NEW YORK – At a time of heat maps, spray charts, video databases and all those shiny new toys designed for pitching and defense, the Cubs built a World Series contender around young power hitters who don’t know any better and just love to rake.
Those big bats went cold in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series as the New York Mets rode Matt Harvey to a 4-2 win on Saturday night at Citi Field, taking control of this best-of-seven, made-for-TV matchup between two big-market franchises finally back in the October spotlight.
A crowd of 44,287 chanted “HAR-VEY! HAR-VEY!” throughout the night, everything forgiven after super-agent Scott Boras sparked an innings-limit controversy in September, trying to protect a client who missed all of last season while recovering from Tommy John surgery.
On a cold night where it would be 48 degrees with the wind blowing 15 mph at first pitch – ski-mask weather for some Cubs – Harvey retired the first 12 batters he faced and looked like the guy who started the All-Star Game here two years ago inside this pitcher-friendly park.
“He was throwing everything early for strikes,” Anthony Rizzo said. “It’s not like he was just trying to establish his fastball. From the first inning on, he was changeup, curveball, slider. We hit some balls hard off him. They didn’t fall.
“At the end of the day, they just played better than us.”
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The little things mattered in an NLCS billed as Chicago’s thunderous lineup going up against New York’s power pitching.
Harvey lost his perfect game when he drilled Rizzo’s right arm with a pitch to lead off the fifth inning. Juan Lagares then misplayed the line drive Starlin Castro hit to center field, watching it fly over his head and allowing Rizzo to score from first base to tie the game.
But Castro only made it to second base. Two batters later, when Javier Baez singled to left field, Yoenis Cespedes fired the ball back to home plate and nailed Castro.
“I hit it pretty good,” Castro said. “I thought (Lagares) was going to be right on it. I just stopped a little bit at home plate. But after that, just try to run hard.”
The Cubs gave Jon Lester a six-year, $155 million contract for nights like this and the big-game lefty will be the first to admit he didn’t live up to his standards. Lester lasted 6.2 innings and gave up four runs to a New York lineup that looks dramatically different since the Cubs swept the season series (7-0) before the All-Star break.
Daniel Murphy’s home run bounced off the bottom of the second deck in right field in the first inning while Travis d’Arnaud blasted one to straightaway center in the fifth, hitting the Big Apple that would pop up moments later, the orange-and-blue crowd in a frenzy.
The Mets manufactured an insurance run in the seventh inning, Curtis Granderson hitting a sacrifice fly to left field and Lagares beating Kyle Schwarber’s one-bounce throw that created a difficult angle for catcher Miguel Montero behind home plate.
“It’s the playoffs,” said David Ross, Lester’s personal catcher. “Every inch matters. You got to make plays. And they made more plays today than we did.”
Schwarber finally knocked Harvey out of the game with two outs in the eighth inning, blasting a mammoth home run out to right-center field. “The Dark Knight of Gotham” walked off the field to a standing ovation after allowing only two runs and four hits and finishing with nine strikeouts. Mets manager Terry Collins used closer Jeurys Familia to nail down the final four outs.
“The most important thing is getting it started right as a team,” Harvey said. “I knew I had to kind of set the tone early. I know there’s been a lot of speculation or talks going around the past month, but I kind of wanted to kind of stop all that and really go out there and do everything I could for the team.”
The Cubs will give the ball to Jake Arrieta on Sunday night in what should be another pitchers’ duel in Game 2 with the Mets starting Noah Syndergaard, a brash rookie with a “Thor” nickname who changed his Twitter backdrop to a photo of a lightning storm above the Chicago skyline.
“We’re not hanging our heads (about this) right now,” Schwarber said. “It’s just the way this team is. These guys have been there before. They’ve lost playoff games before. They know what it’s like. And they know what it’s like to win. Lester’s won a World Series. Rossy’s won a World Series. They lost games in there. But you always got to keep bouncing back. That’s what good teams do.”