We all know this, because we’ve watched the Cubs do this all year. For those on the national scene who haven’t seen this before, we welcome you to our dream season.
What’s the “this” to which I refer? The fact that when the 2016 Cubs have needed something, some unlikely hero or heroes step up. Saturday night at Wrigley Field in front of another delirious full house, it was Travis Wood (and really, the entire bullpen). So when Kyle Hendricks took a ball hit by Angel Pagan off his arm and had to leave the game (it’s said to be a “contusion,” no broken bones, and he wouldn’t pitch till a week from Sunday anyway, so I’m sure he’ll be fine), Wood stepped up, big-time.
In addition to an inning and a third of scoreless relief, Wood did what he often loves best: comes to the plate and hits:
That ball, as was Javier Baez’s Friday night, was crushed. You’ve surely heard this already, but I’ll post it here for posterity:
#postseason HR by relief pitchers:— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) October 9, 2016
Travis Wood tonight (Cubs)
Rosy Ryan Game 3, 1924 World Series (Giants)
It’s also the second Cubs postseason home run by a pitcher named Wood. This one’s likely to lead to a better postseason result, I’d think. The only other Cubs postseason homer was hit by Rick Sutcliffe in Game 1 of the 1984 NLCS against the Padres.
For Wood, who has nine career regular-season home runs, it was his first round-tripper in more than two years, since he hit one off Joe Kelly (then with the Cardinals) July 25, 2014. About the only thing Wood didn’t do on this night was play some left field. Who knows what Joe Maddon has up his sleeve for the rest of the postseason?
Incidentally, Cubs personnel located the fan who caught the ball and escorted him to the Cubs clubhouse so he could present the baseball to Wood, who had let it be known that he would like to have it.
Wood wasn’t the only Cubs pitcher who helped out with the bat, either. You know I’m an advocate for the DH, but Saturday night, Cubs pitchers helped themselves at the plate. Before Hendricks departed with the minor injury, he did this with the bases loaded in the second inning:
Hendricks, to be honest, isn’t much of a hitter. He’s 14-for-142 (.099) in his career in the regular season with 64 strikeouts. (Hint: that’s pretty bad.) That two-run single equaled his season total for 2016. And:
Bielecki, for his part, was a worse career hitter than Hendricks (.078 lifetime in 282 at-bats). Yet both got big postseason hits. And also:
#Cubs lead NLDS 2-0— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) October 9, 2016
...and their pitchers have 3 of the team's 6 RBI so far.
I mentioned the bullpen, and they all deserve kudos. Wood, Carl Edwards Jr., Mike Montgomery, Hector Rondon and Aroldis Chapman (second save in as many nights) combined for 5⅓ innings, allowed two hits and no walks, and struck out six. Particularly good were Montgomery, who threw strikes, something he’s had trouble with before, and Rondon. We got “good Hector” on this night, after he had some outings in which he got hit pretty hard after he came off the DL in September. That’s good news for the seventh-eighth-ninth inning trio the Cubs are trying to set up. Pedro Strop, the other member of that chain, did warm up at one point, but did not pitch. Chapman, who was a bit wild Friday night, seemed much more in command of his fastball in this one. Now, after Sunday’s off day, he should be ready to go Monday. Chapman K’d two in the ninth, including Kelby Tomlinson to end it; in between the strikeouts, he got help from Dexter Fowler, who made this outstanding sliding catch [VIDEO].
The Cubs’ other runs were driven in by Ben Zobrist (bloop single in the first inning) and Kris Bryant (line-drive single to right in the second). After that it was a battle of the bullpens, and besides Wood’s homer, the Giants pen didn’t give up any runs, either. Bruce Bochy decided he’d had enough of Jeff Samardzija after just two innings (47 pitches) and batted for him. Gregor Blanco hit a pinch-double for Shark, driving in a run, and eventually scored the Giants’ second run. Bochy seemed to be playing this one like an elimination game, even though it wasn’t. He used MadBum, who launched quite a few baseballs into the bleachers during batting practice, as a pinch-hitter (he reached on what turned out to be two errors on Bryant), and emptied out his bullpen, using six relievers.
Beyond the injury to Hendricks, it appeared briefly that Baez might have been hurt on a headfirst slide into second in the sixth, on which he was called safe but replay review overturned an apparent double:
Looked like Javy might have gotten hit in the face briefly on that slide, shaking him up, but he shook it off and stayed in the game and seemed fine. More important was the fact that he didn’t get out of the box quickly. It looked like he thought he had homered again. Instead the ball was played quickly by Pagan, who threw to Joe Panik and, again by review, threw Baez out.
Temperatures in the 50s and clear skies greeted fans as they filed into Wrigley Field, a pleasant fall evening. It’s odd to see the bleachers fill up in random spots, rather than everyone heading toward the front rows, as most do during the general-admission regular season. With everyone into the game, there’s no one on the back concourse behind us during action, and I hope the loudness and intensity of the crowd comes through on TV the way it feels at the ballpark. And unlike even close regular-season games, almost no one left the park before the last out was recorded. It’s been great the first two games, and I feel as if it’ll only get more intense as the next round beckons.
Perhaps I shouldn’t get too far ahead of myself. The Giants still have a good ballclub and they won two of three from the Cubs back in May in San Francisco. The Cubs have won five of the last seven games the two teams have played, but the two losses -- both by one run -- were to Madison Bumgarner, who’ll start against Jake Arrieta Monday evening. Jake needs to get back to the Jake we saw for the second half of 2015 and first month or two of 2016 in order to defeat MadBum.
But the Cubs are in the position they want to be in, up two games to none, with three more shots at the Giants if they need them, including next Thursday back at Wrigley for Game 5 if necessary. But I said to all my friends as we left the ballpark Saturday night, “I hope to not see you Thursday, but instead next Saturday,” as the Cubs would open the NLCS at home Saturday night against either the Dodgers or Nationals, if they can complete the series win.
Meanwhile, I’m heading to San Francisco Sunday morning, on a flight as you read this, and will be at AT&T Park Monday evening, hoping to see a Cubs division series clincher for the second straight year.
Two wins down. Nine to go.
Site note: Cub Tracks, which normally runs at 7 a.m. CT on Sundays, is being delayed until this afternoon so we can bring you the most up-to-date links including reaction to Game 2.