LOS ANGELES – You could feel Dodger Stadium shaking on Sunday night once Justin Turner slammed John Lackey’s 92-fastball out toward center field, clearing the wall for a three-run, walk-off homer that landed in a fan’s glove and left the Cubs two losses away from the end of their season.
Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.” blasted from the sound system once the Dodgers grabbed control of this National League Championship Series, a sellout crowd of 54,479 celebrating a 4-1 victory that left the defending World Series champs down 0-2.
Where was All-Star closer Wade Davis in the ninth inning? That became the first question in Joe Maddon’s postgame press conference. The manager pushed lefty Brian Duensing into an extra inning and went with Lackey, a 38-year-old pitcher working on back-to-back days with almost zero experience as a reliever.
“I really just needed (Wade) for the save tonight,” Maddon said. “He had limited pitches. It was one inning only. And in these circumstances, you don't get him up and then don't get him in. So if we had caught the lead, he would have pitched. That's it.”
· The Cubs still would’ve had to score against a Dodger bullpen that’s now faced 25 hitters in the NLCS and only allowed one base-runner across eight no-hit innings.
The Cubs can’t count on winning a seven-game series filled with 2-1 and 3-2 games. A team that poured so much capital into its offense will need more from Bryzzo Souvenir Co. and the players – Ben Zobrist, Javier Baez, etc. – who delivered so many clutch hits during last year’s World Series run. A good sign: Addison Russell drilling a Rich Hill pitch down the left-field line and into the seats for a fifth-inning homer.
But the Dodgers built a bullpen for October, working backwards from $80 million closer Kenley Jansen. This lineup went 4-for-30 with a walk in a Game 1 loss – and all that came within the first five innings against Clayton Kershaw. Meaning it got harder once the Cubs knocked out a three-time Cy Young Award winner.
· No doubt, Jon Lester is extremely talented, but he evolved into a three-time World Series champion and a borderline Hall of Famer through the force of his will. Tired? Achy? Under the weather? Who cares?
Lester took the ball four days after throwing 55 pitches as a $155 million reliever, trying to finish off the Washington Nationals in the divisional round. It takes guts and a feel for pitching to work around five walks and limit the Dodgers to one run in 4.2 innings. Turner did the only damage with a two-out RBI single through the right side of the infield in the fifth inning – and Lester got bailed out when embattled reliever Carl Edwards Jr. struck out Chase Utley swinging at a curveball that left the pinch-hitter hopping in frustration.
The Cubs will need that veteran leadership and stabilizing influence once the NLCS shifts to Wrigley Field. As Lester said: “All we can we do is show up Tuesday ready to play.”
· With Lester maxed out at 103 pitches, the Cubs still needed to cover the next four innings. This isn’t the time for moral victories, but credit Edwards, Pedro Strop and Duensing for at least keeping it a 1-1 game into the ninth inning, and maybe that will be a confidence boost for this bullpen, because the Cubs need those relievers to be viable if they want to keep playing through October.
“You just don’t run away,” Maddon said. “There’s nowhere to run. These guys got to keep playing. And you got to keep putting them out there at what you think is the right time. That’s how you win, because we have eight games to win, not one or two.”
· Maddon worked for Andrew Friedman when the Tampa Bay Rays became known as a cutting-edge organization constantly looking for any advantage that would allow a small-market team to compete in the American League East. That philosophy is now combined with super-team resources in Los Angeles.
So, no, Maddon wasn’t surprised to hear that Dodgers manager Dave Roberts described Corey Seager as feeling “normal-ish,” the day after a back injury forced the All-Star shortstop off the NLCS roster. For now.
“Of course, did you expect anything different?” Maddon said. “We’ll just see how it all plays out.”