The Cubs had just completed a tough, tightly-played division series against the Giants October 11 and headed home to Wrigley Field to begin the NLCS against the Dodgers. The win in Game 4 in San Francisco had given them a well-earned three days off instead of the single off day they’d have had if a Game 5 had been required against San Francisco.
Kris Bryant’s RBI double gave the Cubs a quick 1-0 first-inning lead in Game 1 of the NLCS. They added a pair in the second on another RBI double, this one by Javier Baez. Javy advanced to third on a wild pitch and then stole home to make it 3-0.
The steal of home has nothing to do with this series of 20 great home runs, but it’s always worth watching [VIDEO].
Jon Lester had held the Dodgers down through four, but Andre Ethier homered in the fifth and then with two out in the eighth, the Dodgers loaded the bases and Adrian Gonzalez poked a two-run single to center to tie the game.
It was nervous time. The Dodgers were a good team and this was not going to be an easy series. No one thought it would be, even with the Cubs coming off a 103-win regular season. The Cubs won four of seven from L.A. during the 2016 regular season.
After Javy’s steal of home, Kenta Maeda, Pedro Baez and Ross Stripling held the Cubs scoreless through the seventh on only one hit. Now we’re tied 3-3 heading to the bottom of the eighth, and Stripling had been removed for a pinch-hitter in the top of the inning.
Dave Roberts had multiple choices to come out of his bullpen for that eighth inning, and chose Joe Blanton.
Blanton had a very good year in relief for the Dodgers in 2016: 75 appearances, 2.48 ERA, 1.013 WHIP, 80 strikeouts and just 26 walks in 80 innings, 1.9 bWAR. He had thrown five scoreless innings in L.A.’s division series vs. the Nationals, allowing just one hit and one walk and striking out five.
Ben Zobrist led off that inning with a double. Addison Russell grounded out, and the Dodgers elected to intentionally walk Jason Heyward. Baez flied to right.
Chris Coghlan was sent to the plate to bat for David Ross. That was an odd choice, because Blanton had held LH hitters to a .186 BA and .546 OPS in 2016. The Dodgers had lefthander Grant Dayton in the bullpen, but had they brought him in, Joe Maddon would have likely countered with Willson Contreras.
So Blanton remained, but then Roberts made the even odder choice of issuing another intentional walk. That loaded the bases.
Miguel Montero then stepped in to bat for Aroldis Chapman.
Miggy’s playing time had been reduced in 2016 with the emergence of Contreras as the Cubs’ regular catcher. He started only one of the division series games and went 0-for-4 in the NLDS vs. the Giants.
Blanton threw Montero a slider. He fouled it off. Blanton threw another slider and Miggy swung and missed, badly.
So Blanton threw a third slider, and Montero did not miss it [VIDEO].
I have seen a lot of important games at Wrigley Field and a lot of big home runs there. That home run, without question, caused the loudest roar I have ever heard at Wrigley Field. The sound was heard many blocks away, reported by friends of mine. Yes, it was louder than the cheer when the Cubs won the NLCS in Game 6, because that victory had been anticipated for a few innings. But the roar on Miggy’s slam was an immediate explosion of sound, very loud sound. You can hear a loud crowd reaction on the video clip, but that doesn’t really come close to capturing what it sounded like in person, a moment I will remember forever. The photo at the top of this post is memorable for catching that moment, not just for showing what Montero did, but for the reaction of Dexter Fowler, who was on deck.
Because you can never have enough of this grand slam, here it is again [VIDEO], with the Statcast data and Pat Hughes’ radio call.
Ron Coomer said, “Wrigley Field is shaking right now.” He was right.
The hit instantly put the Cubs ahead 7-3, and I don’t know about anyone else who was at the ballpark that night, but I had not even sat down when Fowler sent Blanton’s next pitch off the ribbon board in right field to make it 8-3:
As for Montero, he said he was looking for another Blanton slider after the first two:
“Obviously, after the first pitch, I’m looking something middle, middle in, and he threw me that slider,” Montero said. “It was a really good pitch to hit, and I missed it. And in my mind, I was like, ‘oh, my God, I missed that.’ That was a perfect pitch to hit. But you have to step out of the box and just pull yourself together and try — all I was trying to do was get a base hit. Don’t strike out right here. Get a good pitch and try to put the ball in play and make something happen.”
But to be honest, in the back of my head, I was like, ‘I want that slider back,’ because it was such a good pitch to hit,” Montero said. “And I guess he heard me because he threw it back, and luckily I hit the ball pretty good.”
Yeah, I’d say he hit it “pretty good.”
Here’s the location of the three pitches Blanton threw to Montero:
Pitch three, the one that was sent deep into that October night for the grand slam, was in an absolutely perfect location. (Joe Blanton would probably disagree, though.)
Among other things regarding Miggy’s slam:
Montero had just two hits in the 2016 postseason — the slam, and his 10th-inning single in World Series Game 7 that gave the Cubs an insurance run that they wound up needing. I’d say he earned his ring.
And I will never forget the roar of the crowd that Saturday evening.