Dodgers News: Dave Roberts Stands By Decisions From NLCS Game 1
Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports

Twenty-seven years to the day of Kirk Gibson’s pinch-hit, walk-off home run for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1988 World Series, the Los Angeles Dodgers were on the wrong end of late-game heroics.

Where Gibson’s home run was wrapped in the dramatic, given questions surrounding his availability, Miguel Montero’s grand slam in the eighth inning of Game 1 of the National League Championship Series put Dodgers manager Dave Roberts at the center of controversy.

Chicago Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman inherited a bases-loaded jam with nobody out in the top of the eighth inning. He struck out Corey Seager on a 102 mph fastball, then hit 103 mph to Yasiel Puig swinging.

But Adrian Gonzalez delivered a game-tying, two-run single. Roberts, as he often did throughout the regular season and in the NL Division Series, turned to Joe Blanton in a crucial spot.

Blanton gave up a leadoff double to Ben Zobrist, recorded an out, then intentionally walked Jason Heyward. The 27-year-old outfielder hit .230/.306/.325 with .282 wOBA and 72 wRC+ this season.

Heyward owned the third-lowest on-base plus slugging percentage in the Majors, and logged 592 plate appearances without being intentionally walked. He did hit .360/.385/.520 in seven games against the Dodgers.

“It’s just one of those things where obviously in that situation you got to walk Heyward, with the open base,” Roberts said. Blanton induced Javier Baez into a pop-up on the first pitch of the at-bat.

The Dodgers were one out away of heading to the ninth with the game tied. Then disaster struck. With Chapman’s spot due up next, Roberts had Blanton intentionally walk pinch-hitter Chris Coghlan.

It forced Cubs manager Joe Maddon’s hand, and he relented, sending Miguel Montero to bat for Chapman with the bases loaded. The Dodgers had Grant Dayton warming up in the bullpen, but Roberts stuck with Blanton.

Montero entered the night a career 2-for-11 against Blanton. He swung through a hanging slider. Blanton hung another, and Montero crushed it into the right-field bleachers for a go-ahead grand slam that had Wrigley Field shaking.

Roberts wanted to push the envelope to get Chapman out of the game. He also didn’t regret any of his decisions. “I would do the same thing over again,” Roberts said. “Ten times out of 10 I would take Joe Blanton against Montero. He took a good swing on a 0-2 pitch. And it’s going to happen, that’s baseball.

“I know Joe’s going to throw strikes, and so to then walk Coghlan, to then bring up Montero, if I go to a left-hander they bring in (Wilson) Contreras. So, right there there’s really no matchup advantage, it’s more of I trust Joe. I’ve trusted him all year long, he’s been great for us.”

So the Cubs, a team said to be cursed, answered the Dodgers’ rally with magic of their own to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven NLCS.