Chicago Cubs Stave Off Elminiation in Game Six

Pete Hodges has our Game Six World Series recap in which the Chicago Cubs stave off elimination for at least one more game with an excellent start from Jon Lester and an eight-out start from Aroldis Chapman.

The Chicago Cubs dealt the first decisive blow in what will go down as a historic World Series, one way or the other, when they won Game Two in Cleveland. The wheels came off when the Loveable Losers came back to the Friendly Confines though. Cleveland took the first two games in Chicago and put the North Siders on the brink.

Joe Maddon, ever the hipster, told everyone to chill, take a half day, and come in around 5:30 PM for the 7 PM first-pitch game. Fortunately for the veteran manager, Jon Lester had his back. The lefty came out of the gate like it was 2010, striking out Rajai Davis, Jason Kipnis, and Francisco Lindor. To his credit, Trevor Bauer nearly matched Lester’s pace, striking out Dexter Fowler to open the bottom half before Kris Bryant’s fly out became the first ball in play.

After seeing their teammates watch strike one, only to go down swinging, Mike Napoli and Carlos Santana opted for a more aggressive approach, and each popped out on one pitch – though Santana may have been snake-bitten. Jose Ramirez followed the Napoli-Santana doctrine, but gave a lucky Cubs fan a baseball to throw at Ben Zobrist when he launched a solo shot over the ivy-covered wall. Perhaps a bit flustered, Lester began his first at-bat behind in the count, starting Brandon Guyer with a ball. The league leader in hit-by-pitches would not reach base, though, as Lester induced an inning-ending groundout. .

Following a Ben Zobrist line out to right, Addison Russell stroked a single up the middle, but would stay camped at first and watch both Jason Heyward and Javier Baez flail at Bauer’s third and fourth strike outs, respectively.

After the starting hurlers traded three perfect frames, likely NL MVP Kris Bryant welcomed Bauer back to reality by crushing a poorly placed fastball for his third postseason home run. Anthony Rizzo followed that up with a double to deep right field. Zobrist moved the slugger over with a single to right, and Russell’s second single of the night scored the big fella. Following yet another Heyward strikeout, Baez dropped a bunt single, loading the bases. Old man David Ross cracked a sac fly for what will likely be his last RBI of his proud MLB career, bringing the score to 3-1. A Lester strikeout ended the inning for Bauer and stranded two men for the Cubs.

A leadoff double by Santana likely had the fans in Cleveland ready for a comeback, and Jose Ramirez did his part with a ground out to the right side of the infield, moving the designated hitter to third base. However, Guyer watched strike three after a nine-pitch battle, and Roberto Perez must have been antsy because he swung at the first pitch, popping out to short and stranding Santana.

C.J. Wilson’s replacement-in-waiting, Mike Clevinger, entered the game to fire some balls at Roberto Perez. After retiring Fowler, the righty got a little wild and walked Bryant on five pitches. Rizzo didn’t bother to see if Clevinger’s wildness was a long-term issue as he swung at the first pitch, lining out to Davis in center. The sneaky-fast Bryant stole second during Zobrist’s at-bat and the uber-utility-man-turned-left-fielder walked. Russell took a page out of Rizzo’s book and followed the walk by swinging at the first pitch, and lined out to right, ending the inning.

Coco Crisp hit in place of Clevinger and ground out to first. The speedy Rajai Davis hit a single to left field and then, with Mr. Yips on the mound, did what everyone watching the game knew he was going to do, and stole second. Sure, there was some cat and mouse, but everyone knew that the lefty wouldn’t throw it, even though we all hoped he would just to see how bad the throw would be. Following a Jason Kipnis strikeout, Francisco Lindor stung an RBI single, bringing Cleveland one run closer to glory. With Napoli at the plate, Lindor was gunned down by the gettin’-too-old-for-this-s&^% man behind the plate to end the inning.

After watching Head and Shoulders walk two batters, Terry Francona decided it was time to use the real product. The likely future Hall of Fame manager tapped Bryan Shaw to take care of the Cubs’ sixth inning. Jason Heyward and Javier Baez were unable to put the ball in play, each striking out again. With offense needed out of the catcher’s spot, Maddon replaced David Ross in the lineup in favor of Miguel Montero. The left-handed hitter saw three pitches, swinging at the last one and failing to make contact as it was blocked in the dirt and he was thrown out at first to end the sixth.

Napoli opened the seventh with a single that sent Lester packing. Carl Edwards Jr. was brought in and forced Santana to fly out, but Edwards was wild. The at-bat took seven pitches,  including a wild pitch that advanced Napoli to second. Stealing a page out of Francona’s book, Maddon tapped Aroldis Chapman to be his savior in the seventh inning. He only needed eight outs from his closer, with a man already in scoring position and a one-run cushion. The flamethrower was able to dispatch Jose Ramirez with ease via the K, but hit the pitch magnet Guyer, or his pants at least, placing men on first and second. Roberto Perez seemed to be out of playoff mojo, as he grounded out to second, ending any chance at a rally.

Shaw retired Willson Contreras, but the lack of a strikeout must have concerned Francona, so in came closer Cody Allen. A first-pitch curveball spiked early and hit Fowler on the top of his unprotected foot. It looked painful as the centerfielder dramatically hobbled about for several moments, then stole second base after one pitch, with relative ease. Allen went back to the task at hand, striking out Bryant before doling out an intentional walk to slugger Anthony Rizzo. Zobrist may have been looking to make him pay for that, but all he did was hit a weak pop out to Lindor.

Yan Gomes made just his second at-bat of the World Series, as he was part of a double switch in the previous inning for Perez. Chapman didn’t help knock any rust off as the catcher went down watching strike three. Rajai Davis wasn’t content watching triple digits though as he hit a grounder down the first base line. Rizzo made a great diving stop, got up to toss the ball to Chapman at first, and… there was no one there. Fortunately for Rizzo and the Cubs he didn’t toss it, unfortunately for Rizzo and the Cubs, Chapman did not cover first base. Davis made Chapman pay as he stole second base with Kipnis batting. After the second baseman flew out to left, Davis stole third, but Lindor struck out and left Davis standing 90 feet away from tying the game.

Cody Allen remained in the game to pitch the ninth and started it off with a strikeout of Russell. Heyward smacked a single up the middle. Looking to reproduce Davis’s trail around the basepaths, Heyward swiped second with Baez at the plate. Following Baez’s strikeout, the Cubs’ rightfielder stole third base – though Cleveland didn’t seem too concerned since Chapman was at the dish. The reliever, with his 383 career regular season plate appearances and .000/.000/.000 slash line, kept his playoff stats the same as he went down via the strikeout, ending the eighth.

Fresh out of the batter’s box, Chapman showed no newfound sympathy for his counterparts. Napoli hit a grounder to first, Santana hit a fly to right, and Ramirez struck out on a foul tip to extend the baseball season for the Cubs.

The Chicago Cubs lived to see another day, but they barely escaped a game in which one of their best starters gave them a great performance. Of particular concern was the bottom of the sixth, when Clevinger allowed two walks and was bailed out twice by first-pitch-swinging outs in the subsequent at-bats. Perhaps if the players had been told to arrive early to get some more time in, as Alex Rodriguez suggested in the pregame show, then Chapman wouldn’t have been required to throw 42 pitches in Chicago on October 30.


Follow Pete on Twitter @PeterWHodges

Featured image courtesy of Jonathan Dainel/Getty Images.

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