The barrage never seemed to stop. One Dodger hit followed another, each louder than the one that had come before, a procession of percussion.
An earnest, bright-eyed Jose Quintana had walked to the mound for the Cubs in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series and departed 50 pitches later with the sort of defeated look you see on the faces of parents with teenagers.
And it wasn’t just Quintana. Hector Rondon would have the same look. John Lackey, too.
One Kiki Hernandez home run followed another followed another. On and on it went at Wrigley Field, and you kept wondering when the ring referee would step in and tell the battered fighter that he had heart, loads of it, but that it was time to go home to his wife and kids.
There’s no good way to lose a playoff series, but there certainly are bad ways. An 11-1 loss in an elimination game would be an example of the latter.
A long Cubs season ended in the blink of an eye and the blackening of another Thursday night. The Dodgers are a much better team, and there’s no shame in that for the Cubs. But, boy, what a harsh reminder it was, and at the worst time.
They had hoped the life they found in a Game 4 victory Wednesday would carry into Thursday and that a 3-1 series deficit would be 3-2 by night’s end. Not even close.
When Quintana couldn’t retire a batter in the third inning, it was curtains for his team. In came reliever Rondon with the Cubs down 3-0 and the bases loaded, and out went Hernandez’s second home run, a soul-sucking grand slam. He finished with three home runs and seven RBI — or more in one evening than either Anthony Rizzo or Kris Bryant had in the entire postseason.
All of the above is why the defending World Series champions are history.
The lack of hitting can be chalked up to the jagged ups and downs of a postseason. The unreliable bullpen is something that team president Theo Epstein needs to address in the offseason, even though he thought he had addressed it with the acquisition of Justin Wilson at the trade deadline. Wilson’s struggles begged to differ.
Deep down, the Cubs had to know the Dodgers were the superior team. It’s probably why manager Joe Maddon got in a pre-emptive strike after his team fell behind 3-0 in this series, telling fans not to forget that the Cubs had made it to the NLCS three straight seasons. He wasn’t conceding, he said, only reminding.
But it’s worth noting that the Cubs got fat on bad or mediocre teams this season and had trouble beating better teams. That should have been a tipoff, but when they beat the Nationals (a 97-victory team) in an NL Division Series, hopes soared again, despite the fact that they had forgotten how to hit.
The Dodgers had a killer top of the order, a shutdown bullpen and, finally in Game 5, Clayton Kershaw doing a reasonable imitation of his excellent self. The Dodgers won 104 regular-season games for a reason. Same with the Cubs and their 92 victories.
They have some catching up to do if they are serious about this dynasty business.
“I looked out at the field, and I looked at the birth certificates that were playing different positions,’’ Maddon said after the game. “My point is, heads-up, we’re going to keep getting better.’’
The unpleasant aftertaste of an 11-1 blowout will take a while to go away. The Cubs came into the season with big goals, the biggest being back-to-back World Series titles. That shouldn’t be so quickly dismissed, nor should heads already be turning to next season. It sounds too much like, “Wait till next year.’’ This should sting more than a little bit for a franchise whose stated goal is championships, plural.
If it doesn’t, fear not. I think the Dodgers just got another hit.
Follow me on Twitter @MorrisseyCST.