Cubs

How Cubs beat Clayton Kershaw to move on to World Series

How Cubs beat Clayton Kershaw to move on to World Series

Two quick runs off the best pitcher on the planet on Saturday night afforded the Cubs exactly what they needed to snap a 71-year-old drought.

Already confident after consecutive offensive outbursts in the previous two games, a two-run first inning against Clayton Kershaw had Cubs hitters in a positive frame of mind.

They rode the surprising rally and a dominant performance by Kyle Hendricks to a 5-0 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers at Wrigley Field in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series. The win earned the Cubs their first NL pennant since 1945 and on Tuesday night they’ll seek their first World Series title since 1908 when they face the Cleveland Indians in Game 1.

“It’s huge for the confidence, the positive momentum from LA, to carry over back home,” left fielder Ben Zobrist said. “Those were the biggest moments in the game early on to help everybody keep pushing and that we got this thing -- that we’re in charge of the game early. That’s a huge momentum builder.”

The Cubs did a little bit of everything in the first inning against Kershaw, who dominated them for seven scoreless frames in a 1-0 Dodgers victory in Game 2 on Sunday night. Some hitters took a more aggressive approach against the three-time NL Cy Young winner while others remained patient. The one constant throughout the 30-pitch frame was that Cubs hitters took advantage whenever Kershaw made a mistake.

Dexter Fowler started with an opposite-field double on a 1-1 slider and Wrigley was rocking when Kris Byrant singled him in to make it 1-0. Andrew Tolles’ error on Anthony Rizzo’s gapper to left center put runners on second and third. Zobrist took advantage and put the Cubs ahead by two with a sac fly to center.

“I think the boys were just ready to go,” Fowler said.

The confidence gained from 18 runs scored in the fourth and fifth games of the series was evident before the Cubs ever took the field. Players looked loose during pregame warmups, whether it was Albert Almora Jr. and several teammates banging air drums to Phil Collins’ ‘In The Air Tonight’ or Javy Baez pumping his fist to a loud beat mere seconds before the Cubs took the field.

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The confidence carried over as the two runs represented the first time all season that Kershaw had allowed a pair to score in the first inning.

“They jumped on it,” catcher Miguel Montero said. “They were all over his fastball and they spit on his breaking ball.

“We felt good coming into the game knowing that we were facing the best pitcher on the planet. But we felt good about ourselves because we got the lead.”

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts thought the key was that the Cubs took advantage of Kershaw’s mistakes as opposed to his previous start when he allowed two hits. Addison Russell kept the pressure on Kershaw when he ripped a hanging slider for a leadoff double in the second inning and he later scored on Fowler’s two-out single to left.

Rookie catcher Willson Contreras crushed a hanging slider for a solo homer in the fourth inning to make it a 4-0 lead.

“They had a great game plan tonight,” Roberts said. “And there was a couple mistake sliders that they took advantage of. But they were running counts, they used the whole field, and there was traffic all night for Clayton. And he gave it everything he had, but when they did -- when he did make a mistake, they made him pay.”

Rizzo gave the Cubs an even bigger lead when he hammered a 1-1 fastball from Kershaw in the fifth inning for a solo homer and a 5-0 lead. Combined with the dominance of Hendricks, the cushion made any talk about curses or billy goats or five outs seem downright silly.

“It felt really good, amazing,” Rizzo said. “We were on the board and I tell our pitchers all the time, ‘If you don’t let ‘em score, it’s impossible (for them) to win.’ ”

Jake Arrieta full of appreciation in return to Wrigley mound: ‘I’ll never forget this city’

Jake Arrieta full of appreciation in return to Wrigley mound: ‘I’ll never forget this city’

The last time Jake Arrieta pitched at Wrigley Field, his night ended with Cubs fans giving him a rousing standing ovation. The former Cubs right hander tossed 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball, leading the Cubs to victory in Game 4 of the 2017 NLCS—their only win against the Los Angeles Dodgers that series.

Arrieta returned to Wrigley Field as a visitor on Monday night, making his first start against the Cubs since joining the Philadelphia Phillies last season. Ironically, Arrieta’s counterpart for the night was Yu Darvish, who ultimately replaced Arrieta in the Cubs starting rotation.

Despite now donning Phillies red, Cubs fans once again showed their love for Arrieta, giving him a lengthy standing ovation ahead of his first plate appearance. Darvish even stepped off the mound in respect for the moment.

“I loved it, absolutely loved it,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said to reporters postgame. “[I’m] very happy that our fans would acknowledge him like that. Yu stepped away from the mound nicely. Jake deserved it.”

Arrieta tipped his helmet in appreciation for the crowd, taking in the moment for more than 30 seconds before stepping into the batter’s box. After the game, he told reporters that moment brought back memories of his time with the Cubs.

“That was something that really brought back great memories of getting that same sort of ovation pretty much on a nightly basis,” Arrieta said. “[I’m] very appreciative of that. I can’t say thank you enough to the city of Chicago, I really can’t.”

Arrieta took fans back to his Cubs tenure on Monday, throwing six innings of one run ball in the Phillies’ 5-4 10-inning win. Although the 33-year-old didn’t pick up the victory, he matched Darvish—who threw six innings of three-run ball—pitch by-pitch.

Phillies manager Gabe Kapler noted how well Arrieta handled his emotions throughout the night.

“I thought he handled the emotions really well. I thought he was in control of the game even when we were down,” Kapler said to reporters. “He always maintained his poise and he just got stronger as the outing went on and that’s why we were able to have him take down the sixth inning for us.”

It’s well-documented how Arrieta’s career improved for the better after the Cubs acquired him in a trade with the Baltimore Orioles in July 2013. When the Cubs acquired him, Arrieta held a career 5.46 ERA in 69 games (63 starts). He finished his Cubs career with a 2.73 ERA in 128 regular season starts. He also won five postseason games with the Cubs, including Games 2 and 6 of the 2016 World Series.

Despite moving on in free agency, Arrieta spoke highly of his time with the Cubs, their fans and the city of Chicago.

“Cubs fans all across the country, all across the world, they really respect and appreciate what guys are able to do here for them,” he said. “It means a lot, it really does.

"I’ll never forget this city, the fan base, the organization, everything that they did for me. It was 4 1/2 incredible years of my career.”

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Yu Darvish crashed Jake Arrieta's party, but Cubs bullpen falters

Yu Darvish crashed Jake Arrieta's party, but Cubs bullpen falters

Yu Darvish was one pitch away.

Holding onto a 1-0 lead with two outs in the sixth inning, Darvish threw Phillies catcher JT Realmuto a 2-2 cutter. It made sense - Darvish had been spotting that pitch well all night, and the Phillies were averaging a paltry 79.8 mph exit velocity against it.

With one strike standing between Darvish and a 6-inning shutout, Realmuto took Darvish’s cutter and sent it back up the middle for a game-tying RBI single. A 2-RBI triple from César Hernández followed. In the blink of an eye, what was shaping up to be one of Darvish’s finest moments in Chicago was instead reduced to yet another start spent searching for silver linings.

“Really good. He was outstanding tonight,” Joe Maddon said. “He pitched really well.

“He had really good stuff. He had command of his stuff, he had command of himself. I thought he was outstanding - even better than what he looked like in Cincinnati. I thought that was probably his best game for us to date.”

Darvish has continued to lean heavily on his cutter this season, more so than any year prior. After throwing it 13 percent of the time last season, he’s going to that pitch almost 25 percent of the time now. If that holds, it’d beat his previous career-high, set in 2013, by six percentage points.

All things considered, that pitch has actually been good for him this season. It’s his go-to offering when he needs to induce weak contact, and batters are hitting .125 against it so far. He gets batters to chase cutters 29.5 percent of the time, the most of any pitch he throws. While he has admitted in games past that he relies too heavily on his fastball, Maddon sees no issues with the new trend.

“I have no concerns with that whatsoever,” he said. “There’s different ways for pitchers to attack hitters, and if it's successful, I really would not change a whole lot.”

Though the night was dedicated to celebrating one of the franchises most beloved pitchers, it was one of their most maligned that continued to show signs of figuring it out. He’s put together back-to-back starts with three or less walks for the first time this season, and has allowed two or less runs in three of the last five.

The pitcher even stepped off the mound during Arrieta’s first at-bat, in order to let the standing ovation continue on.

“He’s is a legend in Chicago,” Darvish said after the game. “And I pitched against him and pitched pretty good, so it makes me confident.”

The bullpen again struggled on Monday night, as the trio of Mike Montgomery, Brad Brach, and Kyle Ryan allowed two runs on five hits, including the game-winning solo home run from Realmuto in the 10th. For a moment it looked like the Cubs had a win wrapped up when Brach got outfielder Andrew McCutchen to bite on a two-strike slider, but was (probably incorrectly) called a checked swing.  He would eventually draw a walk, leading to Jean Segura’s game-tying single.

“On the field, I thought for sure [that McCutchen swung],” Brach said. “Looking at the first base umpire, I was a little taken aback. That’s why I went off the mound - just to regather myself, because I didn’t want to let the emotion get to me there.

“It’s a 50-50 call, and unfortunately it didn’t go my way.”

 

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