Comeback Cubs close out wild NLDS, and a party breaks out

SAN FRANCISCO – These crazy Cubs. These crazy, intrepid Cubs.

Just when they had left themselves for dead Tuesday night, they stood up, shook off all the uninspired baseball of the previous eight innings and won a series that had looked in serious jeopardy.

No, really, they were goners in this game. Of that, there was no doubt. Down 5-2 heading into the ninth inning of Game 4 of a National League Division Series, they finally found the strut that had taken them to 103 regular-season victories. By the time they were done smacking around a parade of hollow-eyed Giants relievers, they had a 6-5 victory and an NLDS title in their possession. They will play the winner of the Dodgers-Nationals series, just as soon as they remember how to breathe again.

Kris Bryant started the ninth-inning rally with a leadoff single, followed by a walk by Anthony Rizzo, who had struggled in a big way in the series. Then a double by Ben Zobrist to score a run and cut the lead to 5-3. And then came rookie Willson Contreras, hitting for Chris Coghlan. Two things happened: Contreras singled in two runs, and manager Joe Maddon looked like a genius for bringing in a pinch hitter.

Javy Baez celebrates in the clubhouse after the Cubs beat the Giants 6-5 Tuesday night. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

After a throwing error that allowed Jason Heyward to get to second base, Javy Baez singled in the winning run. If there were an MVP award for an NLDS, it would go to Baez, who was phenomenal in the field, saving the day again and again with diving stops.

Four runs in the ninth inning? No problem.

“I think the game of baseball is a game that is 27 outs,’’ Baez said. “We can’t give up because we’re down. We’re fighting and fighting.’’

And so, after closer Aroldis Chapman shut down the Giants in the bottom of the ninth, making up for his Game 3 failure, the Cubs celebrated on the field, donning NLDS championship caps and posing for photos. Hundreds of Cubs fans gathered near the first-base dugout to cheer on their team. The players and staff repaired to the clubhouse, where they partied. Goggles were donned and champagne was sprayed. President Theo Epstein hugged Conteras. It was Party One in what they hope will be a three-party postseason.

“The guys we’re chanting, ‘We don’t quit, we don’t quit,’ ” Maddon said. “We don’t quit.’’

The Cubs were so close to going back to Wrigley Field tied 2-2. That familiar feeling of dread, the one that has been known to tug at the sleeve of Cubs-licensed mourning wear, had returned with a vengeance. It crept in quietly at first, but by the sixth inning, it had taken over all things Cubs. You could feel it here, 2,100 miles away from Chicago.

And then came that ninth inning. That wonderful ninth, when the Cubs showed the mettle that had been missing too often in this series. They need to carry it forward into the N.L. Championship Series.

Cubs pitcher John Lackey didn’t bring his “big-boy game’’ Tuesday night, as he has so many times before in the postseason. His command had gone missing. He gave up an RBI single to Giants pitcher Matt Moore in a two-run fourth inning, which isn’t much of a sin these days. Every time you look up in this series, a pitcher is getting a hit. But Lackey was gone after four innings, having given up three runs and seven hits. Moore was excellent, going eight innings and giving up just two hits.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy went through five relievers in the ninth. None of them was effective. None of them seemed to know what hit them. How would they? It was a truck that no one had seen coming, as least the way this series had played out.

“That’s baseball,’’ Bochy said.

It is. It’s playoff baseball, a strange animal that didn’t look like it was necessarily a friend of the Cubs. A five-game series looked like a dangerous thing that might lend itself to the kind of flukiness that could do in a more talented team. And the Cubs, dramatically, rose above that threat.

What looked like a dead certainty, a Game 5 showdown between the Cubs’ Jon Lester and the Giants’ dangerous Johnny Cueto now becomes some rest time for the Cubs. They might need it emotionally.

The Giants have been lauded for their resilience and rightly so. They had gone 10-0 in elimination games heading into Game 4. But give the Cubs some love for their resilience. They weren’t playing anywhere close to their best baseball, and somehow they found it again, just in the nick of time.