By Chris Emma—
CHICAGO (CBS) – Glory is often fleeting, even for a feat so momentous.
Theo Epstein, the Cubs’ president of baseball operations and the architect of a plan intended to win multiple championships, reminded of this back in April just before his organization raised its flag at Wrigley Field for a World Series win. Epstein knows well how dauntingly difficult the game can be, even for a roster built to sustain for years.
The glow of that championship triumph is fading fast now, with the Cubs trailing 3-0 to the Dodgers in the National League Championship Series. Tuesday night back home was no different than the first two in Los Angeles. The Cubs homered to grab an early lead, then were stifled the rest of the way in a 6-1 loss at Wrigley Field that has brought them to the brink of elimination.
Kyle Schwarber, the Cubs’ second batter, crushed a first-pitch cutter from Dodgers right-hander Yu Darvish and flipped his bat away before the ball could even reach its apex. At that moment, there was the sense of something different coming Tuesday – the resolve of a champion returning to make this a series?
But Andre Ethier homered on the second pitch of the second inning and rounded the bases to silence. An inning later, Chris Taylor hit a Kyle Hendricks fastball with no movement 444 feet to dead center. Slowly, the hope was sucked out of Wrigleyville.
In the sixth inning, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts left Darvish in to bat with two outs and the bases loaded against Cubs reliever Carl Edwards Jr., who has struggled with command in the postseason. Though he wouldn’t admit it, Roberts was basically daring Edwards to throw three strikes, and he threw four balls to walk in a run against the pitcher.
Further proving that this isn’t 2016 anymore, Mike Montgomery fired strike three to Charlie Culberson in the eighth inning but got crossed up with catcher Willson Contreras. The fastball deflected off Contreras and rolled into the Dodgers’ dugout for a run-scoring strikeout. A sacrifice fly would follow to make it 6-1.
There would be no magical rally for the optimists still in their seats for the ninth inning. Opportunities were lost from the first inning on, when the Cubs let Darvish off the hook with two runners on. From there, he dominated, finishing with 6 1/3 innings of work and just one run allowed on six hits and seven strikeouts. Darvish’s night would’ve likely been longer if the Dodgers’ bullpen hadn’t pitched eight innings of no-hit ball in the two games prior.
The Cubs had a 2-0 lead on Clayton Kershaw in Game 1 but lost 5-2. They struck first with a solo homer from Addison Russell in Game 2 but lost 4-1 on Justin Turner’s three-run walk-off blast. Schwarber’s first-inning blast inspired hope that would soon be lost with the deficit.
While it’s abundantly clear the Dodgers are the better team, the Cubs we’ve come to know are nowhere to be found.
“Listen, I’m not going to sit here and throw a lot of hyperbole your way,” manager Joe Maddon said. “It’s just about our guys. Your back’s absolutely against the wall. (Wednesday is) a Game 7. We have four Game 7s in a row coming up right now. So, we got to counter-punch them at some point, and that’s absolutely necessary.”
At this point, all Maddon can do is write up the lineup and hope that Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo rediscover their form, that Jake Arrieta can deliver one more dominant outing in a Cubs uniform, that the bullpen can do whatever it’s asked to finish the game. That much may be enough to force a Game 5 at Wrigley Field on Thursday night.
The challenge is extreme now. The inspiration of Epstein’s 2004 Red Sox — the only team in MLB history to overcome a 3-0 deficit and who went on to win a championship — means little given how lost this Cubs team seems to be.
Hope is fading fast and with it the Cubs’ dream of defending their title.