By Chris Emma–
CHICAGO (CBS) — With one swift swing of the bat, the Wrigley Field faithful jumped out of their seats Sunday night. For that mere moment, it seemed as if Javier Baez may bring the latest magical moment in this Cubs postseason.
Baez jumped from the batter’s box like Sammy Sosa did so many times, but manager Joe Maddon has seen enough swings at the Friendly Confines. He wasn’t fooled.
“You knew it wasn’t hit far enough,” Maddon said.
Sure enough, Joc Pederson was waiting in front of the center-field wall to make the catch and silence the ballpark on Baez’s seventh-inning drive.
In Game 2 of the National League Championship Series, the Cubs didn’t have it in them. The Dodgers were 1-0 winners, evening the series at 1-1 .That one run was all ace Clayton Kershaw and closer Kenley Jansen needed.
That healthy cut from Baez was the Cubs’ best chance. A restless Wrigley crowd spent most of Sunday night waiting in agony for something — anything — to happen. When Baez blasted it deep with one on and two outs, much of the crowd thought it was destined for the center-field shrubbery. The fans thought it, Baez thought it and even Kershaw thought it.
Maddon knew better.
Sunday saw the Cubs’ potent lineup stymied by the best pitcher in baseball. Kershaw was dominant, throwing seven shutout innings of two-hit ball while striking out six.
“I have said it time and time again, he’s the best pitcher on the planet,” Dodgers manager Roberts said of Kershaw.
The Cubs were baseball’s best team in the regular season, winning 103 games. They’ve mostly looked the part during the postseason, something Baez reiterated before the team flew west for Game 3 that awaits Tuesday in Los Angeles.
But the Dodgers have the ultimate X-factor in Kershaw. During the NLDS, Roberts pitched him on three day’s rest in a must-win Game 4, then he came on for the desperation save two days later in Game 5. With the Dodgers trailing 1-0 in this NLCS, Kershaw took the mound for the third time in six days, stepping up when his team needed him most.
Similar to the Cubs, the Dodgers have great depth in their lineup, solid arms in the rotation and a versatile bullpen that can shorten a game. Jansen came on for the two-inning save in Sunday’s win, striking out four.
When Kershaw can pitch like that after such a heavy workload, it gives the feeling that the series is going seven games.
Saturday’s sensational Game 1 saw a fascinating chess match between Maddon and Roberts. It ended shortly after Miguel Montero untied it by blasting a grand slam deep into the right-field bleachers in the eighth inning.
Game 2 brought less drama but great pitching. Kershaw hardly worked up a sweat in silencing the Cubs. Prior to that Baez drive to deep center field, Roberts came to the mound with the intention of pulling Kershaw. He walked back to the dugout alone. Then, Kershaw watched as Pederson put away Baez at the warning track.
The Cubs could’ve changed the game with one swing of the bat, but Kershaw made the 1-0 lead seem like 100-0 on this night.
What’s concerning for the Cubs is that first baseman Anthony Rizzo and shortstop Addison Russell each have just one hit during the entire postseason, which now spans six games. Their bats are hitting under the Mendoza Line during the playoffs.
Still, don’t look for Maddon to make major changes.
“You got to continue to play through the bad lie,” he said. “It is what it is.”
The Cubs have thrived this postseason with magic moments. Baez had the solo homer in Game 1 of the NLDS. The bats came alive in a four-run ninth inning comeback in Game 4 of that series. Then came Montero’s grand slam in Game 1 of the NLCS on Saturday.
But it’s clear that the Dodgers are in this series for the long haul. They have what it takes to match the Cubs punch for punch.
For as good as this Cubs team has been, a sweep simply wasn’t going to happen. Knocking out the Dodgers is a daunting task that may take seven games.
The best pitcher on the planet reminded Sunday that this may be a long series.