This piece, written by Baseball Prospectus’s Demetrius Bell, forms part of the main site’s comprehensive coverage of the postseason, “Playoff Prospectus”.
John Smoltz knows a thing or two about big moments in October baseball, to say the least. The Hall of Famer-turned-commentator set the table for the viewing audience in the bottom of the fourth inning last night by basically saying that the Cubs had to score in that frame or they’d be in serious trouble.
Just moments after Smoltz finished his clairvoyant thought, Kris Bryant did exactly what the baseball oracle implored the Cubs to do.
Trevor Bauer had been using his steady diet of two-seamers and four-seamers to mow through Chicago’s offense for the first three innings, and it appeared that he was ready, willing, and able to sit on the one-run lead that Jose Ramirez’s second-inning dinger had provided him.
Unfortunately for Bauer, Bryant ended up putting the first two-seamer he saw on the night into the basket in left-center field. The very next pitch that Bauer threw was also a two-seamer, and it got barrelled as well. This one didn’t land in the basket or in those famed bleachers, but Anthony Rizzo did send it to frolic in the ivy for a double.
From that point forward the Cubs had a stew going, and after Ben Zobrist stirred the pot with a single that put runners on the corners, Addison Russell gave the crowd at Wrigley Field a taste of the delicious soup that is a lead at home during the World Series. His soft bouncer to third gave Ramirez a tough decision to make in a split-second: “Should I get the out at home or the runner at first?” He got neither, and the Cubs took the lead as Wrigleyville truly came to life for the first time all weekend.
Ramirez was called upon again for defensive measures, but this time all he could do was pick up the remains of Javy Baez’s bunt after it died a slow death in the infield. The sentimental hero of the night came up to bat next, and David Ross’ sacrifice fly brought in Zobrist for the third and ultimately decisive run of the game.
The third run ended up standing up as the winner for Chicago because Joe Maddon carried on with this postseason’s hottest trend–the practice of actually using your best reliever in crucial high-leverage situations. After Carl Edwards Jr. faced two hitters and let one of them on base, Maddon decided that it was time to stop messing around with this one-run lead and bring in the flamethrower. So in came Aroldis Chapman, and he stayed in for 2.2 innings and a season-high 42 pitches.
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Lead photo courtesy Jerry Lai—USA Today Sports.