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Cubs 3, Dodgers 2: The long ball and the non-strike call

An explosion of Cubs home runs led the team to its first NLCS win over the Dodgers, and then manager Joe Maddon exploded, too.

Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

And so, they play on, the Cubs and Dodgers, for at least one more night.

In yet another 2017 Cubs postseason game that ratcheted up to 11 on the insane-o-meter, the ice in Wade Davis’ veins froze even more solid as he put together two innings of relief that nailed down the Cubs’ 3-2 win over the Dodgers in Game 4 of the NLCS. It conjured up memories of Game 5 of the 2016 World Series, another one the Cubs had to win or winter would begin, by the same score, no less.

Before I begin this recap of one of the loudest games I’ve ever been to at Wrigley Field, I have to say this again:

Bring on the robot umpires!

The strike call that was reversed on Curtis Granderson in the eighth inning was one of the most ridiculous ball-and-strike umpiring calls I have ever seen, so much so that MLB blurred Joe Maddon’s mouth on this video.

I mean, come on. That’s strike three, and as noted by the announcers on that clip, it’s not reviewable. Also as noted, how can an outfield umpire who’s 120+ feet away have seen anything worth reversing a plate umpire’s call? JD is right:

The blurring surely has something to do with colorful language Joe used, but you certainly can’t blame him, and that got him tossed. In so doing, a record was set:

You’ll note in that list that Joe was the first Cubs-related person to be tossed from a postseason game since 1935, when it happened in World Series Game 2, and now he’s got himself a “record” of sorts, though one he’s surely not proud of. And yet, that call... I’m not usually one in favor of these sorts of things, but after Joe was tossed I found myself hoping he’d go full Lou Piniella, kick dirt on the plate, toss a base, something to show the umpires how awful this call was. According to the @CubsUmp Twitter account, plate umpire Jim Wolf missed seven calls in Game 4, only one of which went in the Cubs’ favor.

There, I feel better now, especially since all of this cost Davis and the Cubs exactly one pitch, since Wade struck out Granderson on his next offering.

Now let’s talk about the good stuff. Jake Arrieta allowed a couple of baserunners in the first and one in the second but got out of both innings scoreless, and then Willson Contreras began the Cubs’ home-run fun:

Willson hit that ball 491 feet!

The ball nearly hit Willson’s picture on the video board, about three-quarters of the way up, duly noted by Statcast:

It was also the first Wrigley Field home run from Contreras since he suffered that hamstring injury in San Francisco August 9. At the time of his injury he’d been on a tremendous hot streak (.300/.373/.683, 18-for-60, seven home runs in 16 games) but had homered just once since his return (in Game 2 of the division series in Washington), a span of 81 plate appearances. Perhaps this blast will start him on another streak.

Addison Russell struck out, and that brought up Javier Baez:

Javy’s home run hit the back fence behind our section and rattled around in the corner near the TBS camera located there. The poor camera guy almost got knocked over by the scrum trying to get the baseball.

Now, home runs are great but the common theme of this Cubs postseason had been, up to this game: “Hit home run, lose game.” The Cubs hadn’t won any of the games they’d homered in this October, so this one was going to have to be different or it was time to pack in the season.

Cody Bellinger got one of those runs back with a solo shot of his own, off the ribbon board in right field. What do the Dodgers have against that board? That’s the second homer in two days by a Dodger hitter off that board, after Andre Ethier did it in Game 3.

For Arrieta, that was really his only serious mistake of the evening. Like so many Cubs pitchers this postseason, the other issue he got himself into was too many walks — five of them — but he had his strikeout pitch working too, for nine Ks, a Cubs Wrigley Field postseason record:

And then Baez did it again! [VIDEO]

After going 0-for-20 for this postseason, Javy ends this game 2-for-23, but the two hits could not have been bigger. The game went to the seventh with the Cubs ahead 3-1, needing nine outs to force Game 5.

Jake was left in to begin the seventh, but after a couple of walks, a strikeout of Chase Utley and a force play, Bellinger was due up, and at 111 pitches, Jake departed to a thunderous ovation [VIDEO].

I hope you could get a sense watching on TV just how loud and heartfelt that all was. It wasn’t just for his magnificent outing. That was thanks for four and a half seasons of the best pitching we have seen from a Cub in decades:

For Jake’s part, he hopes, as we do, that Game 4 wasn’t it:

Brian Duensing entered and got Bellinger to hit a fly to left to end the seventh. The Cubs didn’t score off Kenta Maeda, and so on came Davis. Joe had already inserted Jason Heyward for defense to begin the seventh, so a double-switch wasn’t possible. Davis’ batting-order spot was due up second in the bottom of the eighth.

That meant one of two things was going to happen:

  • Pedro Strop or Hector Rondon would throw the ninth, or
  • Davis would have to bat.

Davis began his outing by serving up a home run to Justin Turner on a 3-1 fastball. Yikes, it’s a one-run game. Then he walked Yasiel Puig. Next up was Ethier, who had homered earlier. Ethier hit a foul pop-up and Kris Bryant made an outstanding play [VIDEO].

When outs are tough to come by and at a premium in a one-run game, that’s big-time defense.

Then came the Granderson play, which we’ve already discussed.

Except we haven’t yet heard from Joe Maddon on the call. [VIDEO]

Joe’s right. The call was wrong and the process was wrong, and I can’t blame him for being as upset as he was. Fortunately, it didn’t cost the Cubs. But as Maddon said, “That can’t happen.” He’s 100 percent correct.

MLB’s Competition Committee is going to have a busy winter. They could probably have a week’s worth of meetings just from what has happened in the NLCS — so far.

Davis got out of the inning by striking out Chase Utley, after another walk.

Jon Jay led off the eighth by being hit by a Tony Cingrani pitch. I was still convinced that someone would bat for Davis, but there he was, striding up to the plate, bat in hand, looking like a guy who actually knew what he was doing.

I looked up Davis’ batting record. He’s a .250 lifetime hitter in the regular season!

Okay, so that’s 2-for-8. His last hit was in 2012, when he was managed by... Joe Maddon, with the Rays. (Davis was also 0-for-1 in the 2015 World Series.)

And darned if he didn’t have a tenacious nine-pitch at-bat, fouling off five offerings from Cingrani, all of them after going down 0-2 and each one getting louder cheers, before being called out on strikes. That’s worth a look [VIDEO].

Cingrani threw nothing but fastballs to Davis, who was using Bryant’s bat, and nothing slower than 95 miles per hour. And yet Davis had a terrific at-bat, yet another crazy occurrence in this wacky postseason.

Albert Almora Jr. singled Jay to second, but both runners were stranded.

And Davis, who had thrown 34 pitches in the eighth inning, headed back to the mound for the ninth.

Austin Barnes, who had double-switched into the game when Cingrani entered, was called out on strikes.

Then Davis walked Chris Taylor. You all know how much trouble Cubs pitchers have had with walks this postseason. Bet you didn’t realize it was this bad in the NLCS:

Cody Bellinger was next. Davis has thrown 44 pitches. Bellinger’s going to be named N.L. Rookie of the Year next month and he’ll get some MVP votes and he’s already homered in this game.

Yikes. And yet the crowd was on its feet. If anyone had left the park, it was only for a dire emergency.

Davis threw two pitches outside the zone, one in the dirt, then got strike one on a really nice breaking ball.

And then...

And Wrigley Field exploded in joy.

Al Yellon

I simply cannot say enough about Wade Davis. This is exactly why the Cubs acquired him, for the man to lock down postseason games, and he did it against a tremendously talented lineup and gave us an entertaining at-bat as well. This is exactly why the Cubs ought to keep him around for a few more seasons. What other Cubs reliever could have done that?

After the game Maddon said Davis would not be available for Game 5, which sounds logical after a 48-pitch outing, the most he’d thrown in a relief appearance in more than five years. I flipped on MLB Network’s discussion of this game when I got home and they were talking about this very thing, and Dan Plesac said, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

Maddon’s likely right, of course. The only way Wade Davis gets into Game 5 is if it goes into extra innings and there’s no one else out there. Other pitchers will have to step up if a save situation is called for. Perhaps the Cubs can put some real offense together, hitting that doesn’t involve home runs, and they won’t need a closer. About the home runs in Game 4:

The other two: Braves over Dodgers, 1996 division series Game 2, and Indians over Red Sox, 1998 division series Game 3. All three of those teams won their series, including those 2011 Rangers... over Joe Maddon’s Rays (here’s the game where they accomplished this feat).

This game was just one win. The Cubs still need three more, and they’d have to win two of those in Los Angeles, where they haven’t done well in recent years.

But they won three straight against the Dodgers last year, two of them in Los Angeles, to take the NLCS. Until it isn’t done, it’s still possible.

Jose Quintana, who had a really good outing in Los Angeles in Game 1, will take the mound for Game 5 against Clayton Kershaw, who the Cubs handled reasonably well in that game. And you certainly remember Kershaw’s last postseason start in Wrigley Field. Game time is 7 p.m. CT, which I think will make everyone happy, except perhaps people stuck in traffic in L.A. Maybe by the time they get home, the Cubs will already have a lead off Kershaw.