SAN FRANCISCO — Tough team, these Giants. They earned every inch of Monday’s 13-inning, 6-5 victory.
“We played the best of the best,” Albert Almora said of the team that’s shooting for a fourth World Series title in seven seasons. “It just didn’t fall our way.”
But what the Cubs put on display in Game 3 was more evidence of why they’re going to be monstrously hard to beat for any playoff opponent.
Cubs fans will remember the rocket shot off the bat of Jake Arrieta for an early 3-0 lead that got Cubdom revved up to celebrate. And Kris Bryant’s game-tying two-run homer in the ninth that made a series sweep feel tantalizingly close. Also, there was Almora’s amazing catch in the bottom of the ninth that temporarily saved the game.
Yet it was a bunch of little things in the top of the second inning that spoke to the Cubs’ superiority in this series — let’s tell it like it is, they’re still the better team — and the season-long excellence of their squad.
Ben Zobrist started things with a groundout to shortstop Brandon Crawford, but not before he’d worked the count full against Bumgarner. Addison Russell then fell behind 0-and-2, but he fouled off three pitches before finally being hit by a pitch. For Russell, who has been slumping, it was a terrific at-bat.
Then came Javier Baez, who made sure to get under Giants starter Madison Bumgarner’s skin. Baez likewise fell behind by two strikes, but he battled for nine pitches before singling. After one pitch, he skipped across the batter’s box and took a long, looping path to get back into the hitting position. Before another, he took his sweet time tending to his spikes, knocking nonexistent dirt off them with his bat.
“They’ve been trying to get me out of my game,” Baez said, “so I was just doing the same thing.”
The crowd was unhappy, booing Baez. But Bumgarner was out of rhythm. Two batters later, Arrieta made it 3-0.
In all, the Cubs taxed Bumgarner in the second for 37 pitches. Though they wouldn’t score again, the most dominant postseason pitcher of his time reached 100 pitches by the fifth inning, his last.
The Cubs did what they’ve done all season: work counts and work the opposing pitcher’s nerves.
Baez had much to do with the second part. He also had a brilliant defensive play in the sixth inning. Playing second base, he ranged to his right behind the bag and — off one foot, from the outfield grass — threw out Conor Gillaspie at first.
Plenty of people were displeased with Baez for turning a near-home run into an out at second base in Game 2 by not hustling out of the batter’s box. But that’s such an exception to the rule with Baez — and the entire Cubs team — that it’s just not a big deal at all.
Even in defeat, the Cubs got a lot of good done in Game 3. The little things will continue to go a long way well as they move forward.
Follow me on Twitter @slgreenberg.