After the Dodgers made a valiant comeback effort to tie Game 1, the pitcher who reinvented himself and made a comeback as an effective setup reliever picked a bad time to have his worst inning of the season. Miguel Montero hit an 0-2 slider from Joe Blanton for a grand slam in the eighth inning, breaking a tie in the Cubs’ 8-4 win over the Dodgers in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series on Saturday night at Wrigley Field.
The bases were loaded in the eighth inning because of a double allowed by Blanton then, with the chance of closer Aroldis Chapman’s spot in the batting order coming up, two intentional walks by manager Dave Roberts. The Cubs opted to remove Chapman in favor of the left-handed Montero, and Roberts stuck with Blanton, who allowed lefties to hit .186/.288/.258 in 2016.
Blanton got Montero down 0-2 but left a slider over the middle of the plate, which was deposited into the right field stands for a crushing home run. Dexter Fowler followed with another home run, putting the Cubs up 8-3.
With Chapman out of the game, the Dodgers rallied for a run in the ninth, but it wasn’t enough.
Down 3-0 early and faced with another short outing from a starting pitcher, the Dodgers hung around in a close game, and ultimately clawed their way back.
The tying rally came in the eighth inning, when the Dodgers loaded the bases with nobody out, including a pinch-hit single by spark plug Andrew Toles, who later beat Kris Bryant to third base, negating what would have been a force play for the first out of the frame.
Cubs closer Chapman was brought in to get out of the mess, and promptly struck out Corey Seager and Yasiel Puig. That brought up the left-handed Adrian Gonzalez, who served a bullet into center field faster than it came in.
That ball came in at 102.3 mph.... and left at 104.7 mph.— Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) October 16, 2016
The two-run single tied the game, giving the Dodgers new life. It also snapped an 0-for-11 skid by the Dodgers with the bases loaded this postseason.
The Dodgers got about what was to be expected against Jon Lester, but maybe not they way they planned. Lester, who allowed one run in 15 innings to the Dodgers during the regular season, was allowing line drives and hard-hit balls on the regular in Game 1, but the Cubs defense was up to the task.
Dexter Fowler made a couple wonderful diving catches in center field, a few more line drives found gloves, and Anthony Rizzo robbed Yasiel Puig with a tremendous diving stop in the sixth.
The only run off Lester came in the fifth inning, when Andre Ethier got a fly ball up into the wind in left field and just out over the wall to cut the deficit to 3-1. It was the eighth postseason pinch-hit home run in Dodgers history, and their second in five days.
For Ethier, it was his first home run off a left-handed pitcher since taking Cole Hamels deep on Aug. 18, 2013, after a span of 124 plate appearances against lefties without a long ball, including the postseason.
There was also the matter of third base coach Chris Woodward sending Adrian Gonzalez with two outs in the second inning on a single to left field by Kenta Maeda. Instead of bases loaded and two outs with Howie Kendrick at the plate, Gonzalez was thrown out easily and the inning was over.
Kenta Maeda was ineffective for a fourth consecutive start. He wasn’t able to put anyone away in the first few innings, and the Cubs capitalized. Kris Bryant doubled home a run in the first inning on a ball that went over the head of Howie Kendrick, who started in left field instead of second base because he told manager Dave Roberts via text message, when asked, that he preferred playing left field.
In fairness, Kiké Hernandez probably wouldn’t have caught it, but Toles on the other hand ....
In the second inning, Chicago added two runs in the most frustrating way possible. Jason Heyward, who hit .203/.306/.325 during the season — not too far off from the Dodgers’ overall worst-in-baseball numbers versus left-handed pitchers — tripled to open the inning, after going 9-for-25 (.360) with two extra-base hits against the Dodgers during the regular season.
With the infield in, Javier Baez lofted a ball that landed into short center field for a hustle double that scored Heyward. Later, with Baez on third base, he pulled a move straight out of Nintendo’s Baseball Stars by getting caught between third and home, then broke for home just as catcher Carlos Ruiz threw to third base, scoring easily for the Cubs’ first postseason steal of home since Game 4 of the 1907 World Series.
Maeda was able to tack on a pair of scoreless innings, but was done after allowing three runs in four innings, giving him just 13⅔ total innings in his last four starts.
NLCS Game 1 particulars
Home runs: Andre Ethier (1); Miguel Montero (1), Dexter Fowler (1)
WP - Aroldis Chapman (1-0): 1 IP, 1 hit, 2 strikeouts
LP - Joe Blanton (1-1): ⅔ IP, 4 hits, 5 runs, 2 intentional walks