It was supposed to be a pitchers’ duel, and at the very beginning, there was a hint of that sheen. Game 3 looked early on like the sort of tight contest that perhaps would cause you to squint hard, watching for tiny hairline cracks to appear in each ace’s performance.
Jake Arrieta’s sinker and slider were dancing with a combination of movement and velocity he hadn’t commanded in a little while, and he wielded them to the effect of three fanned in the first. But you had to wonder: would the 21 pitches required of him prove too high a cost? Then, Addison Russell and Javier Baez reached base against a determined Madison Bumgarner in the second, working their way back from 0-2 counts. This seemed to portend that, through patience, the Cubs could chase the Giants lefty much earlier than the ninth inning this time out, right?
Toss those questions out. This was not a game of subtleties which culminated in the San Francisco Giants winning their 10th straight elimination game, tipping the series to 2-1. It was a wild evening of improbabilities and chaos.
A tiny crack became a fracture, which abruptly opened into a chasm in the night’s first defining moment, a soaring left-field home run off Bumgarner by none other than Arrieta, scoring Russell and Baez to put the Cubs up 3-0 and put to pasture every notion that this would be a normal game. In what has felt like an outright declaration of war against the DH, Cubs pitchers at that point were responsible for six of their team’s nine Division Series runs.
This did serve to highlight just how unproductive the Cubs’ stacked offense had been and would continue to be. Arrieta’s homer, solely responsible for the Cubs’ scoreboard presence, stood as a monument to that absurdity when the Giants got one back in the third on a Buster Posey single to score Denard Span. It stood after Bumgarner threw his final pitch in the fifth and after Brandon Belt’s sacrifice fly in the bottom half of that same inning put San Francisco within one.
Aroldis Chapman was added to the Cubs' roster ahead of the trade deadline with just this kind of high-stakes October baseball in mind. Less typical was the fact that Joe Maddon called on him in the eighth inning for six outs after Pedro Strop, Travis Wood, and Hector Rondon combined for just three outs and five batters faced starting in the seventh.
Even more unlikely was that budding folk hero Conor Gillaspie, a lefty, grabbed a triple off Chapman which scored both Belt and Posey, the inherited baserunners. It wasn’t a bad pitch on Chapman’s part either, a 102 mph fastball that plenty have struggled with. Gillaspie would go on to score on a Brandon Crawford double, and, paired with wavering control, the halo of triple-digit numbers flashing on the scoreboard wasn’t enough to save Chapman from getting the hook this time. It was left to Justin Grimm to close out the inning and deliver his team into the ninth down 5-3.
Unlike the Giants, the Cubs of 2016 had in fact won a handful of games in which they trailed after eight. This kind of comeback became a distinct and glimmering possibility when Kris Bryant, in resplendent MVP form, nailed a two-run homer off Sergio Romo in the ninth to score Dexter Fowler, who’d reached on a walk. The game stood at 5-5, and so it remained until Joe Panik’s RBI double four innings later in the 13th drove home Crawford.
Both the Giants' and Cubs’ bullpens have been sources of weakness, on top of the natural fact that no one wants to find themselves in this sort of game situation. For the Giants, it was Romo, Will Smith, and rookie Ty Blach guiding them through those extra frames. For the Cubs, it was Mike Montgomery. Just Mike Montgomery, who was only acquired from the Mariners midseason, who acted as a temporary starter to give the Cubs' rotation extra second-half rest, who may very well form part of the Cubs’ 2017 rotation, if you can allow yourself to think that far in advance. Mike Montgomery, who kept the Cubs in this game for four innings.
It’s not Montgomery who the Cubs can point to as the reason for this loss, despite his surrendering the actual losing runs. They could point to some earlier managerial moves, such as burning Jason Heyward’s defensive availability by using him as a pinch-hitter (though Albert Almora Jr. did impress in the outfield) or running through relief arms too quickly. They should point to their absent offense, which has been far from the juggernaut it was during the regular season. While Bryant found his stroke Monday night and Baez continues to reach base, Anthony Rizzo was 0-6 on the evening, Russell remains largely unproductive, and Jorge Soler failed to make decent contact in his series debut.