Game 7 of the World Series was on a different level, but this was something else entirely. I legitimately felt for a while like I might be sick, then I was having trouble breathing. I can honestly tell you that I watched the last few innings through something of a haze, though I was stone sober the whole time.
Nothing, absolutely nothing, about this game was easy. Well, except for that 1st inning and watching the Cubs take an early lead. No sooner had they done so than the Nats tied it back up and then took their own lead on those two homers in the 2nd inning. And they came from Daniel Murphy and Michael A. Taylor, darlings of the national broadcast whose exploits had me thinking things were surely going to fall apart.
But true to what we’ve seen from them over the last few years, the Cubs just hung in there and kept chipping away, eventually tearing the game open against Max Scherzer. Nothing came easy, though, and they had to slog through four more innings.
I stayed up well past the end of the game and found myself struggling to fit words together to form even the most rudimentary description of what I’d just seen. It was as though I’d woken from a vivid dream with only the vestiges of it still in my consciousness. Even as I reached out to grasp them, the thoughts dissolved like so much vapor.
It wasn’t much better first thing in the morning, but I at least had a chance to reflect. Rather than get into a full description of the game itself, I wanted to look at a few moments that really stood out to me.
Though he didn’t start the game, Kyle Schwarber batted for Mike Montgomery in the 7th inning. This was notable in part because the at-bat came against lefty Sammy Solis, which is the kind of matchup Joe Maddon has been shielding Schwarber from throughout most of the season. Solis doesn’t have huge splits, but he’s definitely harder on lefties. That didn’t matter to Schwarber, who absolutely demolished a 2-1 two-seamer to right-center.
The only problem is that he didn’t elevate it and actually hit it too hard, resulting in a ball that dented the padding near the top of the wall and limited Schwarber to a single. The 385-foot base knock left the bat at 115 mph, which is the hardest recorded hit of the slugger’s career.
Wade Davis came in with two outs in the 7th and promptly struck out Ryan Zimmerman on four pitches. Nice start. But he walked the first two batters in the 8th. Not good. Adam Lind grounding into a double play was like the last rest stop for the next 240 miles, as Davis immediately gave up an RBI single to Taylor and a subsequent base hit to Jose Lobatón.
The Nats had just turned over their order and had two men on in a one-run game. Every pitch, every moment, was the mental equivalent of trying to walk on legs that have fallen asleep. In short, it was agonizing to watch. Perhaps Lobatón was feeling the same way, as he got just wide enough of first to draw a pick throw from Willson Contreras.
Though it looked to the naked eye as though the runner had beaten the throw, replay revealed clearly that his foot had come up and off the bag while Anthony Rizzo maintained the tag. Davis was a punch-drunk boxer being saved by the bell, a dozing driver being shocked awake by rumble strips. Either way, that play may have been the game’s most important.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve argued in the past that such plays go against the spirit of replay review, particularly when they take place as a runner is sliding into second. As I’ve had more time to think about it, though, looking at it that way discounts the effort of the fielder to make the catch and keep the tag on the runner.
And, as Ryan Davis pointed out on Twitter, the umpire correctly noting that the loss of contact with the bag had resulted in an out would have been praised for his keen eye. The point of replay is to get the call right, not to reinforce the notion that human error makes the game better. If you’re going to have it, you don’t get to pick when to be subjective with it.
Besides, what was the runner doing sliding back into the bag feet-first like that with very little control over his contact with first? Oh well, doesn’t really matter now. For more on what went into the Cubs’ decision to challenge the original safe call, check out Tony Andracki’s piece on Nate Halm, the man in charge of in-game replay reviews.
Zobrist coming in
I had tweeted out prior to the game that I didn’t want to see Ben Zobrist in the starting lineup, but that was because the Nats were starting a lefty. Zobrist has been hitting well from the left side and actually broke up Max Scherzer’s no-no in Game 2, so I was actually happy to see him enter as a pinch hitter for Albert Almora when Scherzer came in.
Zobrist worked a 2-2 count by fouling off a couple pitches, then deposited a little duck-snort out into left to give the Cubs two runners in what would be a tide-turning inning against the Nats’ ace. He would go on to score on Addison Russell’s subsequent double and did the same after walking the next inning.
Dropped third strike
In a game filled with drama, there really wasn’t a great deal of controversy. Except perhaps for one of the pivotal moments in the Cubs’ unconventional rally against Scherzer. Following Russell’s huge double, the Nats chose to intentionally walk Jason Heyward in order to face Javy Baez, who we were told over and over and over and over by the TBS crew was a free swinger.
Perhaps not wanting to dispel a good narrative, Javy went down swinging on three pitches, the last of which was a slider that skipped past the catcher, Matt Wieters. Javy flew out of the box and Wieters immediately went after the ball, eventually firing wide to first and allowing Russell to score while the runners advanced to scoring position.
After the play, Wieters motioned his helmet and indicated that Javy’s backswing had caught him in the mask. The umpires got together and chose not to change the call, which would have resulted in a dead ball and Baez being the inning-ending out. Whether it was that play or just general nerves, Wieters was called for catcher interference to load the bases immediately after.
Interestingly enough, Wieters hustling after the ball with zero hesitation may have cost his team. Not that you’d ever want a guy to let the ball go just to plead his case, but his immediate reaction gave the umps little to notice.
Wade Davis seven outs
This was already mentioned above to an extent, but I wanted to look back on some of the details of Davis’s extended outing. This was the first time he’d recorded seven outs since his days as a starter, the 44 pitches were the most he’s thrown with the Cubs, and this was also the longest save he’d ever recorded (I think ever ever, but maybe just regular season).
But what I think was most amazing about that 9th inning was that it was the only one in which the Nationals were retired 1-2-3 all night. And it was against the top of their order with a closer who’d already thrown 1 1/3 innings. Davis didn’t make it look easy, going to full counts on two batters and 2-2 on the other, but he struck out Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper to end the game with a flourish.
Asked to assess the performance after the game, Jon Lester said that he had blacked out and couldn’t remember what had actually happened. Not because he was as drunk during the game as he was at the time he was answering the question, just that he gets too amped up and can’t really watch what’s actually going on.
Who starts Game 1
Kyle Hendricks and Jake Arrieta have started the last two games, Jon Lester threw 55 pitches in Wednesday’s loss, and Jose Quintana came on in relief Thursday. It’s possible that Q, who threw only 12 pitches, could start on Saturday in LA, but the Cubs may have to go in a different direction.
Which could well mean John Lackey taking the bump to start Game 1 of the NLCS. All things considered, that might actually be the Cubs’ best bet as they look to line things up against the Dodgers. There’s really no sense in trying to throw everyone out there on short rest, so pitching Lackey gives them the opportunity to push everyone back a little bit.
Should that happen, Quintana could handle Game 2 with five days between starts and Lester could bump back to Game 3 on five days’ rest. He could potentially take that second start in LA if we look at his relief appearance as his normal warmup ‘pen session, but there’s a huge difference in throwing on the side and working a high-leverage situation.
Hendricks makes sense for Game 4 on five days’ rest, while Arrieta could take Game 5 just over a week after his last start. That’s a bit of a long layoff, but he was clearly laboring against the Nationals and the additional break might serve him well.
You never want to punt a game, but facing Clayton Kershaw is a tall task no matter who’s on the mound. Does it make sense to unleash the bulldog — Lackey, I mean — and see if you can’t maybe steal one? He hasn’t seen the mound since coming out of the bullpen in the final game of the regular season, so you know he’s fresh. Then again, he could also be (c)rusty.
Theo Epstein mentioned during the postgame celebration that Quintana was a possibility, and even the magnitude of the situation doesn’t add enough weight to his dozen offerings to mandate that he be pushed back. I think it’ll all depend on how Lester feels and how confident the Cubs are in his ability to take the bump in Game 2. If he’s good to go, I’d bank on Q and Lester in LA, with Hendricks and Arrieta taking the first two games back in Chicago.
More news and notes
- The Cubs are in the NLCS for the third consecutive season, which means they’ve officially fulfilled the goal set forth by the front office six years ago. Pretty heady stuff.
- If you missed the videos of the celebration, we’ve got a few for you here.
- Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo have combined to go 2-for-24 with two walks, three RBI, and 10 strikeouts over the last three games. You might look at that and be disappointed; I see the possibility of some huge breakouts over the next few games.
- The Dodgers have only named their Game 1 (Clayton Kershaw) and Game 4 (Alex Wood) starters, but we can easily assume that Rich Hill and Yu Darvish will start the middle games, likely in that order.