Cubs use pinch-hit grand slam to get past Dodgers in Game 1 of NLCS
Chicago's explosive 8th inning saves shaky bullpen
Miguel Montero delivered a memorable swing, Javier Baez stole home with his daring dash down the line and Jon Lester turned in another steady performance on the mound.
It all added up to another dramatic victory and business as usual this season for the Chicago Cubs, who are off and running in the NL Championship Series.
Montero snapped an eighth-inning tie with the third pinch-hit grand slam in postseason history, and Chicago beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 8-4 in the opener Saturday night, moving the Cubs a step closer to their first pennant in 71 years.
Game 2 is Sunday night, with the Dodgers once again in need of a clutch performance from ace Clayton Kershaw. Major league ERA leader Kyle Hendricks pitches for the Cubs, chasing their first World Series title since 1908.
Lester pitched six effective innings, and Dexter Fowler homered after making two diving catches in centre field — breaking his belt on the second grab. Left fielder Ben Zobrist threw out Adrian Gonzalez at the plate, helping Chicago to its first NLCS victory in 13 years.
.<a href="https://twitter.com/DexterFowler">@DexterFowler</a> was everywhere in <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NLCS?src=hash">#NLCS</a> Game 1. <br><br>That catch? Only made 43% of the time. <a href="https://t.co/BBs6BjDnv7">https://t.co/BBs6BjDnv7</a> <a href="https://t.co/tg1EFSwCwT">https://t.co/tg1EFSwCwT</a>—@statcast
The Cubs pulled out 14 wins in their final at-bat during the regular season. They added two more in the Division Series against playoff-tested San Francisco, including a four-run ninth in the clinching Game 4.
And now, this.
"We've kind of proved we can overcome adversity in the game," third baseman Kris Bryant said.
Chicago was swept by the New York Mets in last year's NLCS. Lester & Co. are back again and already in better shape following a crazy eighth inning.
In the top half, Gonzalez tied it at 3 with a two-out, two-run single off Aroldis Chapman.
Zobrist hit a leadoff double in the bottom of the inning before pinch-hitter Chris Coghlan was intentionally walked with runners at first and second and two outs, bringing up Chapman's spot in the batting order.
"That was the right thing to do," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "I probably would have done the same thing."
Maddon sent up Montero, who drove an 0-2 slider from loser Joe Blanton halfway up the right-field bleachers for his first hit of the playoffs.
.<a href="https://twitter.com/miggymont26">@miggymont26</a> brought all his friends home to celebrate together: <a href="https://t.co/Yyeh86NuXV">https://t.co/Yyeh86NuXV</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/PapaSlam%E2%80%8C?src=hash">#PapaSlam</a> <a href="https://t.co/O2QsmVHlck">pic.twitter.com/O2QsmVHlck</a>—@MLB
"I trust Joe. I've trusted him all year long. He's been great for us," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "Left a pitch up. ... It just didn't work out."
The crowd of 42,376 at Wrigley Field roared as Montero rounded the bases and kept cheering until the veteran catcher popped out of the dugout for a curtain call.
"I never even thought I was going to hit at that point," Montero said. "To be honest, I thought Maddon put me out there just to bring the lefty and get [Willson] Contreras to pinch-hit for me, and they didn't bring the lefty for Contreras."
Fowler homered on the next pitch as the Cubs rebounded quickly from a shaky bullpen performance. Hector Rondon allowed Andrew Toles' RBI double in the ninth before Chase Utley lined into a game-ending double play.
Chapman retired Yasmani Grandal on an inning-ending groundout in the eighth and was credited with the win.
"We'll be ready tomorrow," Gonzalez said. "This game gave us a lot of confidence. We know we can beat them."
Lester and Baez helped Chicago to a 3-1 lead after seven. But the Dodgers rallied in the eighth, prompting Maddon to go to Chapman with the bases loaded and no outs.
Can’t take your eyes off <a href="https://twitter.com/javy23baez">@javy23baez</a> for ONE SECOND. <a href="https://t.co/BxNvQmwNH9">https://t.co/BxNvQmwNH9</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NLCS?src=hash">#NLCS</a> pres. by <a href="https://twitter.com/TMobile">@TMobile</a> <a href="https://t.co/GTBn5aZJrA">pic.twitter.com/GTBn5aZJrA</a>—@MLBGIFs
The lefty struck out Corey Seager and Yasiel Puig before Gonzalez lined a 102 mph fastball back up the middle. A pumped-up Gonzalez celebrated at first base after delivering Los Angeles' first hit in 12 at-bats with the bases loaded in these playoffs.
But everything changed in the bottom half, leaving both managers to answer for several difficult decisions. Lester was replaced by a pinch hitter after just 77 pitches, and the intentional walk to Coghlan put the go-ahead run at third.
"A lot of that stuff was preplanned," Maddon said. "You look for situations. You're looking for the right matchups. But you don't know what he's going to do. ... You have to be able to react."