Cubs start countdown with 1-0 win over Giants in opener: 10 to go
One game. One run. One victory for the Cubs.
“So 10 more wins,” Kris Bryant said.
Even as they opened the playoffs with a tense, taut game decided on a homer in the bottom of the eighth Friday night at Wrigley Field, the Cubs kept their gaze fixed firmly on the postseason horizon,
“I had a big hit today,” said Javy Baez, whose one-out basket shot to left in the eighth off Johnny Cueto lifted Jon Lester and the Cubs to a 1-0 victory over the Giants.
“But we’ve got win 10 more games.”
Certainly the Cubs enjoyed the moment, not only with their regular post-win party-room event, but also with a bat flip from Baez after launching the high fly ball that left fielder Angel Pagan was camped underneath until the basket caught it instead.
“I thought I hit it really good. I thought it was way farther than that,” said Baez of the ball into a 10-mph headwind. “It barely went out, but I still will take it. I didn’t mean to show anybody up. But it was a big hit for us.”
Lester outdueled Cueto for eight innings in the opener of a series that for at least one night delivered on its promise of dominant starting pitching and low-scoring games.
He put the leadoff man on in the first three innings and pitched out of a second-and-third, two-out jam in the fourth. But he retired the final 13 he faced.
Cueto retired the first 10 he faced and allowed three hits in the eight-inning complete game.
“That’s classic playoff baseball in the National League right there,” said catcher David Ross – who helped set a defensive tone in the first by throwing out Gorkys Hernandez trying to steal after he’d led off the game with a bunt single. “There was going to be good pitching; we knew that coming in. That’s a really good team.
“We know they’re good, and we’ve got a lot of work left to do.”
This one didn’t get a lot easier even after the home run, especially after closer Aroldis Chapman gave up a two-out double to Buster Posey before retiring the dangerous Hunter Pence to end the game.
“That’s just the beginning of the series,” said Lester, a two-time World Series champion making his 15th postseason start. “We’re going to be in for it.”
Of course, it’s an even-numbered year against the Giants (who won in 2010, 2012 and 2014).
“They’ve been on that big stage and succeeded,” Ross said. “That’s a lot of rings in that clubhouse.”
But the Cubs had their 103-win success coming into the game, too.
And Lester and Ross have three rings between them.
“Both sides really played an equal kind of a game,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “Cueto was outstanding. Jon Lester was outstanding. The defenses played. It was a classic kind of an old-school baseball game.”
Classic enough that both teams had run-prevention, defensive lineups in the field – including Giants second-baseman Kelby Tomlinson, who robbed the Cubs of hits twice with diving plays, including an inning-ender in the fourth on Ben Zobrist that saved a run.
And including Baez, the fielding ace who was at second as much for his glove as anything else he might offer from the seventh spot in the order.
“Javy’s more than a heavy defensive guy,” Ross said. “He’s a great defender, but he’s a great player.”
Often overlooked in all the recent hype about his Gold Glove-caliber versatility is the fact he was the Cubs’ top-ranked prospect two years ago, a power-hitting No. 9 overall pick from the 2011 draft.
“Javy’s been doing that all year for us,” said Ross, bringing up his walkoff homer to beat the Nationals in May. “It’s nice for that to come through in the playoffs. It doesn’t always have to be the MVP candidate [getting the big hit].
“Javy’s been a superstar for us all year.”