By Cat Garcia
The Chicago Cubs took a 2-0 series lead to San Francisco on Monday night. They looked set to be scrambling for Game 5 on Thursday before a miraculous ninth inning rally gave them a 3-1 series win over the Giants.
The energy in Wrigleyville was electric on Friday evening as the Cubs got their postseason underway, hosting the San Francisco Giants for game one of the NLDS.
Friday evening saw the Cubs challenged by the craftiness of Giants right-hander Johnny Cueto, who struck out ten Cubs batters while allowing just three hits before Javier Baez gave the Cubs a sign of life again in the eighth inning. Baez deposited a one-out, 3-2 fastball off Cueto into the left field bleachers basket, sending Wrigley Field into a piercing eruption of joy.
Cubs ace starter Jon Lester impressed the Wrigley faithful on Friday evening as well, throwing eight strong innings, striking out five and allowing no runs before closer Aroldis Chapman took over for him in the ninth. After allowing a two-out double to Giants catcher Buster Posey for a slight scare, Chapman locked down the W for the North siders giving them a 1-0 series lead.
However, the pent up apprehension that was saved by Baez on Friday evening spilled over into Wrigleyville on Saturday as the Cubs had a quick scare when Kyle Hendricks took a screeching liner off the bat of Angel Pagan to the forearm.
Hendricks promptly exited the game and was replaced by pitcher Travis Wood, who did the honors of saving the North side’s sanity by becoming the first relief pitcher since 1924 to hit a home run in a postseason game, propelling the Cubs to a 5-2 lead in the fourth inning. Hendricks’ x-rays returned negative, and he is currently day-to-day, but should be available for the next series. Former Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija made his return to the mound at Wrigley Field for the Giants, and was quickly lit up by the Cubs offense. Samardzija was removed after just two innings of work, allowing four earned runs off of six hits.
Nothing can match the drama that ensued during the Cubs first road game of the postseason though, a 13 inning, five-hour contest at AT&T Park that saw a bevy of excitement and lasted till just past 2 a.m.
It began as the type of matchup that makes the postseason as exciting as it is, with notorious October hero Bumgarner facing Cubs ace Arrieta. The Cubs managed to expose Bumgarner’s human side quickly though, knocking him out of the game after just five innings of work and 101 pitches. Arrieta went six strong innings allowing just two earned runs with five strikeouts.
But once the marquee pitchers duel ended was when the real mayhem began. Closer Aroldis Chapman came in during the eighth inning to attempt a six out save, including the heart of the Giants lineup. After a quick strikeout of Hunter Pence, Chapman gave up a rocket for a triple off none other than recent October hero Conor Gillaspie.
Gillaspie batted in two runners and gave the Giants the 4-3 lead in the eighth, and promptly after, Brandon Crawford would bloop a single off of Chapman to score Gillaspie and give the Giants a 5-3 lead. For Cubs fans, the lingering apprehension quickly returned as the hopes of an NLDS sweep were quickly dashed.
All was not lost though. In the top of the ninth inning, Kris Bryant hit the reset button on an already long and tiresome evening by launching a two-run home run into the stands at AT&T Park to tie the game at 5-5.
After a quick outing for reliever Justin Grimm, long arm Mike Montgomery became the seventh pitcher to enter the game for the Cubs, working for the remaining four frames that would span across 13 innings before giving up a double to Joe Panik to score the Giants winning run and preserve their postseason hopes.
Come Game 4, John Lackey took the mound for the Cubs in an effort to spare a return flight to Chicago for both teams. But he was chased after just four innings of work, giving up three earned runs.
The Cubs worked it back to a 3-2 mark before Justin Grimm replaced Lackey in the fifth, but the bleeding didn’t stop as the reliever notched just a single out before exiting with the Northsiders down 5-2. Giants starter Matt Moore lasted through the eighth, saving a tired Giants bullpen from another lengthy shift.
But five Giants pitchers in the top of the ninth could not stop the Cubs from recording the largest comeback in the MLB playoffs since 1986. The best team in baseball this season scored four runs before Chapman came on to work a scoreless ninth, giving the Cubs the game and the series.
The Cubs win will take on either the Washington Nationals or Los Angeles Dodgers beginning Saturday. Game 5 of the NLDS between the Dodgers and Nationals will be on FS1, Thursday at 4 p.m.
The NLCS starts Saturday at Wrigley Field.
Additional reporting by Shane Nicholson.