If there was one thing the Cubs didn’t want to happen in this series, it was to get into a battle of the bullpens with the Dodgers. Unfortunately, that’s what has happened in both games and with the same result each time. This time, the Cubs bullpen managed to hold it together until the bottom of the ninth inning when Justin Turner hit a three-run walkoff home run and the Dodgers beat the Cubs, 4-1 in game 2 of the 2017 National League Championship Series. The Dodgers now lead the best-of-seven series two games to none.
There was another battle of starting pitchers as both Dodgers starter Rich HIll and Cubs starter Jon Lester kept the other team in check over the first four innings. But the Cubs broke through in the top of the fifth when Hill threw a fastball right down the middle of the plate to Addison Russell. Russell turned on the pitch and lined it hard down the left field line, where it landed in the seats. It wasn’t hit a long way, but in Dodger stadium he hit it far enough. It was 1-0 Cubs.
The lead didn’t last long. Charlie Culberson doubled to lead off the bottom of the fifth inning against Lester. It looked like Lester might wriggle out of trouble after he got pinch-hitter Curtis Granderson to pop out and left fielder Chris Taylor grounded out. But Justin Turner came through with a two-out single on a Lester slider. The game was tied again.
After Turner singled, Lester next walked Cody Bellinger and Cubs manager Joe Maddon had seen enough. He called on Carl Edwards Jr. from the pen. This was a gut-check moment for Cubs fans as Edwards has been both very good and very bad this postseason. Tonight, the String Bean Slinger was terrific. He struck out pinch-hitter Chase Utley to end the threat and then retired the Dodgers in order in the sixth.
The battle of the bullpens continued. Pedro Strop pitched the seventh inning. He did give everyone a scare when he walked Taylor before Turner, but he got Turner to fly out to end the inning. Next came on Brian Duensing, who pitched the eighth inning and gave up a leadoff single to Cody Bellinger. But after a sacrifice fly and an intentional walk, Duensing got Austin Barnes to hit into a double play to end the eighth.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers bullpen continued to shut down the Cubs offense completely. The Cubs finally managed to get their first baserunner on the Dodgers bullpen in the top of the ninth when Anthony Rizzo was hit in the hand by a Kenley Jansen cutter. But “getting hit in the hand” is never an effective offensive strategy in the long term. In the eight innings the Dodgers bullpen has pitched in this series, the hit-by-pitch is the only baserunner the Cubs have managed.
Duensing walked Yasiel Puig to lead off the ninth inning and then after a successful sacrifice bunt, Duensing struck out pinch hitter Kyle Farmer.
This is where Joe Maddon is going to get second-guessed. Maddon pulled Duensing for John Lackey, who had never pitched in back-to-back games in his entire career, as Ron Darling pointed out on the broadcast. Lackey walked Taylor and while he could be careful with a base open, that meant he had to face the Dodgers best hitter, Justin Turner.
You know what happened. Turner crushed a walkoff three-run home run to center field. It was a bad pitch to a great hitter and he crushed it.
Maddon is going to be second-guessed for not using Wade Davis instead of Lackey. We can never know what would have happened if the Cubs had gone to Davis, but certainly Lackey did not have a good outing in relief tonight.
The Cubs have been down worse than this before and the series shifts to Wrigley Field now. In a sense, the Dodgers just “held serve” as they won the two games in Dodger Stadium. The Cubs will now have to win at least two games in Wrigley Field in order to keep their season alive and return to the World Series for the second time in as many years.
The season’s not over. The Cubs were down three games to one in the World Series last year and came back to win. They can do it again. But they will have to find a way to get on base against the Dodgers bullpen first.
There’s still time to Fly the W. Let’s get back to Wrigley and figure this out.