Cubs

Bill Murray and the 5 biggest keys to the Cubs' thrilling Game 3 victory over Nationals

Bill Murray and the 5 biggest keys to the Cubs' thrilling Game 3 victory over Nationals

The Cubs have the script for October 2017 and they intend to follow it: Get no-hit for the first 5-6 innings, then storm back and take down the Nationals' top pitchers.

Simple.

That's exactly what the Cubs did in their 2-1 Game 3 victory over the Nationals, putting Bryce Harper and Co. on the ropes with Game 4 set for Tuesday night.

Here are the 5 biggest keys to the game:

Bill Murray: Hype Man

Bill Murray sang the 7th Inning Stretch and like the typical showman he is, he got the 42,445 fans in attendance all kinds of riled up. In classic Harry Caray fashion, he told the Cubs to get some runs.

And they did.

The Cubs responded to Murray's call in the bottom of the seventh when Ben Zobrist broke up Max Scherzer's no-hitter with one out, lining the right-hander's 98th pitch off the Under Armour door in left-center.

That was it for Scherzer, as Dusty Baker brought in left-hander Sammy Solis to face Kyle Schwarber.

Joe Maddon countered with Albert Almora Jr. who laced the sixth pitch of his at-bat past a diving Trea Turner, tying the game and delivering an epic reaction:

That was Almora's first postseason hit in 15 tries and it couldn't have come at a bigger time for the 2017 Cubs.

The next inning, Anthony Rizzo played hero on a two-out bloop single, driving in Leonys Martin with the game-winning run.

Defense wins championships...

Maddon opted to get another left-handed bat in the lineup against Scherzer, who is as wicked as they come against right-handers. Which meant Javy Baez was on the bench, instead of starting his 20th straight Cubs postseason game at second base.

That move almost came back to haunt the World-Series-winning manager, as Ben Zobrist dropped Bryce Harper's groundball in the third inning, putting runners at first and third with two outs for NL MVP candidate Anthony Rendon. Rendon smoked a 99.1 mph liner to the warning track in right-center, but Jason Heyward was able to fight through the sun and make the running catch.

In the fourth, after Jayson Werth walked, Matt Wieters drove one to a similar spot as Rendon in right-center, but this time it was Jon Jay who made the running grab, covering a long distance and lunging at the last second for the grab.

Zobrist later atoned for his defensive miscue with a diving stop to get Trea Turner to lead off the eighth inning.

...until it doesn't

Kyle Schwarber - in the lineup for his offense against Scherzer - became the goat as Monday afternoon turned into evening. 

First he dropped Daniel Murphy's tailing flyball in the sixth inning, then Schwarber kicked it - literally - and Murphy wound up on third base with two outs. 

That led Maddon out of the dugout to remove Jose Quintana, who was working on a two-hitter and had just set down six Nationals in a row. Pedro Strop came in and immediately served up a two-out RBI double to the same warning track in right center where Jay and Heyward made their spectacular catches.

Just like that, it's 1-0 Nationals with their ace on the mound, showing no signs of that hamstring injury and had not yet given up a hit at that time.

The Cubs' defense may have been the best in baseball history in 2016, but it was very nearly their Achilles' heel in Game 3 of the NLDS, committing four errors.

About that hammy...

So...Scherzer's hamstring looked to be OK, eh??

Scherzer "tweaked" his hamstring eight days before his Game 3 start and the injury forced him out of Games 1 and 2 of this best-of-five series. He had to push his pre-start bullpen back several days, but wound up throwing on Saturday with no issues.

Scherzer met with the media Sunday afternoon and insisted he was good to go 100 pitches if need be.

He then went out and silenced the doubters, taking a no-hitter through 6.1 innings before Zobrist drilled a double off the wall in left field.

CJ's redemption

Carl Edwards Jr. was saddled with the loss Saturday as he became just another of the poor souls tasked with trying to get Bryce Harper out and instead becomes the victim of a tape-measure shot.

But Edwards responded by carving through the heart of the Nationals order Monday night, including a strikeout of Harper:

That kept the game tied 1-1, giving Anthony Rizzo a chance to play the hero.

Quintana's script against Brewers flipped

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USA TODAY

Quintana's script against Brewers flipped

Before this afternoon's game against the Brewers, Jose Quintana had a 0.95 ERA against them, but thanks to some first-inning longballs, that changed quickly. Milwaukee, on their way to a 7-0 win at Wrigley Field, had sort of stumbled in to this two game series thanks to shaky bullpen performances against the Padres and Braves in their previous two series, and given Quintana's past success against them, it didn't appear likely going into the game that things would change.
 
It took all of two pitches for Lorenzo Cain to homer to left, and then later in the first inning, for Ryan Braun to do the same with a two-run shot that gave the Brewers a quick 3-0 lead. Braun, who before today's game was hitting .143 without even an extra base hit against Quintana, ultimately homered twice.
 
"Everything he’s thrown me, he’s had success with," Braun said of Quintana. "Everything he’s shown me had worked for him."
 
As a team, the Brewers were hitting just .202 against Quintana, so they knew scoring opportunities would be at a premium.
 
"A guy as good as him isn’t going to make many mistakes, so any mistakes he does make you have to take advantage of," Braun said. "He’s had so much success against us, the odds were we were going to find a way to score a couple runs, we were able to do that against him today."
 
In the first inning, Cain homered in the first on a fastball left too far in the zone, and Braun on a curveball that didn't break away from the sweet spot. Braun's second homer came on a 75 mph curveball after Quintana fell behind in the count 2-0.
 
Brewers starter Jhoulys Chacin said that going into the game, he was thinking about how much his offense has struggled against Quintana, but seeing them score so early eased the pressure on him and allowed him to work with his slider and fastball a little more aggressively.
 
"A couple of big-time players stepped up in the first inning, and I mean, yea, we've really struggled against this guy," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said of the first-inning success against Quintana. "You put up three runs in the first inning with two homers, it flips the script pretty fast."
 
With the onus off of Chacin, he was better able to throw seven scoreless innings on the way to his sixth decision in his last seven starts. Today's was an especially important win for Milwaukee, who entered this week's short series three games behind the Cubs. Brewers players differed on whether or not they'd call it a must-win, however.
 
"We have six more after these against the Cubs, but I feel like any game is must-win right now," Chacin said.
 
Braun, who has seen firsthand how much games in August and September can change the course of what had been a successful season, called it a little differently.
 
"It’s pretty close to a must-win. If we want to stay in the division race, I think we had to win one of two, ideally you gotta win both," Braun said. "These guys are really good, you obviously didn’t want to leave here down five games."
 
Against the packed crowd of 40,441 Tuesday, Braun said that he enjoys the atmosphere at Wrigley as the opponent.
 
"I’ve always enjoyed playing here. As a competitor, there’s no more enjoyable atmosphere to play in than this. The more hostile the environment is, the more enjoyable it is as a competitor. This place is always packed, it’s always loud. It’s a very challenging place to win," Braun said.
 
Even with another win tomorrow, the Brewers will still remain a game behind the Cubs, but Braun said that he is thankful to be playing in meaningful games at this point in the season regardless. After tomorrow, the Cubs and Brewers play two series in the first half at September, one at Miller Park and one at Wrigley Field.
 
 

Ben Zobrist earned his first career ejection thanks to one hell of a zinger

Ben Zobrist earned his first career ejection thanks to one hell of a zinger

Two days after David Bote turned in the best moment of the Cubs' season, Ben Zobrist delivered the best line of the Cubs' season.

As the top of the ninth inning was getting underway, the 37-year-old mild-mannered veteran was seen talking with home plate umpire Phil Cuzzi.

As Jorge De La Rosa finished his warm-up pitches and the inning was about to start, suddenly Zobrist and Cuzzi got animated and the next thing anybody knew, Zobrist was slapped with his first-ever ejection.

"When you have good, quality at-bats as a hitter and you feel like it's kinda taken away from you, you want some sort of an answer," Zobrist said. "Or you want to be assured that they're gonna go back and make an adjustment and that's what I asked for.

"It was met with, basically, he didn't want to talk about that. He didn't want me to tell him that. I just basically said, 'Well that's why we want an electronic strike zone.'"

MIC. DROP.

This came after a passionate discussion between the two men in the bottom of the sixth inning when Zobrist was called out on strikes on a full count pitch he thought was clearly off the plate. On that play, Joe Maddon came out to intercede and was ejected, but Zobrist walked back to the dugout to collect himself and remained in the game.

So before his next at-bat, Zobrist wanted to say his piece. A calm discussion transformed into something more and while Zobrist didn't apologize for what he said, he was willing to admit his pride played a factor.

"It is what it is," he said. "I'm not gonna lie. When you're dealing with that and you're trying to have good, quality at-bats and you feel like it gets taken away from you, sometimes your pride gets in your way and you say things that are going to upset them. Obviously that upset him and he tossed me."

Zobrist's strikeout wasn't an altogether huge moment in the game, but the pitch — a breaking ball off from Jhoulys Chacin that started off the plate and remained off the plate — should've been Ball 4 and would've given the Cubs runners at first and second with nobody out for Jason Heyward. Sure, it was a 7-0 ballgame, but with the wind blowing out and the Cubs had 12 outs left, crazier things have happened (which Bote just proved).

The Cubs never went on to record another hit, but they didn't blame Cuzzi for that.

"Whenever Zo argues, as a manager, you better get your butt out there," Maddon said. "He's rare to be that way and eventually to get ejected, that's unfortunate. But regardless, there was a couple bad calls, but we gotta do a better job offensively. My god."

Zobrist said he's been more animated and riled up at other points in his career compared to Tuesday afternoon, but obviously that zinger was enough to get the job done to notch his first-ever ejection.

Almost a year ago to the day, Zobrist was very nearly tossed in a game against the Reds, but Maddon once again got in the middle.

This is the latest chapter in what has become a surprising trend of the Cubs vs. umpire debacle. 

For the third straight homestand, the Cubs have had an issue with the umpiring crew — from Javy Baez getting tossed against the Cardinals last month to Anthony Rizzo getting heated with Angel Hernandez two weekends ago to Maddon getting the boot a few days ago against the Nationals.

Only Rizzo's was related to balls and strikes, but between him and Zobrist — two guys who rarely argue — getting heated in the span of 9 days, it begs the question: Does Major League Baseball need an electronic strike zone?

"I'm just gonna leave it at that," Zobrist said. "I think that discussion will happen eventually. But I'm just gonna leave right now at the fact that I said that today. That's it."