Montero's slam off Blanton powers Cubs past Dodgers in NLCS Game 1

Montero's slam off Blanton powers Cubs past Dodgers in NLCS Game 1


CHICAGO -- Miguel Montero delivered a memorable swing, Javier Baez stole home with his daring dash down the line and Jon Lester turned in another steady performance on the mound.

It all added up to another dramatic victory and business as usual this season for the Chicago Cubs, who are off and running in the NL Championship Series.

Montero snapped an eighth-inning tie with the third pinch-hit grand slam in postseason history, and Chicago beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 8-4 in the opener Saturday night, moving the Cubs a step closer to their first pennant in 71 years.

"We hang in there," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "We don't give up."

Game 2 is Sunday night, with the Dodgers once again in need of a clutch performance from ace Clayton Kershaw. Major league ERA leader Kyle Hendricks pitches for the Cubs, chasing their first World Series title since 1908.

Lester pitched six effective innings, and Dexter Fowler homered after making two diving catches in center field - breaking his belt on the second grab. Left fielder Ben Zobrist threw out Adrian Gonzalez at the plate, helping Chicago to its first NLCS victory in 13 years.

The Cubs pulled out 14 of their major league-best 103 wins this season in their final at-bat. They added two more in the Division Series against playoff-tested San Francisco, including a four-run ninth in the clinching Game 4.

And now, this.

"We've kind of proved we can overcome adversity in the game," slugger Kris Bryant said.

Chicago was swept by the New York Mets in last year's NLCS. Lester & Co. are back again and already in better shape following a crazy eighth inning.

In the top half, Gonzalez tied it at 3 with a two-out, two-run single off Aroldis Chapman.

Zobrist hit a leadoff double in the bottom of the inning before pinch-hitter Chris Coghlan was intentionally walked with runners at first and second and two outs, bringing up Chapman's spot in the batting order.

"That was the right thing to do," Maddon said. "I probably would have done the same thing."

Maddon sent up Montero, who drove an 0-2 slider from loser Joe Blanton halfway up the right-field bleachers for his first hit of the playoffs.

"I trust Joe. I've trusted him all year long. He's been great for us," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "Left a pitch up. ... It just didn't work out."

The crowd of 42,376 at Wrigley Field roared as Montero rounded the bases and kept cheering until the veteran catcher popped out of the dugout for a curtain call.

"I never even thought I was going to hit at that point," Montero said. "To be honest, I thought Maddon put me out there just to bring the lefty and get (Willson) Contreras to pinch-hit for me, and they didn't bring the lefty for Contreras."

Fowler homered on the next pitch as the Cubs rebounded quickly from a shaky bullpen performance. Hector Rondon allowed Andrew Toles' RBI double in the ninth before Chase Utley lined into a game-ending double play.

Chapman retired Yasmani Grandal on an inning-ending groundout in the eighth and was credited with the win.

"We'll be ready tomorrow," Gonzalez said. "This game gave us a lot of confidence. We know we can beat them."

Lester and Baez helped Chicago to a 3-1 lead after seven. But the Dodgers rallied in the eighth, prompting Maddon to go to Chapman with the bases loaded and no outs.

The lefty struck out Corey Seager and Yasiel Puig before Gonzalez lined a 102 mph fastball back up the middle. A pumped-up Gonzalez celebrated at first base after delivering Los Angeles' first hit in 12 at-bats with the bases loaded in these playoffs.

But everything changed in the bottom half, leaving both managers to answer for several difficult decisions. Lester was replaced by a pinch hitter after just 77 pitches, and the intentional walk to Coghlan put the go-ahead run at third.

"A lot of that stuff was preplanned," Maddon said. "You look for situations. You're looking for the right matchups. But you don't know what he's going to do. ... You have to be able to react."

Andre Ethier had a pinch-hit homer for Los Angeles, helped by a strong wind going out to left and left-center on a warm night at Wrigley Field. Kenta Maeda lasted just four innings in his fourth straight shaky outing dating to the regular season.

The last time Kershaw was on the mound, he got two outs for the save in Los Angeles' clinching Game 5 win at Washington on Thursday night. The taxing final victory over the Nationals left Roberts with few options for the NLCS opener, and the Cubs jumped on Maeda for three runs in the first two innings.

"There were a lot of pitches I left over the plate that they took advantage of," Maeda said through a translator.

Bryant drove in Fowler with an RBI double in the first. Baez, one of the breakout stars of this year's postseason, added his own run-scoring double in the second, on a blooper into center over a drawn-in infield.

Baez was on third with one out when he initially broke for the plate with Lester squaring to bunt. Lester didn't get the bunt down, and catcher Carlos Ruiz threw to third baseman Justin Turner. Baez hesitated, then kept going toward the plate. He slid in safely before Ruiz could get the tag on him.

Baez became the second player to steal home for the Cubs in a postseason game, joining Jimmy Slagle in Game 4 of the 1907 World Series, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

"It was a safety squeeze. I went a little too early and I saw I couldn't get back," Baez said. "This is the big leagues and a rundown is too easy, so I kept going."

Montero's drive was the first go-ahead grand slam by a pinch hitter in postseason history. Mark Lewis and Ricky Ledee were the other pinch hitters to sock a playoff grand slam. Lewis connected for the Cincinnati Reds in a 1995 Division Series against the Dodgers. Ledee went deep for the New York Yankees in the 1999 ALCS vs. Boston.

Dodgers: Kershaw pitched in all three Dodgers wins during the Division Series. The three-time Cy Young Award winner is 3-6 with a 4.79 ERA in 16 playoff appearances, including 12 starts.

Cubs: Hendricks, who went 16-8 with a 2.13 ERA this season, makes his fourth career playoff start. He left his Division Series start against San Francisco after taking a line drive off his right forearm.

MLB rumors: Giants expected to target Patrick Corbin in free agency


MLB rumors: Giants expected to target Patrick Corbin in free agency

Once MLB free agency begins after the World Series, Diamondbacks ace Patrick Corbin could be the top free-agent arm on the open market.

It's no surprise that he will have plenty of suitors, and one of them reportedly will be the Giants.

According to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, Corbin is expected to draw a lot of interest from the Giants. And why wouldn't he?

Corbin, 29, is coming off the best season of his six-year career, and the Giants certainly want him away from an NL West opponent. This past season, Corbin went 11-7 with a career-best 3.15 ERA. He also tossed exactly 200 innings with a career-high 246 strikeouts and a career-low 1.050 WHIP. 

The left-hander also has been a menace against the Giants. He went 3-1 with a 2.27 ERA against them last season, including a complete-game shutout on one hit and eight strikeouts in his fourth start of the year. 

For his career, Corbin is 8-8 with a 3.04 ERA in 25 appearances against the Giants.

Cafardo also lists the Dodgers, Braves and Yankees as other suitors for Corbin. In the same report, Cafardo projects Corbin to sign a deal for at least five years at $20 million to $25 million per year. 

Giants Review: Ryder Jones' opportunity cut short by tough knee injury


Giants Review: Ryder Jones' opportunity cut short by tough knee injury

SAN FRANCISCO — Nobody helped their stock in September more than Aramis Garcia, who took advantage of an opening and showed that he can have quality at-bats and handle a second position. That opening originally might have belonged to another player. 

With Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval already done for the year, Ryder Jones would have been the beneficiary when Brandon Belt was finally shut down. But Jones was on the disabled list, too, after suffering one of the worst injuries of the season. 

Jones crumpled in the batter’s box on September 9 after his left knee twisted awkwardly on a swing. He dislocated it, and would have surgery three days later to repair ligament damage. That limited Jones to just eight at-bats in 2018 and kept the Giants from further evaluating a player who still is just 24. 

What Went Right

Jones had a decent season in Triple-A, batting .274 with a .745 OPS, 11 homers, 22 doubles and four triples. At the big-league level, he had hits in three of those eight at-bats, two of which were impressive homers. In a cameo in July, he hit a go-ahead homer off Edwin Jackson in Oakland. In September, he hit a pinch-hit shot off the Brewers’ Joakim Soria. 

The Giants had just four homers leave the yard at 111 mph or above. Mac Williamson had two and Jones had the other two -- again, in just eight at-bats. His homers had exit velocities of 111.7 and 112.1 mph, giving him two of the three hardest-hit homers of the season by a Giant. 

What Went Wrong

Those Triple-A numbers were actually kind of disappointing given that Jones was repeating the level and had better numbers across the board in 2017. His OPS was .969 in his first run through the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. 

The big-league sample size is extremely small, but while Jones homered twice, he struck out in five of his six other at-bats. 

Contract Status

Jones hasn’t accrued much service time. He has two minor-league options remaining. 

The Future

The best thing going for Jones right now is his age. He turned 24 during the season, so he remains younger than just about all of the rookies who broke through during the season.

Jones is capable of generating tremendous bat speed, and the Giants hope that something clicks next season and he consistently taps into his power. The knee had bothered him before and Jones was hopeful that the procedure clears this up once and for all. He is buried on the depth chart, though, with Evan Longoria and Pablo Sandoval at third and Belt, Posey and others — Garcia? Austin Slater? — capable of handling first. Jones has taken fly balls in the outfield before but that hasn’t stuck.

He’s kind of in limbo right now, but given his age and natural power, he’s a player the new front office should spend a lot of time evaluating.