In an emotional game at Wrigley Field, we saw the best game yet of the 2016 World Series. The Chicago Cubs beat the Cleveland Indians 3-2 in a tense game that featured an actual lead change, some home runs, six stolen bases, some sweet defense, some interesting strategic choices, the first Cubs' World Series win at Wrigley since 1945 and a flame-throwing reliever who helped send the series back to Cleveland.
1. Oh, that's why the Cubs traded for Aroldis Chapman. With the Cubs' season on the line, Joe Maddon turned to Chapman with one out in the seventh inning and a runner on second. Chapman had pitched more than two innings just once in his career: when he threw 2.1 innings for the New York Yankees earlier this season in a game against the Indians. Sure, it was a bit of a gambit, but if there was ever a time to go all-in on a guy who throws 100 mph, this was it.
Chapman's impact in the postseason had actually been fairly minimal. He saved three games in the series against the San Francisco Giants, but one of those came with a three-run lead. He also blew two saves, one against the Giants and one against the Los Angeles Dodgers, when he entered in the eighth and allowed inherited runners to score. As such, there was reason for Cubs fans to be a little nervous here, but Chapman escaped the seventh, got through the eighth (despite his blunder in forgetting to cover first base on a ground ball) and cruised through the ninth. Chapman finished with 42 pitches, 20 of them 100-plus mph, including his final pitch of 101 mph that he blew past Ramirez.
There were statheads on Twitter who wanted Maddon to hit for Chapman when he came up in the bottom of the eighth with Jason Heyward on second base and two outs. I didn't understand that. Attempt to close the game with Hector Rondon or Pedro Strop? No, thank you. Those two are good pitchers, though Rondon has struggled since coming off the DL in early September (21 hits and 11 runs in 13.1 innings) and Strop has just nine career saves. Maybe the math suggests your odds of winning go up 2 percent or something if you hit for Chapman (Kyle Schwarber was still available), but no way am I taking Chapman out. Chapman is known as a creature of routine, so maybe there was some concern about bringing him back for a third inning of work. Maybe Maddon played with fire. But he went with this best reliever, and he didn't get burned.
2. Cubs defense comes to play this game. After some miscues earlier in the series, the Cubs made several great plays: Kris Bryant with a diving stop behind third base, Heyward against the wall along the right-field foul line, Addison Russell with a quick sidearm throw on a Ramirez roller and the foul pop that bounced off Ross' glove to Rizzo, who was there for the carom.
I'll be there for you.— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) October 31, 2016
'Cause you're there for me, too. pic.twitter.com/vUbqYKEhkl
3. The bottom of the fourth saves the Cubs' season. Wrigley Field was quieter than a class of art students studying Seurat's "Sunday Afternoon on La Grande Jatte" at the Art Institute of Chicago. The Indians led 1-0 after Ramirez's home run, and Trevor Bauer had cruised through the first three innings with five strikeouts and just one hit. The Indians were maybe two innings away from getting to their bullpen, though it was unclear how many innings and pitches Andrew Miller would be available for after he threw 44 pitches the previous two days. Then a lot of things happened as the Cubs scored three very important runs.
-- Bauer threw a 1-1 meatball middle-in to Bryant -- the absolute worst place to throw him a 92 mph fastball -- and Bryant hit one into the basket in left-center to tie the game.
-- Rizzo clocked a high fastball off the ivy in right field for a double. Luckily for Rizzo, who didn't get out of the box quickly, the throw to second was way off; otherwise, he might have been thrown out. It was just the second time all postseason that Bryant and Rizzo had back-to-back hits.
-- Bauer fell behind 3-0 to Ben Zobrist, who hadn't swung at a 3-0 pitch since April 20. I don't know if Bauer knew that, but he threw a fastball dead center of the strike zone. Zobrist swung and delivered a base hit.
-- I think the Cleveland bullpen started stirring about this time. Bauer had allowed three straight hard hits, but the Cubs curiously called for a safety squeeze with Addison Russell. I'm not saying that was the wrong call, but you have a pitcher on the ropes facing a guy who can hit one out of the park. It seemed like you'd want to go for the big inning there. Russell fouled off the bunt and then reached on a swinging bunt to drive in Rizzo. Heyward struck out, and then Javier Baez executed a perfect bunt hit down the third-base line to load the bases.
-- Now things got interesting. Twitter was screaming for Kyle Schwarber to hit for David Ross. But there was no way Maddon was going to remove Jon Lester's personal catcher with a lead. You can disagree with the concept of a personal catcher, but Ross caught 199 of Lester's 202 innings in the regular season. Maddon is not going to mess around with another catcher in Game 5 of the World Series. It's also risky to start running through bench players in the fourth inning, especially because you would have had to use two players: Schwarber and then a backup catcher. I get the value of Schwarber in a high-leverage situation, but he isn't guaranteed to break the game open, and he does strike out a lot. Regardless, Ross hit a sacrifice fly.
-- Some then called for Schwarber to hit for Lester, but no manager is going to remove Lester and then look to get five innings out of a bullpen that hasn't been lights-out in the postseason.
The fourth inning of Game 5 was one for Cubs fans to remember.
4. Lester owns October again. After he lost Game 1, in which he was hurt by two first-inning walks, Lester said he didn't have his fastball command. He seemed to have it in this game. The home run Ramirez hit was a pitch low and away, right on the outside corner; give Ramirez credit on that home run. Lester got help when he fanned Brandon Guyer with one out and a runner on third in the fifth on a fastball, a pitch off the plate that Guyer was rung up on. He did give a run back in the sixth, when Rajai Davis singled and stole second and Francisco Lindor knocked Davis in with a base hit. Lindor, however, was caught stealing to end the inning when Baez made another of his patented quick tags.
Overall, this was a strong outing by Lester. He was pulled after the sixth at 90 pitches. Lester admitted after the game that he told pitching coach Chris Bosio he had been grinding for a couple innings, that the fifth and sixth innings felt a little sloppy. After a relatively modest pitch count in Game 5, Lester could be available in Game 7. In fact, he might be a bridge from Kyle Hendricks to Chapman. (Yes, Indians fans, there's a Game 6 to be played before Game 7.)
FYI: Madison Bumgarner threw 117 pitches in Game 5 in 2014 and then 68 in relief in Game 7. Will Lester by available?
"I'm always available," he told Fox's Ken Rosenthal. "I'll be available Game 6."
5. There will be a Game 6. Jake Arrieta vs. Josh Tomlin. Schwarber is presumably back in the lineup at DH. Carlos Santana will be out of left field. Lindor will be battling at the plate, where he has been a tough out. And Miller will be waiting to throw as many innings as needed, if the Indians are leading.
Josh Tomlin's playoffs:— Ryan McCrystal (@TribeFanMcC) October 31, 2016
4-3 win in Fenway
2-1 win in The Jake
1-0 win in Wrigley
An epic postseason run continues on Tuesday night.
Going uber optimist here but there has to be less anxiety and pressure for the Cubs playing in Cleveland than rather than Wrigley.— Wayne Drehs (@espnWD) October 31, 2016
It's going to be fun.