Pete Hodges presents our NLCS Game 1 recap between the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers, in which Miguel Montero went yard.
The Los Angeles Dodgers entered the NLCS facing an uphill battle: the Chicago Cubs were the best team in baseball in the regular season; LA spent the season, and is still to some extent, crippled by injuries; and coming off a grueling five-game cross-country series against the Washington Nationals that ended in dramatic fashion and required the deployment of past and future Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw in Game 5 as a closer. Those details must have made Saturday’s rollercoaster eighth inning all the more painful for the Dodger faithful.
Cy Young candidate Jon Lester made the start for the Cubbies in front of a packed Wrigley crowd. In the top of the first the playoff veteran forced Howie Kendrick and Justin Turner to ground out to third and short before Corey Seager pulled a fastball into right field for a single. Two pitches later, Yasiel Puig ground into a force out at shortstop to end the inning.
L.A. starter Kenta Maeda was welcomed to the Championship Series by a Dexter Fowler line drive ripped up the middle for a single. Kris Bryant then blasted a 1-2 two-seam fastball into deep left field for a double. Left fielder Howie Kendrick made an attempt to catch the ball, but would have been better off playing the carom as the ball ricocheted about 30 feet off the wall. Fowler easily scored the first run of the game on the misplay. Maeda then settled down, retiring Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist, and Anthony Rizzo to strand Bryant at second base.
Adrian Gonzalez attempted to jump-start the Dodgers offense with a leadoff single in the second inning. Enrique Hernandez walked following a Carlos Ruiz lineout, putting men on first and second with one out. Joc Pederson then strikeout, but Maeda struck a seeing-eye single through the left side of the infield. Third base coach Lorenzo Bundy waved the lead-footed Gonzalez home and Zobrist’s throw arrived with plenty of time to spare:
Jason Heyward showed signs of shaking his offensive funk in the bottom of the second by shooting a line drive down the first base line for a leadoff triple in the home half of the second inning. ALDS hero Javier Baez personified “hit ‘em where they ain’t” with a pop fly double into shallow left-center field in between Kendrick, Seager, and Pederson, He ended up on second largely because of his hustle:
After David Ross flied out to center field, Lester entered the batter’s box. A third-pitch slider in the dirt hit the plate, changed directions, and evaded catcher Carlos Ruiz – which allowed Baez to scamper to third base. With a 2-1 count Joe Maddon called for the safety squeeze, and a fastball low and inside caused Lester to pull the bunt attempt back. However, Baez was well off the base, and Ruiz threw to third base in an attempt to get the runner out on his way back to safety. Caught in no-man’s land, the former first-round pick headed home instead:
Baez became the first Chicago Cub to steal home in the postseason since 1907 and brought the score to 3-0. Lester drew a walk two pitches later, but Maeda forced both Fowler and Bryant to pop out, finally ending the second inning.
The pitchers traded zeroes in the third and fourth innings. Lester had two potential extra-base hits kept off his scoreline with these fine plays by Dexter Fowler:
Enrique Hernandez lead off the fifth with a line out to short. Joc Pederson then attempted to catch the Cubs infield sleeping with a bunt, but Kris Bryant was having none of it and he deftly dispatched the Dodgers center fielder. Andre Ethier pinch hit for Maeda, and the expensive bench bat launched a fly ball over the ivy wall that put the Dodgers on the board, bringing the score to 3-1.
Pedro Baez entered the game in the fifth, replacing Maeda, who finished the night with four innings pitched. He allowed three runs on four hits and two walks while striking out two batters. After walking Bryant, Pedro Baez struck out Rizzo, forced Zobrist to pop out to third base, and then fanned Russell. The right-handed reliever came back out for the sixth, allowing a one-out double by Javier Baez. He followed that up by striking out Ross and confronting pinch-hitter Jorge Soler, whose appearance signaled the end of Lester’s evening. Pedro Baez retired the outfielder on a ground ball to shortstop Corey Seager, stranding Javier Baez at second base and ending Pedro Baez’s sterling two-inning relief appearance,.
Lester’s night was over after tossing six innings of one-run baseball, giving up four hit and one walks and striking out three batters. He was replaced by fellow lefty Travis Wood, who came in and retired Gonzalez on three pitches and was lifted for Carl Edwards Jr.. The hard-throwing righty struck out Yasmani Grandal, who was pinch-hitting for starting catcher Carlos Ruiz, then walked Hernandez. Southpaw Mike Montgomery was then brought in to face the lefty hitting Joc Pederson, who he retired via a K on four pitches.
After Ross Stripling tossed a perfect seventh inning for the Dodgers, Andrew Toles pinch-hit and struck a single to left field. Maddon came out of the dugout and signaled for righty Pedro Strop, and Roberts countered with lefty pinch hitter Chase Utley. The veteran second baseman drew a five-pitch walk and the bases were loaded when Turner hit a groundball to third base – and this happened:
Bryant was wise to not try anything rash and didn’t try throwing the ball to first. Then Maddon summoned his best left handed reliever, and closer, for the six out save. Aroldis Chapman entered the game with the bases loaded and nobody out – and did what he does best, mowing down Corey Seager and Yasiel Puig with eight fastballs – only two of those below 100 mph. Adrian Gonzalez strode into the batter’s box and failed to make contact on the second fastball Chapman threw to him. But on the third, he did this:
The first baseman’s single scored the game-tying run and resulted in Chapman’s second blown save of the 2016 postseason. The lefty escaped the inning by inducing a Yasmani Grandal grounder to shortstop, but the game was locked in at 3-3.
Joe Blanton entered the game, taking over for Stripling, who had tossed one perfect inning. Zobrist led the inning off with a hard line drive to center, resulting in a double. A grounder to third base kept the runner at second, and a mound visit resulted in the decision to intentionally walk Jason Heyward. Blanton was then able to force Baez to fly out to right, keeping the runners in their places. Chris Coghlan pinch-hit for Ross and Blanton put him on via another intentional walk.
Roberts then forced Maddon to decide: either replace Chapman in the lineup or have the reliever bat with two outs and the bases loaded. Maddon took the easy road and replaced his closer with Miguel Montero. The at-bat started off well for Blanton as he quickly got ahead in the count 0-2, but then this happened:
To add insult to injury, Dexter Fowler blasted a solo shot of his own on the next pitch, increasing the lead to 8-3. Bryant then crushed a double into the left-center gap and Roberts finally got out the hook, calling for lefty Grant Dayton, who forced Rizzo on a pop out to third base
Joe Maddon asked to former closer Hector Rondon to finish off the game with a four-run lead. The righty retired Hernandez before allowing Pederson to single on a poorly fielded ball by Rizzo. The first baseman should have allowed Baez to field it, because the second baseman was in better position to make the play: Rizzo, being lefthanded was in a poor position to make the feed to first and Pederson’s speed down the line caused issues. Andrew Toles then smacked a double, scoring Pederson and giving the Dodgers a sliver of hope. But it was not to be, as Utley scorched a ball with this result:
The Dodgers had the Cubs on the ropes at Wrigley Field but were unable to capitalize, in part because their bullpen wasn’t up to task. Roberts also overmanaged here. He was too worried about getting to Chapman when he should have been concerned with getting outs – as that is the goal when on defense. Instead, he placed increased pressure on Blanton by calling for two intentional walks, and forcing Maddon to remove a pitcher that the Cubs ultimately wouldn’t need.