Pete Hodges recaps Game 1 of the NLDS between the Chicago Cubs and the San Francisco Giants in which Jon Lester outpitched Johnny Cueto.
Game 1 of the NLDS between the number one seeded Chicago Cubs and the Wild Card round winners, the San Francisco Giants, matched the postseason tested Giants against the playoff-starved Cubs. The Cubs are seeking to break baseball’s longest championship drought and it’s an even year – so the Giants are due. Cy Young candidates Jon Lester and Johnny Cueto were scheduled to pitch and the matchup between two quasi-aces featured $280 million in contracts, 23 postseason starts, and three World Series rings between them.
The two veteran hurlers did not disappoint, matching each other inning-for-inning in a game that will likely be remembered for a long time on the northside of Chicago. Lester showed chinks in his armor early and often: The lefty allowed a leadoff bunt single to Gorkys Hernandez, but David Ross threw out the well-traveled outfielder trying to steal second base. Lester then settled down and retired the side without incident:
The second inning started much like the first, with a leadoff single by Hunter Pence. The Giants’ awkward swinging outfielder advanced to second on a Brandon Crawford ground out – but that is as far as he would get. The Giants continued their leadoff luck in the third with eight-hole hitter Conor Gillaspie smacking a single into right field, but Ross once again saved Lester’s bacon:
After Cueto dropped a harmless bunt resulting in out number two, Lester was able to escape the third inning unscathed. Brandon Belt broke the pattern in the fourth when he grounded out to first baseman Anthony Rizzo, but Buster Posey followed that with a one-out single. Two batters later, Angel Pagan hit a blooper to left that Ben Zobrist was unable to keep in front of him, and Posey advanced to third. But stopping the catcher was a questionable call by the third base coach even with Posey’s speed because there were two outs, so Crawford would have needed to deliver a hit in order to score the run.
The decision to hold Posey at third would prove costly as that would be the last hit allowed by Lester. The veteran lefty ended the night having pitched eight innings, striking out five batters, and allowing just five hits.
On the opposite side, Johnny Cueto proved much more stingy with the scoring opportunities. The right-hander’s first trip through the Cubs’ batting order went flawlessly, as he struck out a batter in each frame. Kris Bryant’s double in the fourth inning broke up the perfect game after ten batters, but after Bryant advanced to third on a Rizzo ground out, he was stranded by Zobrist’s worm killer.
Cueto bookended the fifth inning with strikeouts, bringing his rate back up to one per inning but in between Javier Baez struck a single – perhaps finding his stroke?
In the sixth inning Cueto kicked it up a notch, striking out Lester, Dexter Fowler, and Bryant in order – bringing his total to eight on the night. Both starters – Cueto and Lester – were cruising now. The Giants’ hurler notched his ninth strikeout of the night in the bottom of the seventh, setting a personal best for the playoffs.
Cueto then started the eighth inning by dispatching Jason Heyward via a popout to first base. Baez then strode to the plate and worked a full count before clubbing Cueto’s pitch into the night, launching a ball over the ivy-covered wall:
Just like that, the Giants found themselves in a hole. The Cubs’ closer entered the game and put the clamps on any rally attempt. The Cubs took the first game of the series, allowing their fans to exhale – if only briefly – before Game 2 on Sunday. San Francisco turns to former Cub Jeff Samardzija, while the Cubs look to their second best pitcher this season, Kyle Hendricks.