The Cubs came into Los Angeles battered and bruised, but for a while it looked like they were going to steal one from the favored home team. But the Cubs momentum wore off in the middle innings and the Dodgers cruised to a 5-2 win in game one of the National League Championship Series.
To start the game, Cubs starter Jose Quintana looked a lot better than the greatest pitcher of his generation, Clayton Kershaw. (And I don’t mean that title sarcastically.) Kershaw hadn’t pitched in a week and he looked rusty. Quintana, who threw 17 pitches two days ago, looked like he was well worth the high price the Cubs gave up for him. The ball didn’t carry well in the thick Southern California air and through the first four innings, the only baserunner that Quintana allowed was a single to Logan Forsythe. Quintana then immediately erased him from the base paths with a double play.
Kershaw, on the other hand, didn’t look perfect but he looked good enough. After allowing two baserunners in the first inning on a single by Kris Bryant and a walk to Anthony Rizzo. But Kershaw wiggled his way out of that and didn’t allow a run over the first three innings.
One guy who hit the ball so hard that it didn’t matter how the ball was carrying was Albert Almora Jr. Almora took a low, inside fastball from Kershaw on a 3-2 count and crushed it into the left field bleachers, scoring Willson Contreras, who had singled to lead off the inning the batter before. Almora has quietly been playing at an extremely high level in the second-half of the season. Tonight was his biggest performance of the season. But unfortunately, that was all the offense the Cubs could muster.
But Quintana, who had been so brilliant over the first four innings, started to show signs of fatigue in the fifth. He walked Forsythe and Austin Barnes after one out, and then Yasiel Puig crushed a double into the left field gap. The slow-footed Barnes couldn’t score on the play, but he easily tied the game one batter later when Charlie Culberson hit a sacrifice fly to left field.
Hector Rondon then came out to pitch the sixth inning and was greeted by a leadoff home run by Chris Taylor. The Dodgers took a 3-2 lead. Once again, the ball was crushed. Manager Joe Maddon left Rondon in to face Justin Turner, who struck out, but then Maddon went to the bullpen to get Mike Montgomery.
In the seventh inning, Yasiel Puig struck again. He hit a high fly ball off of Montgomery that at first looked like it would be ten rows into the stands. Then the ball looked like it got slowed down in the marine air layer in LA and that Schwarber would catch it at the wall. But the ball had just enough to clear the left field wall. The Dodgers had stretched their lead to 4-2.
Montgomery, like most of the Cubs bullpen, has struggled in the postseason. He would last only three more batters after a double by Culberson, a sacrifice bunt by Brandon Morrow that wasn’t a sacrifice because Culberson stayed at second, and an infield single by Chris Taylor that, once again, failed to advance Culberson. That brought on John Lackey from the bullpen.
Lackey gave up a single to Turner, the first batter he faced, and Kyle Schwarber in left field fired a one-hopper to Contreras. Culberson went home this time, but he never touched home plate and Contreras tagged him out. However, the play went to replay and Culberson was ruled safe on the rule that Contreras was blocking the plate. Maddon went nuts and argued the play and that’s an automatic ejection. But worse than the ejection, it was now 5-2 with two on, only one out and the Cubs only having six outs left. Lackey got out of the jam with no more runs scoring, but the damage had been done.
In the end, the overturn of the call on Culberson made no difference because the Cubs were helpless against the Dodgers bullpen. Closer Kenley Jansen came on to face Bryant with two out in the eight. He struck out the final four Cubs in order. In fact, the Dodgers bullpen went four innings without allowing a single baserunner.
So the Cubs are down one game to none, but we all knew the plan is to just win one of the first two games in Los Angeles. So the game tomorrow will be even that more important. If the Cubs win it, they come back to Chicago tied and with the next three games at Wrigley. If they lose tomorrow, they’re down 2-0.
Jon Lester will face off against Dodgers starter Rich Hill.
The Cubs were down 2 games to 1 to the Dodgers last season. This one isn’t close to over. Fly the W tomorrow.