Justin Turner off second base:
Willson Contreras throw:— Daren Willman (@darenw) October 20, 2016
Pop time: 1.89
Arm strength: 86 MPH
Wow what a throw!
In the second inning, more strong defense from Willson after this magnificent throw by Jason Heyward and a tag play at the plate just getting Adrian Gonzalez, and I mean just:
You can see Contreras’ glove touch Gonzalez in the face just before his hand landed on the plate. The call was “out” on the field, ruled “call stands” on review.
And so the game went scoreless into the fourth, when Ben Zobrist bunted his way on base [VIDEO], perfectly placed down the third-base line, the first pitch of the inning, the first Cubs hit of the game. Did that energize the offense? Perhaps, because Baez followed with a single, and then it was Contreras’ turn. He singled in Zobrist to break the Cubs’ scoreless streak at 21 innings. Willson advanced to second when Andrew Toles’ throw got away.
With runners on second and third, it looked like the Cubs could be setting a big inning. Heyward had the proverbial “productive out” when he grounded to second, scoring Baez, making it 2-0.
And that brought Addy to the plate:
That ball just seemed to keep rising and rising and rising, finally landing over the wall out of the reach of Joc Pederson.
You could hear the Cubs fans on the TV broadcast, right? Loud. Very loud, for a road playoff game. It was 4-0, and though Lackey had been somewhat shaky, perhaps this would help him settle down.
He put two men on base in the bottom of the fourth, one on a catcher-interference call on Contreras. That’s his second this postseason. Fortunately, Lackey got out of the inning unscathhed, and then it was Rizzo’s turn to blast out of his slump. After a long foul ball in his at-bat leading off the fifth, he, too, homered:
That made it 5-0. And like Russell’s, that ball was slammed:
Anthony Rizzos HR was off a 98.9 MPH pitch. Its the hardest pitch hes ever hit for a HR. 2nd hardest by @Cubs player this year -Arrieta 99.5— Daren Willman (@darenw) October 20, 2016
But Lackey couldn’t stay in the game. He walked the first two hitters he faced in the fifth, and that was enough for Joe, who lifted Lackey after 72 pitches. Do you think Lackey was happy about that? Could you read lips? Or maybe this is a more accurate description:
Man, Lackey looked like he was going to pull off a piece of Maddon's face with his teeth.— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) October 20, 2016
Anyway, Mike Montgomery, a much calmer presence than Lackey, entered in relief. He gave up a single to Chase Utley that loaded the bases, and then struck out Corey Seager.
With the count 1-0, Turner bounced a baseball that appeared headed right to Russell for a possible inning-ending double play. Unfortunately, Montgomery deflected it [VIDEO] and it went into left field for a two-run single.
Mike, Mike, Mike. Trust your infielders!
Anyway, he got out of the inning and then the Cubs offense exploded. Russell singled for his second hit of the game and went to second on a throwing error. Montgomery singled Russell to third and Dexter Fowler made it 6-2 with a single, his second hit of the game. Kris Bryant walked to load the bases and that brought Rizzo to the plate. His two-run single [VIDEO] made it 8-2, but the Cubs weren’t done. Zobrist was next. He sent a little roller in front of the plate and was called out on a close play at first base. Except it wasn’t close at all:
That brought up Baez, who drove one run in with a sac fly; another scored on a Dodger throwing error, one of four errors they made in this game.
At 10-2, that seemed to be a pretty safe lead. All that remained was for the Cubs to put the Dodgers out for the rest of the night. Carl Edwards Jr. began the seventh inning and retired the first two hitters he faced before walking Seager. That brought out an entire coterie of Cubs and Maddon and trainers, and CJ left the game:
Update on #Cubs Edwards: He left with left hamstring tightness— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) October 20, 2016
Hopefully, this isn’t anything serious. It seemed the right thing to do to take him out on a very hot evening (89 degrees at game time) and an eight-run lead. Travis Wood, Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon finished up uneventfully, and the Cubs had a couple more hits on the night, winding up with 13, and two each from Fowler and Zobrist and three apiece by Rizzo and Russell.
Now that’s the team we watched all year long, pouncing on opportunities and hitting timely long balls.
Give Yasiel Puig some style points for this tremendous diving catch [VIDEO] on a sinking liner hit by Zobrist, which easily could have been his third hit of the game.
About Wednesday at Dodger Stadium: The experience was still good for Game 4, and my seats, in the loge section (100 level), provided an elevated view of the pitcher-to-first throw (the field-level seats are in some ways too low for that). I had hoped to study Urias’ move to first, based on the idea that he might balk a time or two. Turned out the Cubs hit him so hard he didn’t really make more than a couple throws over. And though the view was good, the food selections on that level were kind of ordinary -- just Dodger Dogs, a cheeseburger (which was pretty good) and some pizza. It seemed more what you would have found in a ballpark 20 or more years ago, even though the stadium’s been spruced up since then. Not complaining, just saying it seems like the Dodgers could add more food choices.
Fun facts after Game 4:
2016 #Postseason— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) October 20, 2016
Rizzo tonight: 3-5, HR, 3 RBI
Russell tonight: 3-5, HR, 2 RBI
combined entering tonight: 3-50, 0 HR, 0 RBI
FWIW, both of the previous teams that did this won their series.
One final note, and yes, of course I know this doesn’t have any direct correlation to winning:
2016 postseason road record wearing gray jersey: 2-0
2016 postseason road record wearing alt blue jersey: 0-2
So — please, Cubs, wear the road grays Thursday night.
On this series: I’m not going to talk about “momentum” here because that really only lasts as long as your last game, or in some cases your last inning, or perhaps not at all. Just 24 hours ago there was doom and gloom in some Cub quarters as the team had looked impotent at the plate in Games 2 and 3. Consider, though, that one of those games was against a pitcher who might be the best in the game, and the other was against someone who had a really good 2016 season.
You know, the Cubs have pitchers like that, too. One of them is going Thursday night in Game 5, Jon Lester, and he shut down Dodgers hitters quite well in Game 1, not to mention having two other really good games against them during the regular season. He’ll be opposed by Kenta Maeda, who the Cubs chased out of Game 1 after just four innings.
And now, the Cubs offense seems to have awakened. It’s really encouraging, I think, that this outburst in Game 4 involved pretty much everyone on the team. Six of the eight starters had hits, and the two who didn’t contributed: Bryant walked twice, was hit by a pitch and scored a run, and Heyward drove in a run and made an excellent defensive play... the kind of baseball we’ve seen all season long from this Cubs ballclub.
It’s now down to best-of-three, and the Cubs are guaranteed one more game at home, Saturday, for Game 6. I like the Cubs’ chances. #LetsGo