The Dodgers wanted Aroldis Chapman out of the game.
Miguel Montero made them regret it.
Montero hit a pinch-hit grand slam with two outs in the eighth inning Saturday, breaking a 3-3 tie and leading the Cubs to an eventual 8-4 victory in Game 1 of the NLCS. The homer was Montero's first in 53 postseason at-bats in his career.
Ben Zobrist led off the eighth inning with a double after the Dodgers had tied the game in the top half of the inning. After an Addison Russell groundout, an intentional walk to Jason Heyward and a fly out by Javier Baez, Dodgers reliever Joe Blanton intentionally walked pinch-hitter Chris Coghlan to load the bases with Chapman due up. Cubs manager Joe Maddon countered with Montero, who had two hits in 11 career at-bats against Blanton before the matchup.
Blanton had Montero in the hole 0-2 before hanging a slider, which Montero turned on for a no-doubter into the right field bleachers. Dexter Fowler followed with a solo homer of his own for good measure, and Hector Rondon finished the game off in the ninth despite allowing a run to score.
Neither starter factored in the decision, but Jon Lester outdueled Kenta Maeda before things went awry for both bullpens in the fateful eighth inning. Lester yielded just one run on four hits over six innings, while Maeda, who struggled in his NLDS start as well, lasted just four innings, giving up three runs before exiting.
Travis Wood, Carl Edwards Jr. and Mike Montgomery combined for a scoreless seventh, but the Dodgers got to Montgomery and his relief, Pedro Strop, in the eighth. Chapman came on in a firefighter-type role, but Adrian Gonzalez caught up to a 101.6 mph fastball to plate two and tie the game. That set up Montero's heroics in the bottom half of the frame.
The presence of veteran David Ross, who catches Lester's starts, and the emergence of Willson Contreras rendered Montero an afterthought for much of the year. The 33-year-old had just 241 at-bats in the regular season, his lowest single-season total since 2008, and Montero hit just .216/.327/.357 when called upon. He started one game behind the dish in the NLDS against the Giants, catching Jake Arrieta in a Game 3 loss.
He'll likely start Tuesday's Game 3 as well, as he caught the vast majority of Arrieta's starts this year. If he doesn't start Sunday's Game 2, Maddon will at least know who to turn to if he needs a grand slam in a big spot.
Every decision is an important one this time of year, so be sure to keep refreshing Rotoworld's constantly-updating player news page for all the latest. And while you're at it, follow @Rotoworld_BB and @nate_grimm if you are on Twitter.
Miller Keeps Indians Rolling
That question becomes more valid -- or rather, perhaps, Britton's deservedness becomes less valid -- with each passing day. Miller was at it again Saturday, striking out five over two scoreless innings to help preserve the Indians' 2-1 win in Game 2 of the ALCS. The Indians took a 2-0 series lead over the Blue Jays as the teams head to Toronto for Monday's Game 3.
Josh Tomlin got the start and pitched well, allowing a lone run on three hits over 5 2/3 innings, and Cody Allen secured his second save of the series with a perfect ninth inning, but it's Miller who has been the savior this series and all postseason.
Miller's dominance Saturday, when he needed just 24 pitches to fan five Jays over his two innings of work, was just the latest brilliant turn for the 31-year-old. Miller struck out seven over four scoreless innings in the Indians' ALDS win over the Red Sox, and he whiffed five of the six hitters he faced in Friday's Game 1 win. Dating back to 2014, Miller has thrown 16 scoreless postseason innings in his career.
On offense, the Indians got a solo homer from Carlos Santana in the second inning and an RBI single by Francisco Lindor in the third. That was all they'd need against 20-game winner J.A. Happ and company, taking both home games. Marcus Stroman and Trevor Bauer will square off in Game 3 on Monday.
Kershaw Gets The Nod In Game 2
The manager declared Kershaw his Game 2 starter after Kershaw lobbied the team to make the start on regular rest. Despite his last start coming Tuesday in the NLDS Game 4 against the Nationals, Kershaw pitched in relief on Thursday, closing out the Dodgers' Game 5 win.
“It's one of those things, obviously, when you get a chance for Clayton to pitch Games 2 and potentially 6, that's a good thing for us,” Roberts said. “It’s full go.”
The Dodgers are putting together a rotation on the fly after pulling out all the stops to prevail in the previous series. Rich Hill started Game 5 of that series on short rest, leaving him ready for Tuesday's Game 3 at the earliest, and the club has yet to name a Game 4 starter.
Quick Hits: Justin Smoak has replaced Devon Travis (knee) on the Blue Jays' ALCS roster against the Indians. Travis aggravated a knee injury in Game 1 on Friday and MLB approved the Blue Jays' request to replace him on the roster. The switch-hitting Smoak struck out in his lone plate appearances during the ALDS and batted .217/.314/.391 with 14 homers over 126 games during the regular season. For Travis, he's now no longer eligible to return this postseason, which may speak to the severity of his injury. He was scheduled to go for an MRI on Saturday ... Indians manager Terry Francona hasn't ruled out the possibility of Corey Kluber starting on short rest in Game 4 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays on Tuesday. Mike Clevinger is currently lined up for the start, but he's two weeks removed from his last game action and hasn't started a game since September 22. Francona is now taking things on a "game by game" basis. "We've talked about not just Game 4, but Games 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7, because there's a little ambiguity there with Trevor and his finger and Clevinger not being stretched out,'' said Francona. "So I think there are some options for us moving forward." Kluber spun 6 1/3 scoreless innings in Game 1 on Friday. He has never started a game on short rest in the majors ... Francisco Liriano (concussion) was available out of the bullpen for the Blue Jays in Saturday's Game 2. It was the first day he was eligible to return after his concussion in Game 2 of the ALDS last Friday. Liriano wasn't used Saturday, but he'll be a relief option for the Jays going forward ... the Angels expect Garrett Richards (elbow) to be a "fully able pitcher" by spring training. Richards was diagnosed with a tear in his ulnar collateral ligament back in May, but he opted for rest and stem cell treatments rather than undergo Tommy John surgery. The results have been positive thus far, as he recently made three appearances in the instructional league and was reportedly throwing in the 94-98 mph range in his final outing this week. Richards received a platelet-rich plasma injection during a checkup on Friday and will be shut down for 8-10 weeks before beginning his normal throwing program in January. As of now, the Angels expect him to be there in 2017.