NLDS roundup: Cubs shut out Giants 1-0 in opener
Chicago — The Chicago Cubs went out and got Jon Lester for these moments. And he delivered in a big way Friday night.
Lester outpitched Johnny Cueto with eight sparkling innings, Javier Baez homered in the eighth and the Cubs beat the San Francisco Giants 1-0 in a tense Game 1 of their NL Division Series.
Lester retired his last 13 batters in a dominant performance, but the game was scoreless when Baez sent a towering drive into a stiff wind. With a raucous crowd of 42,148 and every player anxiously tracking the flight of the ball, left fielder Angel Pagan ran out of room as it landed in the basket that tops the ivy-covered walls at Wrigley Field.
Baez thought it was gone as soon as the ball left the bat.
“I forgot about the wind,” he said. “The wind’s blowing straight in, and I hit it really good. Good thing it just barely went.”
Cubs relievers in the bullpen in foul territory down the left-field line broke into cheers as Baez rounded the bases with the delirious crowd in a frenzy. Baez then came out of the dugout for a curtain call.
“He’s been pitching me inside. I was just waiting for him to make a mistake and … he left it over the plate,” Baez said.
Aroldis Chapman allowed Buster Posey’s two-out double off the ivy in the ninth before Hunter Pence bounced to second for the final out, wrapping a bow on Chicago’s first meaningful game in weeks.
“That’s an awesome baseball game. Playoff baseball,” Lester said. “That was a fun game to be a part of, and obviously really happy to be on this side of it.”
Lester’s $155 million, six-year deal in December 2014 was a key moment in the Cubs’ turnaround from also-ran to contender. They clinched the NL Central title on Sept. 15 and led the majors with 103 wins this year, but have their sights on the franchise’s first World Series crown since 1908.
So far, so good for a city draped in “W’’ flags and hoping for history.
Cueto was outstanding, following Madison Bumgarner’s four-hitter in San Francisco’s wild-card win at New York with his own impressive gem. The right-hander, deftly varying his delivery to keep the Cubs off balance, struck out 10 and allowed three hits in his second straight complete game in the postseason.
“It was a great ballgame,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “One pitch. … I expect these games to be like this.”
Baez’s homer stopped San Francisco’s postseason scoreless streak at 23 innings dating to the World Series in 2014. The Giants also won it all in 2010 and 2012, leading to talk of even-year magic for Bochy’s club, but it was the Cubs with the good fortune on Friday night, a strange turn of events for the usually snake-bitten franchise.
The Giants had at least one hit in each of the first four innings, including leadoff singles in the first three, but Lester held them off each time. The left-hander got some help from his usual catcher, with David Ross throwing out Gorkys Hernandez trying to steal second in the first and picking off wild-card hero Conor Gillaspie at first in the third.
San Francisco had runners on second and third after left fielder Ben Zobrist misplayed Pagan’s sinking liner into a fourth-inning double, but Brandon Crawford bounced out to end the inning.
Cueto retired his first 10 batters and had the Cubs shaking their heads all night long. He also got some timely help from his defense.
Hernandez got revenge on Ross with an outstanding, sliding catch on the warning track in left-center in the third. Kelby Tomlinson, starting at second in place of Joe Panik with the lefty Lester on the mound, robbed Zobrist of a two-out RBI single in the fourth, then took a hit away from Anthony Rizzo with another diving stop in the seventh.
“Cueto just kept making pitches and I had to keep making pitches with him,” Lester said.
Los Angeles 4, (at) Washington 3: Backed by early homers from rookie sensation Corey Seager and Justin Turner off Max Scherzer in a matchup of Cy Young Award winners that promised more than it delivered, Kershaw worked around eight hits with the help of seven strikeouts to help the Los Angeles Dodgers edge the Washington Nationals in Game 1 of their NL Division Series.
His work done, Kershaw was able to relax in the dugout, chewing gum and blowing bubbles while watching relievers Joe Blanton, Grant Dayton, Pedro Baez and Kenley Jansen combine to allow one hit over four scoreless innings. Jansen got his first five-out save since April 13.
Game 2 in the best-of-five matchup is Saturday at Washington.
In his five innings against the NL East champs, Kershaw allowed three runs, which might not sound like an exorbitant total, but an opponent scored that many only once in the lefty’s preceding 16 starts. He was hardly efficient, needing 101 pitches and plenty of boo-inducing mound visits from catcher Yasmani Grandal. Still, Kershaw improved his career record in the playoffs to 3-6 even though his ERA rose to 4.65.
Those numbers are a far cry from his regular-season marks of 126-60, 2.37 ERA and three Cy Young Awards. Maybe, just maybe, Kershaw’s arm felt stronger this time because he sat out more than two months with a bad back before returning to the NL West winners in September.
He was staked to a 4-0 lead thanks mainly to Seager and Turner, before slowly giving back most of that margin.
Kershaw allowed only one stolen base during 149 innings in the regular season, then allowed two on a single pitch in the third Friday, when Bryce Harper (who had doubled) and Jayson Werth (who had walked) moved up to third and second. That became big when Anthony Rendon ripped a single to left field on a slider that didn’t really slide, bringing both runners home and getting Washington to 4-2.
Trea Turner’s sacrifice fly in the fourth cut LA’s lead to a run.
Like Washington’s Turner, LA’s Seager is a rookie who hasn’t played like one all year long, so why start now?
On the first postseason pitch — and first from Scherzer — he’d ever seen, Seager turned on a 97 mph fastball and hit it to the deepest part of Nationals Park, beyond the 402-foot sign in center field, for a 1-0 lead in the first inning.
Scherzer plunked the next batter, Justin Turner, on the left arm. For whatever reason, the 2013 AL Cy Young Award winner for Detroit — and a 20-game winner who’s a leading contender for the NL honor this year — never truly settled in.
The Dodgers made it 4-0 in the third on Chase Utley’s RBI single, then Justin Turner’s two-run shot on a 77 mph curveball. The ball sailed over the head of Werth, who jumped in vain to try to make a grab, then slammed his glove against the left-field wall.
Homers have been Scherzer’s biggest problem the past two seasons: He allowed 27 in 2015, and a major league-high 31 in 2016.
Kershaw, meanwhile, began perfectly as can be, striking out the side in the first: Trea Turner whiffed on a 90 mph slider, Harper swung through a 96 mph fastball, and Werth nearly tumbled over while flailing at a 75 mph curve.
Things got busier from there for LA’s ace, though. He left the bases loaded in the second, and stranded two runners in both the third and fifth — striking out Danny Espinosa to end each inning.