A little less nervous now?
John Lackey earlier this year famously called the playoffs “big-boy games,” and his friend and teammate Jon Lester stepped up to that description big-time Friday night at Wrigley Field. Behind eight innings of shutout ball from Lester, and Javier Baez’ homer into the basket beneath the left-field ribbon board, the Cubs took a 1-0 lead in their National League Division Series against the Giants with a 1-0 win. Of course you want to see that homer again!
That ball was crushed:
107.4 MPH and projected at 381ft for Javier Baez... What a clutch HR @cubs— Daren Willman (@darenw) October 8, 2016
At first, it looked like it might be headed well into the bleachers. A biting northwest crosswind blowing from the left-field corner into right field knocked it down a bit, fortunately not enough to keep it from landing in the basket.
When the game began, the Giants clearly had a game plan — to work off Lester’s supposed fielding weakness and inability to hold runners. Gorkys Hernandez led off the game with a bunt, and reached when Anthony Rizzo’s throw got past Baez.
The Giants didn’t count on David Ross, though. He didn’t waste any time throwing Hernandez out trying to steal second:
That video includes Ross picking Conor Gillaspie off first base after a leadoff single in the third. Gillaspie, the Giants’ wild-card game hero, strayed a bit too far off base. This is one of Ross’ signature plays; he picked off four runners during the regular season, one off the league leader -- Willson Contreras. Have I mentioned that the Cubs have good catchers?
The Giants briefly threatened in the fourth when Buster Posey singled with one out, and one out later Angel Pagan looped a double into short left field. Posey had to hold at third and Lester got Brandon Crawford to ground to short to end the inning.
While all this was going on, the Cubs were having trouble with our old nemesis Johnny Cueto, with whom we are all quite familiar from all his years with the Reds. Cueto retired the first 10 Cubs he faced before Kris Bryant hit a one-out double in the fourth. Bryant went to third on a groundout by Rizzo, but was stranded. That was an impressive blast by Bryant, though:
After that was when Lester really began to shine. Following Pagan’s double, he retired 13 straight Giants. Those 13 outs were recorded on just 41 pitches — a little more than three pitches per batter!
One of those outs, to end the sixth inning, was a comebacker to Lester. Maybe he needs to get the lacing in his glove’s webbing tightened, because — just as we saw last May in Pittsburgh — the ball got stuck there:
This time, instead of throwing his entire glove to first base, Lester simply ran to the bag himself, outrunning Posey for the out. Here’s what Lester said about this play after the game:
The Cubs, though, could still do nothing against Cueto. Baez singled to right with two out in the fifth, but Ross struck out to end the inning.
When Lester came out for the eighth, so did Aroldis Chapman — the man who said earlier this year he didn’t care to pitch more than one inning at a time. It seems certain that if Lester had gotten into any trouble in the eight, Chapman would have been in the game. But Lester calmly put down the Giants 1-2-3 in the eighth, including a groundout by Cueto.
Right there you see how much Bruce Bochy trusts his bullpen. In a scoreless game in the eighth inning, with Cueto already at 99 pitches, Bochy let him bat for himself. This means Bochy hasn’t used his bullpen at all since the regular season ended. This can’t be anything but positive news. If the Cubs can get Giants starters out of the game early, good things should follow. Yes, that’s in “master of the obvious” territory, but it seems more applicable to this year’s Giants, whose bullpen has been pretty bad, than most teams.
Then came the eighth. Jason Heyward popped to first. Up came Baez. Good thing this didn’t happen:
Baez says he was thinking about bunting in the 8th. Seriously. #Cubs— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) October 8, 2016
More on this from Javy:
It wasn’t a terrible idea, but what happened in that at-bat was obviously better. Javy had worked good at-bats all night against Cueto, and ran the count full on him before launching that baseball into the night and making the already-loud crowd delirious with joy.
After pinch-hitters Chris Coghlan (strikeout) and Tommy La Stella (fly to center) were retired, it was Chapman time.
He wasn’t sharp, his command and control were all over the place, perhaps not surprising for a man who had pitched just once in the last 10 days. (I’m guessing his workload could increase significantly over the next four weeks). Hernandez waited him out for a full count before striking out. Bochy, apparently not wanting a lefthanded hitter anywhere near Chapman, sent Eduardo Nunez (who didn’t start due to a minor injury) up to bat for him. Nunez grounded harmlessly to Baez.
Nervous time followed. Posey doubled to deep left-center:
Buster Posey's double off Aroldis Chapman was hit 102 MPH at a 26 degree launch angle... Similar batted balls are a HR 65% of the time pic.twitter.com/Ll8qJ8blat— Daren Willman (@darenw) October 8, 2016
Well, yikes. Good thing for the wind!
Chapman bore down and threw two strikes past Hunter Pence, then two pitches out of the zone. On Chapman’s 21st pitch of the inning, Pence hit a ground ball right to Baez, appropriately enough, to give the Cubs a 1-0 win and 1-0 lead in the series, and here’s a fun 1-0 fact:
Well, that series didn’t work out too well for the Cubs. How about a better fact? This game was just the 12th in all of postseason history where a team won a 1-0 game with the only run being a solo homer. Here are all of them — the last one before Friday night was in the 2013 ALCS. Just four of those games, including Friday’s, were won with three or fewer hits. More: it was the 12th shutout in Cubs postseason history. They had one last year in the wild-card game; before that you have to go back to Game 1 of the 1984 NLCS. And, it was just the eighth game in all of postseason history where there were no walks, and the only one not in a World Series. The last one before Friday night was Game 1 of the 1983 World Series between the Orioles and Phillies.
I hope the electric atmosphere at Wrigley came across to those of you watching on TV. It was everything you could hope for from a postseason game, everyone watching with full, rapt attention. There were loud cheers for everyone when the team was introduced before the game, the loudest reserved for Bryant, Rizzo and Ross, and the loudest for a player not in the game went to Kyle Schwarber. A funny moment happened when Jake Buchanan (yes, everyone on the 40-man who was there in September got introduced) was named -- but he wasn’t there! Cameras found Pedro Strop, next in line. With a smile he shook his head, then nodded and pointed at himself when his name was announced.
The Cubs passed out blue “W” towels with the “W” containing the last names of everyone on the team. These weren’t as visible as the white towels given out last year, plus — c’mon. Everyone knows the “W” flag isn’t blue! Hopefully, white “W” towels will follow for future home postseason games. The announced crowd of 42,148 was the biggest at Wrigley since Game 4 of last year’s NLCS. I did not see a single empty seat anywhere, and as far as I could tell everyone stayed till the end of “this thriller,” as Jack Brickhouse might have put it. The Cubs did sell what appeared to be a significant number of standing-room tickets, as I walked over to the main part of the ballpark about 45 minutes before game time and saw a lot of people already staking out spots behind the seats in the usual standing-room area.
And the later-than-usual 8:15 p.m. CT start turned out not to matter in terms of the lateness of the ending. The game time of two hours, 30 minutes was the fastest for any Cubs postseason game since Game 2 of the 1984 NLCS, which ran just 2:18.
A couple more fun facts about this one:
One of the reasons the Cubs’ rotation for this series was set up the way it was, was Lester’s domination at Wrigley Field this year. That continued Friday night:
Jon Lester last 8 starts at Wrigley (including tonight)— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) October 8, 2016
0.95 ERA, 57.0 IP, 33 Hits, 44 K, 0.772 WHIP #Cubs won all 8 games
And, with Kyle Hendricks having similar excellent results at home this year (1.68 ERA. 0.920 WHIP in 16 home starts, including just four runs allowed in 41⅓ innings after the All-Star break at Wrigley), the Cubs should be set up well for a Game 2 matchup with our old buddy Jeff Samardzija (who got roundly booed during introductions Friday).
Game on, Saturday night at 7 p.m. CT. Can’t wait.