Second City October: Backs Against The Wall

The Cubs entered Game 4 of the World Series in an unexpected—albeit familiar—position: down 2-1 and desperately needing a slumping offense to awaken. Tonight’s challenge was exacerbated by facing the indomitable Corey Kluber, the former Cy Young winner who shut them down in Game 1. The wind reversed from last night, steadily blowing in and creating a feeling as if were truly late October in Wrigley Field.

The top of the first inning featured a surreal setting, with the Wrigley faithful chanting Lackey’s name repeatedly; an unfathomable thought 12 short months ago. The man who did-not-come-to-Chicago-for-a-haircut rewarded the exuberance, mowing down Cleveland in order. Dexter Fowler led off the Cubs’ portion of the first with my watching party shouting “you go we go,” and he promptly responded with a double to left that caromed just out of reach of Rajai Davis. After retiring Bryant on a pop out to shortstop, Anthony Rizzo feathered a blooper that dropped in front of Tyler Naquin in center. Fowler raced around from second, and the Cubs had their first home lead in a World Series game in 71 years. A momentous occasion on its own, made all the more special by the fact that Fowler was the first African-American to score a World Series run for the Cubs in Wrigley Field.

The second inning started with a missed first strike call to Carlos Santana, leaving Lackey pitching from behind. After working back to a 3-2 count, Lackey fired a fastball over the outer half of the plate, which Santana promptly yanked into the right field bleachers to tie the game. It was the first home run off Big John in seven career World Series starts. After retiring Jose Ramirez, Lonnie Chisenhall grounded to the left side, where Bryant fielded, pirouetted and fired the ball well over Rizzo’s head at first. Roberto Perez grounded out to Lackey, having the effect of a bunt as Chisenhall gained second on the play. Joe Maddon elected to walk Naquin and face Kluber with two on, a controversial decision, as it opened up the opportunity for a big inning and rolled the order over. After working an eight-pitch at bat, Kluber squibbed a ball towards Bryant at third, which he fielded and ill-advisedly fired late to Rizzo. The ball skipped 10 feet away from Rizzo, allowing Chisenhall to race around third and score to give Cleveland the lead. The run was the first unearned run the Cubs have allowed all postseason. Lackey managed to retire Davis to end the threat, but the damage was done.

The third started poorly for Lackey as well, as Jason Kipnis lined the second pitch into the right-field corner for a double. Lindor was next, and it looked like Lackey has struck him out on the inside corner, but he didn’t get the call. The next pitch was lined into center, scoring Kipnis and extending Cleveland’s lead to 3-1. Lackey recovered nicely, striking out Santana and inducing a 4-6-3 double play off the bat of Ramirez. For a game that started so promising, it had quickly turned dire.

Maddon surprising elected to let Lackey hit in the third, choosing patience over panic when most felt the out was too important to give away. Kluber quickly retired Lackey and Fowler, before walking Bryant and plunking Rizzo. Kluber and Zobrist followed by engaging in a great eight-pitch battle, with Kluber finally striking him out on a curveball off the inner half.

Lackey worked quickly through the fourth and the fifth inning, before being lifted for Chris Coghlan to lead off the bottom of the fifth. Unfortunately for the Cubs, they were unable to muster any offense, as Kluber needed just six pitches to retire them in order.

Mike Montgomery was the reliever of choice for Maddon to start the sixth. After walking Lindor to start the inning, Santana hit a line drive right back at the lefty, which he knocked down and threw to first late. Ramirez then hit a chopper back to Montgomery, who went to second instead of third to try and turn a double play. Unfortunately, the relay to first was not in time to get Ramirez, leaving runners at first and third with only one out. Montgomery was immediately punished for his mental error, when Chisenhall plated Lindor on a sacrifice fly. After walking Perez, Maddon decided he wanted Justin Grimm to face pinch-hitter Brandon Guyer. The move paid off, as Grimm induced a check-swing strike three on a nasty curve.

The Cubs finally found a spark in the bottom of the sixth, when Rizzo lead off with a double off the left field fence. But just as he did in Game 1, Kluber quickly worked out of it, retiring Zobrist, Russell and Contreras in order. Terry Francona elected to pinch-hit for Kluber in the top of the seventh, ending his night after six sharp innings of one run ball. Coco Crisp led off with a blooper to center which Fowler got a slow break on, diving but failing to come up with the ball as it skipped by him and allowed Crisp to cruise into second. Grimm drilled Davis next, before being lifted for Travis Wood. Kipnis greeted Wood with an abrupt punctuation mark to all of the frustration the Cubs have felt this series, by driving a gutted fastball into the right field bleachers to give Cleveland a commanding 7-1 lead.

Francona made a curious decision in the seventh, bringing Andrew Miller into a game hardly in doubt. The Cubs only forced him to throw seven pitches, but it seemed unnecessary to burn an inning from the star nonetheless. To my amazement, Francona left Miller out there in the eighth as well, seriously limiting his ability to utilize him in a long outing for Game 5. The Cubs will not go down easily, and Francona may regret having one more long appearance Miller should the series tighten.

For a game that carried such a limited quantity of joy for anyone in the Cubs’ spectrum, Dexter Fowler’s accomplishments transcended the negativity. Moments after Francona surprisingly left Miller in the game, Fowler drove a fastball deep into night that landed in the Wrigley Field basket as so many others have before his. None, however, had ever come off the bat of an African-American wearing a Cubs uniform in the World Series, placing the deserving Fowler in the history books alongside so many other worthy trailblazers. You go, we go, Dex.

The Cubs could muster nothing further offensively, losing the game 7-2, and coming to the precipice of elimination. This team will not quit. Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks stand in the way of a Cleveland World Series ring; those three men are not afraid of this situation. Take heart, my friends—it’s a seven game series.

Lead photo courtesy Jerry Lai—USA Today Sports

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