Somehow, we managed to top Monday's 13-inning game with an even more incredible game. Postseason baseball is the best.
1. Did that happen? Yes, that happened. We've never seen this happen before -- at least not in the postseason. Only three times in playoff history had a team rallied from a three-run deficit in the ninth inning, and all three of those games, amazingly, were in 1986. Those teams (the Angels in Game 4 of the ALCS, the Red Sox in Game 5 of the ALCS and the Mets over the Astros in Game 6 of the NLCS) all needed extra innings to pull off a win. The Cubs on Tuesday scored four in the ninth to win 6-5 as Bruce Bochy ran through five relief pitchers in a desperate attempt to get out of the inning.
The one obvious second-guess: Bochy replaced Matt Moore, who had allowed two hits in eight innings. He had thrown 120 pitches and retired nine batters in a row. Do you take him out? Do managers worry too much about pitch counts when a starter is rolling? Moore, after all, had thrown 133 pitches in a no-hit bid earlier this season, so he wasn't in foreign territory. If this were Ron Washington or Don Mattingly, we'd be ripping him to shreds. Do we excuse Bochy because he's a future Hall of Famer? Was his inability to settle on a closer, even a mediocre one, to blame here? Perhaps. Then again, you have to think a bullpen can hold a three-run lead -- even the bullpen that had the most blown saves of any playoff team since 1969. Maybe Bochy overmanaged. Maybe he should have just brought in Will Smith or stuck with Derek Law after Kris Bryant's leadoff single eluded the outstretched glove of Brandon Crawford. Maybe ... maybe ... maybe. I don't know. I just know the Cubs won. This is postseason baseball. You can't predict it.
In four years I'm going to come back and remind all of you that you wanted this.— Michael Baumann (@MJ_Baumann) October 12, 2016
Condolences to Giants fans who are far less insufferable than they have any right to be given recent history.— Craig Goldstein (@cdgoldstein) October 12, 2016
2. The best move of the inning. Bryant singled, Anthony Rizzo drew a big walk off Javier Lopez, and Ben Zobrist doubled off Sergio Romo. Joe Maddon then sent up Chris Coghlan to hit for the struggling Addison Russell. Bochy countered with Smith, and Maddon went to the right-handed Willson Contreras, who singled up the middle to tie the game. Brilliant move there by Maddon, as it got Romo, who is death for right-handed batters, out of the game. Jason Heyward's bunt attempt went right back to Smith, who got the force at second, but Crawford threw away the double-play attempt, and that sent Heyward to second -- a rare mistake by the Giants in a big moment. Javier Baez then singled in the winning run off Hunter Strickland.
The Cubs caught a break with the error, but that inning showed why the Cubs' depth and versatility are so important. Maddon had multiple weapons off his bench, and he could hit for his Gold Glove-caliber shortstop, knowing he could slide Baez over if needed. Contreras is a catcher who can also play left field, which allowed him to hit for Coghlan. That versatility is important in the field, but it also gives Maddon various pinch-hitting options. That's huge.
Finally, it's been an amazing seven years for the Giants. I won't miss all the "even-year" junk, however.
3. Dodgers win as Clayton Kershaw pitches kind of awesome, kind of not-so-great. Let's not hide from the truth, despite baseball Twitter's best efforts to defend Kershaw's postseason record. Yes, he finished with 11 strikeouts while pitching on three days' rest in a season in which he missed more than two months because of a back injury. Yes, his bullpen failed to bail him out in the seventh inning, after he loaded the bases with two outs. Yes, I think Dave Roberts should not have brought him out for the seventh. Kershaw had given up two hard, line-drive outs in the sixth, one of which was a diving catch in center field by Joc Pederson; he was on short rest; he'd been injured; he was at 89 pitches after scuffling through 101 in Game 1; the Dodgers were up 5-2 with a good bullpen. At one point, Roberts came out but left in the guy whose entire postseason résumé is six great innings followed by seventh-inning meltdowns.
In this game, Kershaw struggled in the first, as he threw 27 pitches and allowed a run. He gave up another run in third. Once the shadows crept halfway between the pitcher's mound and home plate, he dominated for a couple innings. Then the seventh happened. Somebody tweeted, "Once again, the bullpen will determine Kershaw's postseason reputation." Well, here's an idea: Finish the job yourself, and don't hand a bases-loaded situation to Pedro Baez.
Look, I'm not trying to be mean here. I wish Kershaw would go out there and pitch a three-hit shutout and shut everyone up. He has had some very good postseason games, most notably in last year's division series, when he allowed one run in seven innings to the Mets in Game 4 (again pitching on short rest). Even leaving aside his first two postseasons, when he hadn't yet become Clayton Kershaw, the best pitcher since Pedro Martinez (and maybe better), he's 3-5 with a 4.57 ERA in 10 starts since 2013. The supporters and statheads point to the 84 strikeouts and 17 walks in 61 innings as proof that Kershaw has been just as awesome as the regular season. Well, yes, he has, other than a little thing called runs. Kershaw has allowed a .193/.232/.280 line in the regular season. In the postseason, he's allowed a .225/.275/.329 line -- which is great -- but the problem is he has allowed a .311 average with runners in scoring position and thus has the inflated ERA. Bad luck? According to ESPN Stats & Information, his well-hit average -- hard contact -- is .103 in the regular season and .192 in the postseason, so he is giving up more hard-hit balls.
Here's another way to look at it. Since 2013, there have been 30 postseason starts of more than seven innings -- none by Kershaw. Since 2013, there have been 26 starts in which the pitcher went at least six innings and allowed no runs -- and none by Kershaw.
Am I holding Kershaw to a higher standard? Damn right, I am. The Dodgers are paying him $35 million for that higher standard. I'm not questioning his intestinal fortitude or his want. But he has faltered at the wrong times. (Jayson Stark wrote a couple days ago about aces and why they aren't always aces in the postseason. Check it out.) Hopefully one of these games he finally delivers that knockout punch.
Dusty on what he expects the Dodgers to do pitching-wise in Game 5: "I know Kershaw ain't pitching. And thank God."— Dan Kolko (@masnKolko) October 12, 2016
4. Anyway, it was a great game! I won't break the game down -- too many things to analyze, though a big key was Dusty Baker getting only seven outs from his left-handed relievers. I thought he'd have to get at least 10 or 11 to win this game. He waited a couple batters too long to pull Joe Ross in the third, and that cost a run, and I would argue he should have gone with Marc Rzepczynski or Sammy Solis before Reynaldo Lopez, who gave up a run as well. But those are nitpicks. Really, Ross -- with his large platoon split -- was a bad matchup for the Nationals.
Looking ahead, this game sort of screws both teams for whoever advances to the NLCS. The Nationals now have to start Max Scherzer in Game 5, which means he likely wouldn't start until Game 3 if the Nationals advance. The Dodgers are going to start Rich Hill in Game 5, which will be their second straight game starting a guy on three days' rest. At least Kershaw would be ready to start Game 2 of the NLCS on regular rest. Bullpen usage will once again be huge. As good as Scherzer is, he had a huge platoon split this year, so the Dodgers' ability to run out seven left-handed batters is big advantage. Hill on short rest is an unknown, so young Julio Urias will have to be ready for long relief if there's a quick hook.
Trickle down effect of Game 2 ppd is bullpen usage. Dusty Baker admitted NLDS rosters built expecting games on no more than 2 consec days— Bill Plunkett (@billplunkettocr) October 11, 2016
5. Baker has a chance to clinch a series and loses ... again. Baker has now lost eight such games in a row, which broke a dubious record he shared with Bill Virdon. It's almost hard to imagine, but here's the list:
1. Game 5, 2003 NLCS: Josh Beckett spins a two-hit shutout of the Cubs for the Marlins.
2. Game 6, 2003 NLCS: The Bartman Game.
3. Game 7, 2003 NLCS: Cubs take 5-3 lead in third but lose 9-6.
4. Game 3, 2012 NLDS: Reds lose 2-1 to Giants in 10 innings on an unearned run.
5. Game 4, 2012 NLDS: Lose 8-3 to the Giants.
6. Game 5, 2012 NLDS: Lose 6-4 as Mat Latos gives up six runs in the fifth. (This was the series Johnny Cueto got injured in Game 1.)
7. NL wild-card game, 2013: Reds lose 6-2 to Pirates as Cueto gets knocked out early.
8. Game 4, 2016 NLDS: Nationals rally from 5-2 deficit against Kershaw to tie the game, only to lose 6-5.
The most recent clinching game Baker won was Game 5 of the 2003 division series, in which the Cubs beat the Braves. Before that, the Cubs had lost Game 4 with a chance to clinch, and Baker's Giants lost Games 6 and 7 of the 2002 World Series. That's 1-11 in his past 12 games with a chance to win a series. Baseball is one cruel cookie. I'd love to see the Dodgers win to give Kershaw another crack. But I'd love to see the Nationals win to give Dusty another crack at a World Series.