Cubs

Five takeaways from Game 2: While Dodger bullpen dominates, where was Wade Davis?

Five takeaways from Game 2: While Dodger bullpen dominates, where was Wade Davis?

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.”

Cubs fight back after Javy Baez ejection: 'We're not animals'

Cubs fight back after Javy Baez ejection: 'We're not animals'

If baseball wants stars that transcend the game, they need guys like Javy Baez on the field MORE, not less.

That whole debate and baseball's marketing campaign isn't the issue the Cubs took exception with, but it's still a fair point on a nationally-televised Saturday night game between the Cubs and Cardinals at Wrigley Field.

Baez was ejected from the game in the bottom of the fifth inning when he threw his bat and helmet in frustration at home plate umpire Will Little's call that the Cubs second baseman did NOT check his swing and, in fact, went around. 

Baez was initially upset that Little made the call himself instead of deferring to first base umpire Ted Barrett for a better view. But as things escalated, Baez threw his bat and helmet and was promptly thrown out of the game by Little.

"I don't think I said anything to disrespect anything or anyone," Baez said after the Cubs' 6-3 loss. "It was a pretty close call. I only asked for him to check the umpire at first and he didn't say anything.

"I threw my helmet and he just threw me out from there. I mean, no reason. I guess for my helmet, but that doesn't have anything to do with him."

Baez and the Cubs would've rather Little check with the umpire who had a better view down the line, but that wasn't even the main point of contention. It was how quickly Little escalated to ejection.

"We're all human," Baez said. "One way or the other, it was gonna be the wrong [call] for one of the teams.

"My message? We're not animals. Sometimes we ask where was a pitch or if it was a strike and it's not always offending them. I think we can talk things out. But I don't think there was anything there to be ejected."

Upon seeing his second baseman and cleanup hitter ejected in the middle of a 1-0 game against a division rival, Joe Maddon immediately got fired up and in Little's face in a hurry.

Maddon was later ejected, as well, and admitted after the game he was never going to leave the field unless he was tossed for protecting his guy.

"He had no reason to kick him out," Maddon said. "He didn't say anything to him. I mean, I watched the video. If you throw stuff, that's a fine. That's fineable. Fine him. That's what I said — fine him — but you cannot kick him out right there.

"He did nothing to be kicked out of that game. He did throw his stuff, whatever, but he did not say anything derogatory towards the umpire.

"...You don't kick Javy out. If he gets in your face and is obnoxious or belligerent or whatever, but he did not. He turned his back to him. That needs to be addressed, on both ends."

Maddon and the Cubs really want Major League Baseball to get involved in this situation. 

There are many other layers to the issue, including veteran Ben Zobrist having to come into the game as Baez's replacement. Maddon was not keen on using the 37-year-old Zobrist for 1.5 games during Saturday's doubleheader and now feels like he has to rest the veteran Sunday to lessen the wear and tear of a difficult stretch for the team.

There's also the matter of the groundball basehit in the eighth inning that tied the game — a seeing-eye single that just got past Zobrist as he dove to his left. It tied the game at 3 and the Cardinals took the lead for good the following inning.

Does Baez make that same play if he were out there instead of Zobrist? It's certainly possible.

"The dynamic of our defense was lessened by [the ejection]," Maddon said. "Again, listen, if it's deserved, I'm good. It was not. They don't need me out there, we need Javy out there.

"And it surprised me. I stand by what I'm saying. It was inappropriate. MLB needs to say something to us that it was inappropriate because it was and it could've led to the loss of that game."

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 37th homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 37th homer in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

Sosa's 37th homer of the 1998 season was a big one, an opposite field blast off the front row of fans in right field and into the basket at Wrigley Field.

The eighth-inning 3-run shot gave the Cubs some insurance in a game they ultimately won 9-5 and the Wrigley faithful responded by throwing a bunch of trash on the field.

Earlier in the contest, Sosa tied the game with an RBI single in the fifth inning. He finished with 4 RBI, giving him 93 on the season with more than 2 months left to play.

Fun fact: Vladimir Guerrero was the Expos' No. 3 hitter for this game an dhe also hit a homer (his 20th). Now, Guerrero's son is nearing his MLB debut as a top prospect in the Toronto Blue Jays system.

Fun fact No. 2: Mark Grudzielanek - who later played for the Cubs in 2003-04 - was Montreal's No. 5 hitter for the game at Wrigley. He was traded 10 days later from the Expos to the Los Angeles Dodgers for another fellow Cub - Ted Lilly.