Game 3 featured two of the softest-tossing right-handed starters in the game, with Cleveland’s Josh Tomlin (87.8 mph average fastball) and Chicago’s starter Kyle Hendricks (89.9) squaring off in the momentous contest. Game conditions were a classic Wrigley Field experience, with gusting winds between 20-40 mph blowing straight out. The scene was everything you could ever imagine it would be, with pristine colors and a frenetic crowd buoying the Cubs. For the first time in 71 years, World Series baseball was played in Wrigley Field.
Hendricks faced adversity early, after Jason Kipnis reached on an infield single, and Francisco Lindor stayed hot with a single into left, moving Kipnis to third. The first pivotal moment of the game didn’t come on a delivery to the plate, but rather with Hendricks executing a perfect pickoff spin and fire to first. The call on the field was safe, but replay review clearly showed Anthony Rizzo’s tag was slapped on Lindor before his hand found the base. Now with two out, Hendricks focused his attention back on Mike Napoli at the plate, striking him out and ending the threat.
After the Cubs were retired in order in the first, Hendricks allowed another infield single to Jose Ramirez to lead off the second. Lonnie Chisenhall then chopped a ball weakly to third, where Kris Bryant recognized a bluffing Ramirez halting his steal attempt of second. Bryant smartly fired to second to get the lead runner, keeping the double play intact. His awareness paid off immediately, as Roberto Perez chopped into an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play. In a fashion witnessed so many times this season, Hendricks pitched to contact in an attempt to induce a ground ball, and his defense rewarded him.
Ben Zobrist led off the Cubs’ half of the second with a sharp single up the middle, advancing to second on Willson Contreras’ groundout. After Jorge Soler struck out on a vicious Tomlin curveball, Javy Baez popped out to second to end the Cubs’ first threat of the game. It was an important sequence for Tomlin, as his low 6.1 k/9 rate leaves him with a heavy reliance on generating pop outs and ground outs. On a tough night to pitch, both soft-tossers had held their opposition scoreless through two innings.
Cleveland threatened again in the fourth. Lindor led off with yet another hit, chopping a single through the right side. After Hendricks got Napoli looking for his sixth strikeout, Ramirez ripped a sharp single to right. With two on and one out, Chisenhall smashed a one-hop liner to Rizzo’s left. Rizzo deftly fielded the rocket and fired to second for the force, but Addison Russell’s relay back to Hendricks at first was a half-step late. With runners on first and third, Perez worked Hendricks to a full count, before gazing wistfully at a two-seam fastball as it scraped the black and kindly ushered him back to the dugout.
The Cubs’ fourth started with a Kris Bryant walk, despite the 3-2 pitch clearly catching the bottom portion of the zone. After a Rizzo foul out, Zobrist and Soler each moved the baseball, but failed to find holes. Through four innings, both Tomlin and Hendricks continued to post goose eggs as the tension mounted.
Tyler Naquin led off the fifth with a single, the third leadoff batter to reach base for Cleveland. After a sacrifice bunt by Tomlin, Carlos Santana worked a walk to put runners at first and second with one out. Pitching coach Chris Bosio visited the mound, and you got the distinct feeling that Kipnis may be Hendricks’ last batter if he reached. Sure enough, Hendricks plunked Kipnis on a 2-2 pitch, and his night was over after 4-1/3 innings. Justin Grimm received the call from Joe Maddon; inheriting the highest leverage situation Wrigley Field had seen in seven decades, a bases-loaded, one out jam against phenom Francisco Lindor. After the count ran to 3-2 and the game could progress no further without an inflection point, Lindor grounded into a 4-6-3 inning ending double play (-.195 WPA).
Soler led off the bottom of the fifth with a bloop single to left, before moving to second on a Baez groundout. After Russell grounded out to third, Maddon opted to pinch hit for Grimm with Miguel Montero. Terry Francona countered by calling on the incomparable Andrew Miller. Maddon elected not to burn a right-handed bat off the bench, instead allowing Montero to take his hacks. The strategy worked well, as Montero laced a liner into right, but it happened to be directly at Chisenhall. The Cubs’ strongest threat evaporated, and the game moved in a scoreless tie into the sixth.
After scoreless Edwards Jr. and Miller each tossed spotless sixth innings, Cleveland catcher Perez led off the seventh with a single to right, moving to second on a sacrifice bunt by Naquin. Francona had double-switched when he brought Miller in the game, meaning Rajai Davis now batted in the ninth spot. A wild pitch allowed pinch runner Michael Martinez to advance to third, before Davis worked a walk. This left Francona with a critical decision, leave Miller in the game to hit in a high-leverage situation, or pull him for a pinch hitter after just 17 pitches. Tito decided to make the aggressive move, pulling Miller for Coco Crisp. Edwards’ first pitch to Crisp was lined into right for a single, scoring Martinez to give Cleveland a 1-0 lead. The silver lining on the play was Soler coming up firing to third, cutting down Davis for the second out as he attempted to take the extra base. Maddon then called on Game 2 hero Mike Montgomery to face Kipnis. The lefty grounded softly to Rizzo, who watched the ball skip by him in a fashion eerily reminiscent of Bill Buckner. However, the 1986 Red Sox were missing just one thing: they did not have Javier Baez playing second base. Baez ranged over quickly, backing up Rizzo perfectly to field and backhand flip ball to a covering Montgomery to get Kipnis by an eyelash. Francona challenged the call, but the evidence was inconclusive and the inning came to an end.
The bottom of the seventh started with ground outs from Zobrist and Contreras. Soler followed by hitting a fly ball to right which appeared to be heading out of play into the stands, but the wind brought it back into fair territory, where Chisenhall made a leaping attempt but dropped the ball. Soler was not running hard out of the box, but still ended up standing on third easily, as the ball had skipped away from Chisenhall. Had Soler been running out of the box, he likely would not have had a chance to score on the misplay, but not running hard understandably left Cubs fans dismayed nonetheless. The next batter was Baez, who weakly grounded out to short to end the inning. Through seven, Cleveland maintained an improbable 1-0 lead.
Cleveland reliever Bryan Shaw unwittingly became the antagonist in the Hallmark Hall of Fame special featuring Kyle Schwarber, facing him after striking out Russell to start the eighth inning. After getting behind 2-1, Shaw jammed the mighty slugger with an excellent high-and-tight fastball, inducing a weak pop out to second. Fowler then lined a two out single to left, forcing Francona bring in his closer Cody Allen to face Bryant. The Cleveland fireballer did his job, striking out the probable MVP and sucking all of the air out of Wrigley Field in the process.
Aroldis Chapman did his thing in the ninth, retiring Cleveland in order. The game headed to the bottom of the ninth 1-0; shocking in every way, explaining beautifully the endlessly unpredictable game of baseball we all adore.
Rizzo led off the ninth with an opposite-field single, before Maddon lifted him for Chris Coghlan to pinch run. Allen then struck out Zobrist on a vicious curveball bouncing in the dirt, bringing Contreras to the plate. Coghlan attempted to steal second on the first pitch, keeping him out of the double play when Contreras grounded the first pitch to third. In fitting fashion, Jason Heyward would have a chance to play unlikely hero when it mattered most. Heyward chopped a grounder to first, where Napoli mishandled the chance to allow Heyward to reach, and allowed Coghlan to advance to third. It would be power vs. power to decide the game, Cody Allen facing Javier Baez with everything hanging in the balance. After throwing a fastball by Baez on the first pitch, Allen missed high while Cleveland conceded second to Heyward. The winning run was just 180 feet away. After going to 2-1, Allen induced a check swing from Baez, called a swing and strike two by home plate umpire John Hirschbeck. The next pitch was a high fastball from Allen, enticing a ferocious swing and miss by Baez. Cleveland wins 1-0, throwing their fifth shutout of the playoffs.
Game 4 will feature Cleveland ace Corey Kluber on three days rest, while John Lackey pitches for the Cubs. This is an identical spot as the Cubs faced in the NLCS, down 2-1 with the irascible Texan on the mound. This was never meant to be easy, and Cubs fans will again live that reality as they await a gut-wrenching Game 4.
Lead photo courtesy Jerry Lai—USA Today Sports