I’ll spare you the clichés, you know them all, you’ve heard them all.
But the dream season, the one we’ve all hoped for, wished for, believed was happening, will die Sunday night unless the Cubs win.
And they won’t win unless they start hitting. Saturday night’s 7-2 loss in Game 4 wasn’t completely due to lack of hitting, as the defense suddenly couldn’t defend and a three-run homer put the game out of reach, but the Cubs have scored only seven runs and are hitting just .204 in the four games, and no matter how good your pitching is, that’s simply not going to get things done.
This game didn’t start out that way. John Lackey had a 1-2-3 first inning and the Cubs approached Corey Kluber in the bottom of the inning the same way they approached Clayton Kershaw in Game 6 of the NLCS. Dexter Fowler led off with a double and one out later, Anthony Rizzo’s single gave the Cubs a 1-0 lead and the noise level at Wrigley Field was deafening.
You know, I’m sure, by now, how John Lackey can get if things don’t go his way. Whether this is a good thing or not is debatable, but this is just who Lackey is. There was a pitch in his sequence to Carlos Santana in the second inning that was called a ball by plate umpire Marvin Hudson. Lackey thought it was a strike. The @CubsUmp Twitter account, which listed eight missed calls overall by Hudson in this game, was silent on that one. (It shows two missed calls in that inning, but the Cubs recorded outs on both those at-bats.)
Santana homered to tie the game, and that set the stage for a grotesque inning. Lackey retired Jose Ramirez on a grounder to Rizzo, and got Lonnie Chisenhall to hit a ground ball to Kris Bryant, who made a nice pickup -- and then threw the ball halfway to Addison Street, or so it seemed. Lackey kept inducing ground balls; Roberto Perez hit a comebacker, which advanced Chisenhall to second.
With the No. 8 hitter, Tyler Naquin, due up and two out and first base open, the intentional walk to get to Kluber was a no-brainer.
But how Lackey pitched to Kluber -- I just don’t get that at all. Here’s an American League pitcher who had literally not batted in a game in four months, and who was 2-for-17 with nine strikeouts in his career. How do you not just attack a hitter like that with your best stuff? Lackey ran the count to 3-1 on a hitter who had exactly one walk in his big-league career. Then Kluber hit a little dribbler to Bryant, who made a poor, off-balance throw to Rizzo. Kluber was given a hit, and the bad throw allowed Chisenhall to score.
Bryant should probably have just eaten the ball. The bases would have been loaded, but Rajai Davis, up next, was 1-for-19 in the postseason coming into this game. Davis hit into a force play to end the inning. Now, no one knows what he would have done with the bases loaded and two out, but I would have had fair confidence that Lackey could have gotten out of the inning tied instead of down 2-1.
Again, no matter because the Cubs simply were not hitting. Jason Heyward singled with one out in the bottom of the inning, but Javier Baez, who seems like he’s pressing, hit into a double play. Baez was ruled safe on the field, but the call was overturned on review.
Lackey, again not happy with some calls (and honestly, this act is getting a little tiresome) in the third inning, gave up a double to Jason Kipnis and a single to Francisco Lindor that made it 3-1. By this time the crowd, which had been up and screaming and shouting and being as loud as I’d heard it anytime during this postseason, was being stunned into silence most of the time.
The Cubs got two men on with two out in the third when Bryant walked and Rizzo was hit by a pitch, and Ben Zobrist, a hero in last year’s World Series with the Royals, coming to bat. Kluber struck Zobs out to end the threat, and the Cubs would get just two more baserunners off him — a two-out single by Heyward in the fourth and a leadoff double from Rizzo in the sixth, the latter briefly bringing the crowd to life.
Lackey had departed for a pinch-hitter in the fifth, and Mike Montgomery came on to throw the sixth. As has been the case with Montgomery when he’s not on, walks were an issue. He walked Lindor, the first man he faced, and then Santana literally took his glove off with a screaming line drive:
How hard do you have to hit a ball to knock a glove off?— #Statcast (@statcast) October 30, 2016
111.5 mph, apparently. https://t.co/Fl40mx4c5Y #Statcast pic.twitter.com/OwvtYDfP7C
Yikes. A 111.5 mile per hour baseball hit at you from 60 feet, six inches away? That ball was smoked. It’s unlikely anyone could have turned that into a double play; unfortunately, the Cubs couldn’t get either man out and runners were on first and second. A force play put Indians on first and third and Chisenhall hit a sacrifice fly to make it 4-1. If the Cubs get even one out on that screaming comebacker, the fly ball ends the inning. Then Montgomery issued another walk before Justin Grimm entered and struck out pinch-hitter Brandon Guyer to end the inning.
Montgomery has talent, no doubt about it, and the Cubs will likely look at him as a possible rotation piece going forward. But he will have to cut down on the walks.
Grimm got in trouble in the seventh. He gave up a leadoff double to pinch-hitter Coco Crisp and then hit Davis. That’s when Kipnis put the game out of reach with a three-run homer.
To Cubs fans’ credit, not many left Wrigley Field, even after that made the score 7-1. There were a few seats emptying out, but the overwhelming majority stayed, hoping perhaps beyond hope that the Cubs would pull a miracle comeback. That didn’t happen, but Fowler gave Cubs fans something to cheer about with this home run [VIDEO], just barely into the first row of the bleachers, the Cubs’ first home run of the World Series.
The last World Series home run by a Cubs player before Fowler’s was hit by Phil Cavarretta in Game 1 of the 1945 World Series, but that was in Detroit. To find the last Wrigley Field World Series homer by a Cub before Saturday you must go back to Game 3 of the 1935 World Series, when Chuck Klein homered in a 3-1 Cubs win.
Think about this for a moment: when that home run was hit, the current brick-and-ivy configuration of the Wrigley Field bleachers did not exist. Those weren’t built until two years later.
So there’s that, at least. Fowler’s blast was also the first run scored off Andrew Miller in the postseason — ever. Miller had thrown 16 postseason innings this year without being scored on, and eight previous postseason shutout innings with the Orioles (2014) and Yankees (2015).
So there’s that, at least, though that is small consolation to the loss that brings the Cubs where they are: one loss away from going home for the winter. Before I get to a bit more on that, a bit more on the crowd and the afternoon and evening in Wrigleyville and at the ballpark.
For a time Saturday afternoon, it seemed a bit less crowded in the area around Wrigley Field, simply lots of people walking aimlessly around, probably 95 percent of them without tickets and without any idea of where they were going to wind up, many likely there simply to soak up the atmosphere of the area simply being in a World Series. Police eventually shut down local streets and the area around the ballpark became, if not quiet, then quieter, if such a thing can exist with 40,000+ ticketholders plus likely at least that many just hanging around. Give a lot of credit to the Chicago Police Department for doing this in a professional and friendly manner; I heard of no incidents anywhere, either inside or outside Wrigley Field.
If you thought the crowd was quieter in the later innings than the Friday night Game 3 crowd was, you’re right. The reason for that is obvious: nothing to cheer for, save Fowler’s home run. Hopefully, that will be different Sunday night.
A few thoughts from Cubs players after this loss:
#Cubs Heyward: "We've won three games in a row before. That's just the way it is. We'll keep going until the end"— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) October 30, 2016
#Cubs Lackey: "We just have to play better. There's plenty of talent in this room to win a ballgame tomorrow"— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) October 30, 2016
#Cubs Bryant: "It's one game at a time, don't change anything, have fun, smile, just be ourselves."— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) October 30, 2016
All true, but there is a big difference between saying it, and doing it. Now this team has to do it. Lackey, for all his talk of “big-boy games,” did not come up that way in the postseason at all. In three postseason starts this year, he posted a 4.85 ERA and 1.538 WHIP in 13 innings. As he said, he has to do better. Now he’ll have to wait till 2017 to do that.
Back inside the park, once again the MLB Network postgame crew of Greg Amsinger, Harold Reynolds and (this time) Mark DeRosa showed up in the ninth inning to take in a bit of the game from our aisle in the bleachers. This time I got a better photo:
DeRosa posed for photos with Cubs fans and looked like he was having the time of his life. When I got home I turned on MLBN’s postgame show and DeRo was asked if he thought the Cubs could come back. His answer: “Will they come back? I’m not sure. Can they come back? 100 percent, absolutely.”
Down three games to one. Backs against the wall, must-win game, yes, you’ve heard it all. We all know what’s at stake Sunday night. Later this morning I’ll have a review of the five World Series teams that have come back from a three games to one deficit in a best-of-seven and won the series.
Can the Cubs do it? Sure they can. It will, obviously, not be easy. If it somehow happens, that would make this just about the greatest sports story ever.
To accomplish it they’ll have Jon Lester on the mound tonight, a man who’s won quite a number of big games like this. He’ll oppose Trevor Bauer, who the Cubs bashed all over Progressive Field last Wednesday (and Bauer’s surgically-repaired pinky has to bat, too).
So yes, I’m saying there’s a chance. #LetsGo