With neither team no stranger to a game filled with drama, the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers opened the National League Championship Series with the kind intrigue you’d expect.
After Howie Kendrick grounded out on the seventh pitch of his at-bat, Justin Turner and Corey Seager both swung at Jon Lester’s first offering. Turner grounded out and Seager lined a two-out base hit into center field. Nothing came of it, however, as Yasiel Puig grounded to shortstop.
Kenta Maeda went into his start admittedly wanting to improve from a poor showing in Game 3 of the NL Division Series. But all the rookie right-hander found was more trouble.
Dexter Fowler led off the bottom of the first with a base hit, then scored on Kris Bryant’s double that carried over Kendrick’s head in left field.
To his credit, Maeda managed to limit the damage to just one run by retiring the next three batters. Though, two of the outs were hard-hit, serving as a prelude. Adrian Gonzalez led off the second inning with a line-drive single.
True to what Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said would be the case, Gonzalez did his part in attempting to disrupt Lester by taking a large lead at first base. Kiké Hernandez walked to put two on with one out.
Maeda got a two-out single by a diving Bryant, but Gonzalez was aggressively sent home and it cost the Dodgers as he was easily thrown out to end the inning. The Cubs struck quickly in bottom of the second, beginning with a Jason Heyward leadoff triple.
With the infield drawn in, Javier Baez blooped an RBI hustle double into shallow center field. After Baez advanced to third on a wild pitch, he made up for coming too far down the line by stealing home plate when Carlos Ruiz threw to third base.
The stolen base was the Cubs first in the postseason since 1907. Baez became the first player to steal home in an LCS since Elvis Andrus in 2010, and the first to do it in the NLCS since Jeff Branson in 1995.
For as much criticism the Dodgers have received over their trouble against left-handed pitchers, they made solid contact off Lester in the third and fourth innings but didn’t have anything to show for it. Fowler had a hand in that, making a trio of impressive catches over that span.
A bad call with Lester batting resulted in him walking for the second time. Maeda struck out Fowler to end the fourth, working around a walk in a second straight inning. Andre Ethier pinch-hit for Maeda with two outs in the fifth and lifted a fly ball to left-center that carried for a solo home run.
The homer was Ethier’s first off a left-hander in the postseason since the 2009 NLCS when he took Cole Hamles deep. Pedro Baez worked around a leadoff walk in the bottom of the fifth. Javier Baez lined a one-out double down the right-field line off Pedro Baez with one out in the sixth.
Baez struck out David Ross, then retired pinch-hitter Jorge Soler to end the inning. Lester’s night came to end at just 77 pitches over six innings, with one run allowed on four hits. That led to Cubs manager Joe Maddon using three relievers in the seventh.
First was Travis Wood, retired Gonzalez to start the seventh. Carl Edwards Jr. then entered and struck out pinch-hitter Yasmani Grandal, but walked Hernandez. Left-hander Mike Montgomery was the last to appear, striking out Joc Pederson on a slider out of the zone.
Ross Stripling retired Fowler, Bryant and Rizzo and in order in the bottom of the seventh to keep the Cubs’ lead at 3-1. Montgomery started the eighth but was removed after allowing a leadoff single to pinch-hitter Andrew Toles.
Pedro Strop nibbled at the edges of the strike zone without getting the calls to go his way, and walked pinch-hitter Chase Utley to put two on with nobody out. After fielding a Turner chopper back of third base, Bryant was a step late on his attempt to beat Toles to the bag.
Maddon turned to yet another reliever, calling on Aroldis Chapman for a six-out save. He struck out Seager on a 102 mph fastball, and got Puig to swing through a 103 mph heater.
But Chapman didn’t get out of the inning unscathed, as Gonzalez drove a two-run, game-tying single into center field. The Cubs responded to the Dodgers’ comeback with a strong inning of their own, capitalizing on Dodgers manager Dave Roberts’ roll of the dice.
With one out and Ben Zobrist on second base after hitting a leadoff double, Heyward was intentionally walked. The semi-questionable decision immediately paid off as Javier Baez flied out on the first pitch.
Pinch-hitter Chris Coghlan was intentionally walked to load the bases and bring up Chapman’s spot in the order. Miguel Montero hit for the Cubs’ closer and crushed a hanging slider for a grand slam. Fowler followed with a home run on Blanton’s next pitch, and Chicago took an 8-3 lead to the ninth.
With Hector Rondon assuming ninth-inning duties, Pederson reached with one out on an infield single. Toles followed with an RBI double to trim the Dodgers’ deficit to 8-4. In a microcosm of the Dodgers’ night, Utley’s line drive was snagged by Rizzo for the start of a game-ending double play to give the Cubs a 1-0 lead in the NLCS.