This time, the Cubs wouldn’t set off any late-inning fireworks or jump around in a mosh pit at home plate. A Los Angeles front office overflowing with current/former GMs and a first-year Dodgers manager (Dave Roberts) didn’t have to overthink this one. Just get out of the way and let Clayton Kershaw show why he might be the best pitcher on the planet.
The equation became pretty simple on Sunday night at Wrigley Field, seven innings of Kershaw plus six outs from closer Kenley Jansen equaling a 1-0 victory in Game 2 and a tied National League Championship Series that now shifts to the West Coast.
But the Cubs played music in the postgame clubhouse as they got dressed and packed up for the overnight flight, showing no signs of panic or frustration, knowing who they have lined up for Games 3, 4 and 5 on the road. That would be Jake Arrieta, the Cy Young Award winner who’s already thrown a no-hitter at Dodger Stadium, followed by two two-time World Series champions in John Lackey and Jon Lester.
“We have a luxury,” outfielder Jason Heyward said. “We’ve been spoiled this year (with our pitching). It’s pretty cool to have someone like that – with that kind of experience and that mindset – to know how to go in and attack.”
The reality is the Dodgers had to win this one, because they can’t be sure what they will get from ex-Cub Rich Hill in Game 3 and what might happen with the blisters on his left hand. Their Game 4 starter is listed as TBA, probably Julio Urias, assuming the 20-year-old lefty isn’t needed on Tuesday night in an emergency situation.
The Dodgers used 15 different starting pitchers during the regular season, while the Cubs had four 15-game winners, including one (Jason Hammel) who hasn’t made the playoff roster in either round yet.
The Dodgers will have to ride Kershaw, already beating the Washington Nationals twice during his two starts in their best-of-five NL Division Series. Two days after throwing 110 pitches, Kershaw notched the last two outs and the save in Thursday night’s Game 5, getting Mr. October Daniel Murphy to pop up with two runners on and rewrite his own playoff legacy.
[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]
Kershaw retired the first 14 batters he faced at Clark and Addison, taking a perfect game into the fifth inning before Javier Baez and Willson Contreras drilled back-to-back singles, the only hits the three-time Cy Young Award winner would allow.
“We just chased a lot of pitches,” Baez said. “With him pitching on a couple days’ rest, (I didn’t think) he was going to be that nasty. But obviously he came ready for us. He just did his job.”
Jansen struck out four of the six Cubs he faced, mowing down Dexter Fowler (swinging) and Kris Bryant (looking) in the ninth inning before Anthony Rizzo lined a 95-mph first pitch out to second baseman Chase Utley to end the game.
“It’s easy to get used to good stuff, right?” said Miguel Montero, who followed up his pinch-hit grand slam in Game 1 with a pinch-hit four-pitch strikeout against Jansen. “When you fly a private plane and then you got to go in coach, that’s tough, right?
“So if you hit a homer, and then you come up the next day, people expect you to go again in the private plane. No, you strike out, so you go back in coach.
“Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. You just got to move on.”
The Cubs have their offensive issues. Fowler is getting on base 23 percent of the time during these playoffs. Combined, Rizzo and Addison Russell are 2-for-45 in the postseason. Pitchers Arrieta and Travis Wood and backup catcher David Ross have generated three of the team’s seven homers through six playoff games overall.
But this still doesn’t look or feel or sound like the rattled team the New York Mets swept out of last year’s NLCS. This time, the Cubs are in position to win the arms race.
“We like our chances,” Montero said. “We like where we’re at. And Cubs fans, they deserve the best in the world, because they’ve been so patient and so supportive. Believe me, we’re going to do everything in our power. We’re going to give it our best every single day out there. Because we want the good stuff, for ourselves and for the whole city.”