Javier Baez nabs game-winning shot in Cubs’ NLDS shutout
The Cubs only needed one pitch to take Game 1 of the NLDS -- specifically, a fastball barreling right down the center of the strike zone, angling just enough inside that Javier Baez could reverse it for a home run.
Before Baez’s blast in the eighth, a 107.4-m.p.h. rocket that landed in the left field bleachers, the Giants appeared to have the edge in what could have been their second consecutive complete game shutout of the postseason. Johnny Cueto was outstanding, retiring 24 of 27 batters through eight frames and ten strikeouts. He was matched nearly stroke-for-stroke by Cubs’ left-hander Jon Lester, who allowed five hits and struck out five, but managed to conserve even more pitches with just 86 to Cueto’s 118.
Pitching wasn’t the only thing on display, however, as both teams relied heavily on sharp defense to preserve frame after frame of scoreless ball. Hunter Pence closed out the first inning after sprinting in from right field to catch a shallow fly ball and losing his hat in the process. Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez switched positions -- and gloves -- to stymie the Giants’ attempts to bunt their way out of the third inning. Kelby Tomlinson made two belly-flopping plays to rob the Cubs of potential hits in the fourth and seventh innings, and Chicago backstop David Ross got so excited by a pair of pickoffs that he tried to leave the inning one out too early.
Although the Giants managed to get runners in scoring position three times, they were ultimately overmatched by Lester and lefty reliever Aroldis Chapman. Chapman quashed the last of San Francisco’s rally attempts in the ninth inning, inducing a groundout from Hunter Pence after serving up a two-out double to Buster Posey.
Before you count the Giants out of the playoffs entirely, remember that they are, more or less, the same team who stunned the Reds when they came back from an 0-2 deficit to clinch the 2012 NLDS. There’s just one sizable difference: the 97-win Reds of 2012 are a far cry from the 103-win Cubs of 2016, and the Giants will need more than their killer defense to keep their postseason hopes alive against the best team in baseball.
Game 2 of the NLDS is set for Saturday evening, with Jeff Samardzija slated to go against Kyle Hendricks at 8 PM EDT.