SAN FRANCISCO – The sweetest sound in sports is the sound of a baseball hitting a bat in just the right spot. It sounds solid and pure and righteous.
When Jake Arrieta’s bat met Madison Bumgarner’s fastball in the second inning Monday night, it made the unmistakable sound of a perfectly struck ball that is late for a meeting with the outfield seats.
The three-run homer gave the Cubs a 3-0 lead. It sounded like victory. It wasn’t. Not in this nutty ballgame.
There’s another sound, the sound of a bat hitting a 101 m.p.h. fastball. That sound exploded in the eighth inning, when Giants third baseman Conor Gillaspie ripped a two-run triple off Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman, giving San Francisco a 4-3 lead. A single by Brandon Crawford made it 5-3.
You could hear Chicago’s silence from here. Ballgame? Sure sounded like it, until it wasn’t.
Kris Bryant’s ninth-inning homer didn’t make that kind of deep, satisfying sound. It made a softer one, as if he didn’t get all of a Sergio Romo pitch. But the ball kept going and going. And then going some more, beyond the glove of left-fielder Gregor Blanco and into the seats. Tie game.
Speaking of sounds, ever heard a grown stadium cry? AT&T Park was an emotional mess, what with the possibility of postseason elimination hanging in the air.
This game went on and on, right into the 13th inning, when the Giants’ Joe Panik crushed a Mike Montgomery pitch off the right-field wall, scoring Crawford. Everything about it was loud. The sound of the ball off the bat and the roar of the crowd.
“I knew I hit it well, and I knew it was going to at least get off the wall, but it felt like forever for that thing to get (to) the wall,” he said.
The Giants ensured that this best-of-five division series will last another day. Their 6-5 victory in a five-hour, four-minute game cut the Cubs’ advantage to two games to one. John Lackey pitches Tuesday. He has said he signed with the Cubs for games like this. Well, he’s got it. It’s not overstating things to say the Cubs really need that one, with Johnny Cueto scheduled to pitch Game 5 for the Giants in Chicago. They could also use a hit from Anthony Rizzo, who is struggling in this series.
It was a wild, crazy baseball game, and we’ll find out soon enough what effect it will on both teams.
“A great game,’’ Cubs manager Joe Maddon called it.
“The game had everything – pitching, timely hitting on both sides,’’ Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “It was a fun game to be part of.’’
Arrieta’s homer had given the Cubs real hope of closing out the series. It was as if all the frustration of an up-and-down season for the reigning National League Cy Young winner reached critical mass in Game 3 of this division series, leading to one very good performance on a pleasant San Francisco night.
Arrieta had to deal with what some might have felt was the embarrassment of starting Game 3, instead of starting Game 1, as most aces do. But the gift was the chance to face Bumgarner, who came into the game with an 8-1 record and a 0.79 earned-run in his previous nine postseason starts. There was an opportunity for Arrieta to restore his good name to its 2015 shininess. For a man who loves challenges, this had to be a bigger reward than a Game 1 start in this series.
And although the Cubs never stopped professing their total belief in him, they couldn’t have said with certainty which Jake they were going to get Monday – the one who went 2-3 with a 4.60 ERA in September or the one who went 18-8 with a 3.10 ERA this season. Arrieta’s slider was working the way it did last season, when he kept hitters completely off balance. It was good to see that Jake again.
That other Jake, the Jake who struggled at times this season, showed up in the fifth, when he gave up a triple to Denard Span. A Buster Posey single scored him, cutting the Cubs’ lead to 3-2. This wasn’t perfect Jake. This wasn’t no-hitter Jake, by any stretch of the imagination. Was it time to pull him? Manager Joe Maddon answered no, letting Arrieta hit in the sixth. It was a gutsy decision. Even though Arrieta had thrown just 85 pitches to that point, the Giants had started hitting him harder. But Maddon might have had a one-man riot on his hands if he had tried to replace Arrieta.
He got a big lift in the sixth from second baseman Javy Baez, who lunged to his right for a ball hit by Gillaspie, then threw off his left foot to get him at first. The Giants challenged the call, saying first baseman Anthony Rizzo was off the bag. The lost the replay challenge by about the width of one of his cleats. Whether than cleat was touching the bag was open to raucous debate.
Maddon finally made the switch in the seven, bringing in Pedro Strop. Arrieta had done his job, perhaps not the way he had envisioned it, but good enough. He gave up two runs and six hits in six innings. And if you didn’t pick up on this earlier, he hit a home run.
The pitching duel between Arrieta and the Bumgarner never materialized because the Bumgarner of past postseason games never showed up. He needed 51 pitches to get through the first two innings. He had 85 after four innings and 101 by the time he was done after five innings. It meant that the Cubs had him right where they wanted him, on the way to the showers early in the game. Mr. Playoffs was being replaced by Mr. Bullpen.
Maddon brought Chapman into the game in the eighth inning with no outs. It was the third time this season the Cubs asked the closer to get six outs in a game rather than his standard three. It didn’t work.
But Bryant came through with his homer, saving the day, at least for the moment. A long moment, until Panik’s loud answer in the 13th.
Game 4, anyone? Sounds about right.