CHICAGO – Javier Baez, hitless in the postseason, homered twice Wednesday night and the Chicago Cubs lived to play another day, defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers, 3-2, at Wrigley Field in Game 4 of the National League championship series.
The Dodgers lead the best-of-seven series, three games to one. Game 5 is Thursday night at Wrigley Field, Cubs left-hander Jose Quintana against Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw.
Baez, whose glove and bat helped propel the Cubs to a World Series title in 2016 (he was MVP of the NLCS, a six-game win over the Dodgers), was without a hit in his first 20 at-bats of these playoffs, including six at-bats against the Dodgers. The flashy second baseman did not start for the Cubs in Game 3. He returned to the lineup Wednesday and in two at-bats against Dodgers starter Alex Wood – in the second and fifth innings – hit offspeed pitches into the left-field bleachers. The Cubs led, 3-1, after the second home run and thereafter clung to starter Jake Arrieta and their previously shaky bullpen – on Wednesday it was one out from Brian Duensing and two innings from Wade Davis — to avoid elimination. Davis allowed an eighth-inning home run to Justin Turner.
Before the game, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was reminded, in case he’d forgotten, that he was a member of the only team to win a best-of-seven series after losing the first three games. That would be the 2004 Boston Red Sox. Roberts grinned and replied, “I think that was a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”
The wind blew to center field, enough that the American flag atop the scoreboard at game time had wrapped around its pole. Against Arrieta, the Dodgers opted for left-handed hitters, but also hitters they believed would lift the ball against the big right-hander. They’d outhomered the Cubs, 5-3, in the series, two of those by Chris Taylor, who’d hit one as a center fielder and the other as a shortstop.
The Cubs, meantime, had batted .160 through three games. For that matter, they’d hit .172 through eight postseason games.
So when Joe Maddon was told, down oh-three, that Jose Quintana had said there was no panic in the Cubs’ clubhouse, he grinned and said, “It’s not about panic or not panic. It’s about hitting or not hitting. That’s the question, Mr. Shakespeare. We’ve got to start hitting the ball. It’s not complicated. We just have not swung the bats well this postseason. We got through the Washington series with limited offense. We are on the verge of extinction right now without any offense again. We need to hit.”
The barrier to that would be Dodgers left-hander Wood and then a bullpen that in 10 2/3 innings of the NLCS had allowed two singles and no runs. Wood, who won 16 games and had an ERA of 2.72 across 152 1/3 innings, did not pitch in the division series due to the Dodgers’ sweep of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Therefore, he’d pitch Wednesday night – his first career postseason start – on three weeks rest, not counting the various simulated games.
Willson Contreras, the second batter of the second inning, hit the Cubs’ fourth home run of the series. Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal asked for a fastball away to Contreras, which it wasn’t, and on contact Wood recoiled at his mistake. Dodgers left fielder Andre Ethier hardly moved, other than to turn to see just how far the ball would travel. It struck the scoreboard that hangs over the left-field bleachers, turned out, which is a very long way from home plate. The estimated distance was 491 feet.
In a quirky inning in which he struck out every other batter, starting with Anthony Rizzo, Wood also allowed a home run to Baez, who on his way to 0 for 20 also had struck out eight times. Wood’s curveball was low, but Baez tracked it, pulled it down the left-field line and into the street.
The Cubs had scored first in each of the series’ first three games, and so in all four of them. They, of course, held none of those first three leads. And Arrieta responded to the offensive outburst by hanging a slider to Cody Bellinger in the third inning. Bellinger lined it to right field for a home run.
Baez homered again in the fifth inning, this on a curveball that arrived beneath the zone. Baez attacked it, and it soared low and hard into the bleachers.