Miguel Montero bails out Joe Maddon in Game 1 victory for Cubs
Almost everything Joe Maddon has touched this season has turned to gold. He touched Game 1 of the National League Championship Series when he should have kept his hands to himself.
The Cubs beat the Dodgers 8-4, thanks to a Miguel Montero grand slam that saved his manager from a 24-hour news cycle of second-guess hell.
The Cubs were leading the Dodgers 3-1 Saturday when Maddon decided to end Jon Lester’s night after 77 pitches. The Dodgers’ lone run off Lester had come on a wind-aided homer at Wrigley Field. They had hit some Lester pitches hard, but gone after 77 pitches? Jon Lester? If there was a thought bubble above Wrigley, it would have been two words, “What the …?”
This is Maddon’s team, these are his playoffs, and if the Cubs keep winning, you can bet all the World Series will be his stage. So in came Jorge Soler as a pinch hitter in the sixth inning. Decision made, firmly. By the time Maddon was done fiddling, the game was tied and Wrigley sounded as if it had taken a vow of silence.
But the angels were smiling on Maddon, who would eventually get bailed out by pinch hitter Montero, a guy who has been forgotten too often this season. His grand slam put an end to the Cubs’ six-game NLCS losing streak.
With Lester sitting in the dugout, the seventh inning became a typical 52-card shuffle by Maddon, with Travis Wood getting Adrian Gonzalez to ground out to second, Carl Edwards Jr. striking out pinch-hitter Yasmani Grandal and, after Edwards had walked a batter, Mike Montgomery striking out Joc Pederson. So that was good.
Then it quickly wasn’t so good.
The Lester move came back to haunt Maddon in the eighth, when the Dodgers started single, walk, single. In came closer Aroldis Chapman, who not only has told the Cubs he doesn’t like pitching in the eighth inning, but proved it in Game 3 of the division series against the Giants. After striking out two batters Saturday, he gave up a hard single to Gonzalez. Two runs scored. Tie game.
“Would I have liked to gone out (to pitch) in the seventh?’’ Lester said. “Absolutely.’’
“I just thought Jon really wasn’t on top of his game,’’ Maddon said. “… He didn’t have his best stuff.’’
Crazy? Crazy was just getting warmed up. In the bottom of the eighth, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts took his own risk, intentionally walking Jason Heyward, who hasn’t had a hit since, like, 1974, to set up a possible force-out for the next hitter. That next hitter was Javy Baez, the Cubs’ star of the playoffs so far. Baez flied out to right.
Then Roberts intentionally walked Chris Coghlan to force Maddon to put in a pinch hitter for Chapman. So in came Montero, who has a bad back, and you know what he did. On a 0-2 count, he crushed that grand slam to right field to make it 7-3.
Wrigley was so loud and the vibrations so heavy that the press box shook.
Montero wants more.
“Hopefully I can do it on a bigger stage,’’ he said.
The Cubs’ quest to win a World Series for the first time since 1908 figures to get a tad harder now. Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw will start Game 2, which means he’ll start Game 5 and likely be available to help in Game 7. A pessimistic Cubs fan says “uh-oh.’’ An optimistic Cub fan wants an “if necessary’’ plastered next to Games 5 and 7. Kershaw hasn’t been Mr. October, but neither have the Cubs.
“We don’t give up,’’ Maddon said afterward.
That’s true, but he might want to pay for Montero’s next dinner for bailing him out.