If only for a night, Cubs' swagger is back as Chicago avoids NLCS sweep

CHICAGO -- For one night, and perhaps one night only, the Chicago Cubs brought their swagger to Wrigley Field and avoided elimination with a 3-2 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series.

The Cubs are still down 3-1 in the best-of-seven series, but when ultra-confident hurler Jake Arrieta is doing his thing on the mound, and when flashy hitters Javier Baez and Willson Contreras are smacking home runs in style, it provides at least some hope that the defending champions can make a series of it. Baez broke an 0-for-20 streak to start the postseason.

"Since the series before I've been trying to get a base hit so hard," Baez said after the win. "Tonight, I just said to myself 'not to try too much,' and I didn't, and there you have it. I had two good contacts and [we] win the game by one run."

Said Cubs manager Joe Maddon: "Just give him credit for sticking with it. Very difficult start to the postseason for him, and that's what he can do. ... His entire game is spectacular. When young guys like that really struggle, you've got to stay with him. It was a really good matchup for him tonight. He took advantage of it. Give him a lot of credit."

Until Game 4, the Cubs looked anything but interested in repeating, but that's mostly because of the Dodgers' otherworldly pitching. Not so much Wednesday, when Baez homered twice off starter Alex Wood, and Contreras hit the longest postseason home run in Statcast history: a 491-foot shot that hit the left-field video scoreboard in the second inning. His slow jog around the bases told a story of relief for a struggling offense, or maybe it was a nod to the Dodgers' lightning rod of attention, Yasiel Puig, who admired a few swings of his own in this series. Contreras took a season-long 30.85 seconds to round the bases, according to Statcast.

Earlier in the day, while a bunch of players were eating lunch, Kyle Schwarber predicted a big night for the Cubs' second baseman.

"They're all eating and I told them I can't wait to watch the Javier Baez show," Schwarber said with a smile. "That guy is fun to watch."

Reminded that Contreras plays with just as much flair, Schwarber didn't hesitate.

"That guy is fun to watch, too," he said. "This team is full of players that are fun to watch. Shoot, I enjoy watching baseball every day."

Another fun one to watch over the years has been Arrieta. From his no-hitters to winning a Cy Young Award, he has been dominant in the past. But this season, Arrieta reinvented himself after a drop in his velocity. Game 4 was a great example of what he's all about now. He battles. He walked five but kept runners from crossing the plate.

"I've been in this situation several times before and I enjoy it," Arrieta said of pitching in a elimination game. "If it comes down to someone pitching us into another game, I like my chances."

One of the lasting images of the night will be free-agent-to-be Arrieta walking off the mound to a standing ovation with two outs in the seventh inning. Rusty from a hamstring injury, which limited him to one start since Sept. 26, Arrieta gave all he had over the course of 111 pitches. He left with two men on and two outs as the Cubs held on to a 3-1 lead. Reliever Brian Duensing induced his biggest out of the season when National League Rookie of the Year favorite Cody Bellinger popped up to end the inning. Considering the Cubs' struggles out of the bullpen this postseason, getting that out was no sure thing. If the Cubs somehow come back to win this series, that out should not be forgotten.

"It was fun," Duensing said. "Big situation. I tried to stay calm and execute pitches. I was able to do it. I guess it was the biggest out I've ever had."

But the drama didn't end there, Maddon called upon closer Wade Davis to get the final six outs, which he eventually did, but not before giving up a home run to Justin Turner and watching Maddon get ejected for the second time in the NLCS. Umpires reversed a swinging strike-three call on Curtis Granderson, determining he fouled off the pitch, after huddling for a few minutes. Replays shown on the video board, inside Wrigley Field, seemed to indicate differently and so Maddon got his money's worth before leaving. It didn't matter, because Davis struck out Granderson on the next pitch and finished off the effort with a 48-pitch night, six days after throwing 44 pitches in Game 5 of the division series.

"I was definitely tired after that for a day or two," Davis said. "The walks have been killing me. Definitely have to get better at that."

Like Arrieta, Davis just battles. He gave up a home run and two walks but never gave in. He won't pitch again until at least Game 6 -- if the Cubs can get that far.

Game 4 was about surviving, Thursday is about changing the narrative. When players like Arrieta, Baez and Contreras are leading the way, perhaps it means the Cubs can make something interesting happen over the next few games. Just imagine if Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant start hitting.

"We have to elevate our game offensively," Maddon said. "It's just that simple. It's not about 'maybe kind of, hopefully,' we've got to do it."

The Cubs plan on it. On the televisions in the clubhouse after the game, their schedule for Game 5 was spelled out. Stretching and batting practice will take place at their normal times. Then at the bottom of the screen, in all caps, was one more message: "TRAVEL TO LA ON FRIDAY."

The Cubs are one step closer, and one step away, from getting back on a plane.