Series Status: Cubs lead 1-0
W: Jon Lester (1-0, 0.00)
L: Johnny Cueto (0-1, 1.13)
S: Aroldis Chapman (1)
MVP: Javy Baez: 2-3, HR, 1 RBI, 1 R
The time has finally come for the Cubs to begin the playoffs. After dominating the regular season in route to 103 wins, Chicago began the National League Division Series against the San Francisco Giants. Jon Lester got the game one nod against Giants co-ace Johnny Cueto. Joe Maddon likes to tell his players to no let the pressure exceed the pleasure, but on Friday night it seemed the pressure was overwhelming. If there is one thing the regular season has taught us, it’s that Javy Baez doesn’t care about that.
Leadoff hitter Gorkys Hernandez bunted for a base hit to open the top of the 1st. Hernandez attempted to steal on Lester, but David Ross gunned him out to end the threat. Ross struck again in the 3rd, picking-off Wild Card hero Conor Gillaspie at first base. Cueto was on his game, dominating the first three innings and allowing no one to reach base.
Ben Zobrist misplayed an Angel Pagan liner into a double after Buster Posey had singled in the 4th inning. Lester was able to escape the jam by getting a Brandon Crawford grounder to short. Kris Bryant finally broke up Cueto’s perfect game with a double the next half inning. Bryant was stranded at third base and the game remained scoreless.
Both Lester and Cueto absolutely slammed the door after the 4th inning. Only one base runner, Javy Baez, reached base for either team the next 3 1/2 innings. It seemed like the game would come down to which pitcher made the first mistake. Luckily, that ended up being Cueto.
Javy Baez came up to the plate with one out in the bottom of the 8th inning, when Cueto ran the count full and then hung one over the plate. Baez smashed a ball that looked as if it would roll down Sheffield, though the swirling Wrigley wind caught it. For a few seconds that seemed like hours, the ball faded back toward the field of play. Left fielder Pagan settled under it, old playoff disappointments flooding back as he did. Yet this time was different. The ball landed in the basket for a solo home run: 1-0 Cubs.
The drama was not over at the Friendly Confines Friday night. Aroldis Chapman came in to get the save in the 9th inning against the top of the San Francisco order. Chapman retired Hernandez and pinch-hitter Eduardo Nunez to get to the last out. Of course, that was none other than former MVP Buster Posey. Posey hammered the first pitch from Chapmam deep to left field, and it looked for a moment like it might go. Once again, the wind would push back, causing the ball to hit the top of the wall for a double. Hunter Pence represented the go-ahead run for the Giants, but hit a grounder up the middle that Baez, who else, snared and fired to first to win the game.
Lester was outstanding for the Cubs in game one. His line on the evening was sparkling: 8 IP, 0 R, 5 H, 5 K, 0 BB. The big lefty was very efficient only, throwing 86 pitches in his 8 innings of work. It’s safe to say Lester rebounded just fine from his final regular season start. In a regular season game it seems very likely Maddon lets Lester go for the complete game. This was a different situation, though, so I like the move to go to Chapman.
Javy Baez had himself quite a game to start the postseason. He played his typical sterling defense and also had two of the three hits Cueto allowed on the night. I think everyone in the park knew the ball the Cubs Swiss Army knife hit in the 8th was gone. Javy did too and his energy after going deep was electric. I will admit I never thought Baez could put everything together, and I am very glad to say I was wrong.
Friday was a bad day to be a hitter in both dugouts at Wrigley. Cueto and Lester abused both lineups to the tune of eight total runners and one run. It’s safe to say both teams will probably put up more offense in game two.
It is not always fun to watch playoff baseball, especially when it’s a 0-0 game into the 8th inning. Every single pitch is on a knife-edge, each moment could portend disaster. Like overtime in hockey, it feels like you escape death at every turn. When your team does break through, it’s almost more relief than joy. Now, after the game is over it is easier to watch the highlights knowing only good things will come.
Kyle Hendricks (16-8, 2.13 ERA) heads to the mound attempting to give the Cubs a 2-0 series lead. Jeff Samardzjia (12-11, 3.81 ERA) — remember him? — goes for the Giants. It would be very helpful if Chicago could have a two-game lead before facing Madison Bumgarner. This is fun isn’t it people?