LOS ANGELES — Chris Taylor and Yasiel Puig hit home runs to key a comeback, and aggressive use of a stellar bullpen closed out the Cubs in Game 1 of the NLCS, a 5-2 Dodgers victory on Saturday night at Dodger Stadium.
In addition to the expected contributions from Taylor and Puig, the Dodgers got production from their shortstop as well, which normally wouldn’t be news. But with Corey Seager off the roster for this series, Charlie Culberson stepped filled in admirably, driving in the tying run with a sacrifice fly, then adding some insurance in the seventh inning by scoring after hitting a double.
Culberson had all of 15 major league plate appearances in the regular season.
“That sac fly he got there to score that second run was huge. He got behind 0-2 and dug a breaking ball out and lifted it to left field,” manager Dave Roberts said. “I think it was big for his confidence, and to get another hit later, a leg double, was great.
“We trust Charlie. He’s a part of what we’re doing right now, and he’s a heck of a baseball player.”
Taylor gave the Dodgers the lead in the sixth inning against reliever Hector Rendon, with an opposite-field home run, one of his two hits on the night.
“In big spots, he has the ability to zone in and swing at strikes and take balls. So he’s done that all year for us,” Roberts said. “To get that big homer to right center really didn’t surprise us. Just another thing to add to his special season.”
Puig added another run with a solo shot in the seventh, offering a contrast in styles. Earlier in the game, Puig drove in the Dodgers first run with a double, and flipped his bat thinking it was a home run.
But on the home run, there was no bat flip, just some watching.
Puig said he thought the ball would be caught by Kyle Schwarber in left field, but then it carried. “The wind helped me out tonight,” Puig said, then blew on the microphone.
Puig is 7-for-15 (.467) this postseason, with two doubles, a triple, a home run, two walks and six RBI in four games.
“He loves the big stage, and his only focus is helping us continue to win baseball games,” Roberts said. “So right now he’s playing at a high level, and not only the fans, but his teammates are feeding off of it.”
The game was scoreless until the fourth inning, when catcher Willson Contreras singled to open the frame against Clayton Kershaw. Then Norm MacDonald of all people gave us a weekend update, proving to be clairvoyant with Albert Almora Jr. up.
Kershaw has been off-target, with a suspect strike, it is 3-1. Bad pitch but swung at. Full count now with a man on first. Big Big Pitch.— Norm Macdonald (@normmacdonald) October 15, 2017
Almora hit the next pitch into the left field pavilion for a 2-0 Cubs lead, the fifth home run allowed in 11⅓ innings this postseason for Kershaw, who gave up a career-worst 23 home runs during the regular season.
Kershaw fell behind in the count at some point with at least two balls on nine of his 20 batters, and was at 87 pitches through five innings. He was pinch hit for in the bottom of the fifth with a runner in scoring position, with Roberts roactively removing his ace at his first reasonable chance. Roberts said had Kershaw’s spot in the order not come up, he would have likely only faced one more batter, the left-handed Anthony Rizzo, to start the sixth.
It was something Roberts hinted at on Wednesday.
“No one wants it more than he does, but to have the guys in the pen who I feel very confident in going to lends itself to not pushing him,” Roberts said.
Roberts pushed the right buttons with his bullpen though, mixing and matching for the final 12 outs, with Tony Cingrani (one out), Kenta Maeda (three), Brandon Morrow (two), Tony Watson (two), and Kenley Jansen (four) slamming the door shut on the win.
Dodgers relievers retired all 12 batters they faced, and Dodgers pitchers, including Kershaw, retired the final 18 Cubs in Game 1.
Game 1 particulars
Home runs: Chris Taylor (1), Yasiel Puig (1); Albert Almora (1)
WP - Kenta Maeda (2-0): 1 IP, zeroes
LP - Hector Rondon (0-1): ⅓ IP, 1 hit, 1 run
Sv - Kenley Jansen (3): 1⅓ IP, 4 strikeouts