SAN FRANCISCO – The Cubs did the impossible Monday night.
And it wasn’t good enough in a 6-5, extra-inning loss to the Giants, who staved off elimination Monday night at AT&T Park in Game 3 of the National League Division Series.
Brandon Crawford led off the 13th inning with a double to right off taxed reliever Mike Montgomery, and Joe Panik followed with a drive off the right-field wall to drive him home with the game winner. Montgomery was into his season-high fifth inning of relief at that point, but he said fatigue was not a factor at the end.
“That was an incredible game on both sides, and they earned it,” said Cubs starter Jake Arrieta, who outpitched all-time postseason ace Madison Bumgarner – and hit a three-run homer off him in the second.
“This is October baseball,” Arrieta added. “Obviously, with their pedigree in the playoffs we have our work cut out for us.”
Winners of three of the last six World Series, the Giants try to press their even-numbered-year luck again Tuesday night when they face postseason veteran John Lackey trying to force a decisive Game 5 at Wrigley Field on Thursday night.
“You can never count them out,” Cubs shortstop Addison Russell said. “But don’t count us out, either.”
The 13 innings were the most the Cubs have played in a postseason game (they had World Series games take 12 in 1945 and 1907). It took more than 5 hours to play.
The Giants’ win Monday was their 10th consecutive in the postseason when facing elimination – the longest such streak in baseball history. It also was perhaps their least likely, considering the way it looked for much of the game against the best team in baseball.
The Cubs took advantage of one of the best October starting pitchers in history to wear down Bumgarner, whose velocity was down Monday night as his pitch count climbed to 101 through five.
He left the game at that point, the Cubs taking a 3-2 lead into the late innings.
“We were that close,” Arrieta said. “But at the same time we know the task isn’t going to be an easy one. These guys aren’t going to roll over and just let us clinch the series in their ballpark.”
Even after manager Joe Maddon’s decision to chance a six-out save from Aroldis Chapman backfired on the Cubs in a three-run Giants’ eighth, the Cubs weren’t done with the heroics.
That’s when MVP favorite Kris Bryant followed Dexter Fowler’s leadoff walk in the ninth with a tying, two-run shot to left field off Sergio Romo – Bryant’s 40th overall homer this year.
“It was going to come down to who got the big hit, and they were able to in the late innings tonight,” Arrieta said.
Arrieta’s three-run shot in the second seemed to shake the unflappable Bumgarner, who had the bullpen stirring behind him at that point. Did it cross his mind this would be how his season might end?
“No,” Bumgarner said. “I don’t think anybody was thinking that way. We’re hard to put away.”
Especially in the eighth inning on this night.
That’s when White Sox castoff Conor Gillaspie looked like he was about to commission his own statue for a place next to Willie Mays or Willie McCovey outside the ballpark.
Less than a week after his home run against Mets closer Jeurys Familia gave the Giants a wild-card victory and put them in this NLDS, his two-run triple off Cubs closer Chapman, just beyond the reach of Albert Almora Jr. in right-center, drove home the tying and go-ahead runs in the bottom of the eighth.
Brandon Crawford followed with a single through the drawn-in Cubs infield for a 5-3 lead.
Chapman, the triple-digit, All-Star closer, was acquired at the trade deadline from the Yankees for moments like this. At least ninth-inning moments like this.
But after Brandon Belt singled off Travis Wood to lead off the eighth, and Buster Posey followed with a walk against Hector Rondon, Maddon went to Chapman for the kind of six-out save Chapan told Maddon this summer he wasn’t comfortable with.
And it backfired.
“I didn’t have any problem with it. I told him that whatever he needs me for I’m ready to do it,” Chapman said through an interpreter translating from Spanish. Maddon gave him a heads up before the series to expect a possible eighth-inning assignment.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s six outs or anything like that,” Chapman said. “I was ready to be used in the eighth. It just didn’t’ go the way I wanted it to. It wasn’t my night. But tomorrows another day, and if he needs me I’m ready to go.”
By the time Justin Grimm finished the eighth for Chapman, the Cubs had used four relievers in the inning. And Montgomery took over in the bottom of the ninth, leaving only rookie Carl Edwards Jr. in the bullpen.
“I had it set up before the inning began, based on their lineup construction,” said Maddon, who anticipated using Chapman with two outs in the eighth but couldn’t get the matchups to play out that way. “It was set up that he had Gillaspie, and then in my mind we were looking for at least maybe one, possibly two [outs in the eighth]. And then if you get a 1-2-3 inning, then he’s got a clean night. But it didn’t play out that way.”
And they still almost pulled it out for would have been the franchise’s first postseason sweep in history (the 1907 team played to a tie in the World Series opener, then beat the Tigers in the next four).
“This game was one to go down in the books for sure,” said rookie Almora, who made the catch of the game in the bottom of the ninth, diving toward the line in right to rob Buster Posey of a game-winner. Brandon Belt was already to third base when Almora came up with the catch, and he easily threw to first for an inning-ending double play.
“We never stopped fighting,” Almora said. “It was awesome to be a part of. We didn’t win, but we never gave up.”
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