John Smoltz knows a thing or two about big moments in October baseball, to say the least. The Hall of Famer-turned-commentator set the table for the viewing audience in the bottom of the fourth inning last night by basically saying that the Cubs had to score in that frame or they’d be in serious trouble.
Just moments after Smoltz finished his clairvoyant thought, Kris Bryant did exactly what the baseball oracle implored the Cubs to do.
Trevor Bauer had been using his steady diet of two-seamers and four-seamers to mow through Chicago’s offense for the first three innings, and it appeared that he was ready, willing, and able to sit on the one-run lead that Jose Ramirez’s second-inning dinger had provided him.
This is Trevor Bauer at his best, working quickly, two-seamer that tails to the right against lefties, curveball placed wherever he wants.
— Zack Meisel (@ZackMeisel) October 31, 2016
Unfortunately for Bauer, Bryant ended up putting the first two-seamer he saw on the night into the basket in left-center field. The very next pitch that Bauer threw was also a two-seamer, and it got barrelled as well. This one didn’t land in the basket or in those famed bleachers, but Anthony Rizzo did send it to frolic in the ivy for a double.
From that point forward the Cubs had a stew going, and after Ben Zobrist stirred the pot with a single that put runners on the corners, Addison Russell gave the crowd at Wrigley Field a taste of the delicious soup that is a lead at home during the World Series. His soft bouncer to third gave Ramirez a tough decision to make in a split-second: "Should I get the out at home or the runner at first?" He got neither, and the Cubs took the lead as Wrigleyville truly came to life for the first time all weekend.
Ramirez was called upon again for defensive measures, but this time all he could do was pick up the remains of Javy Baez’s bunt after it died a slow death in the infield. The sentimental hero of the night came up to bat next, and David Ross’ sacrifice fly brought in Zobrist for the third and ultimately decisive run of the game.
The third run ended up standing up as the winner for Chicago because Joe Maddon carried on with this postseason’s hottest trend–the practice of actually using your best reliever in crucial high-leverage situations. After Carl Edwards Jr. faced two hitters and let one of them on base, Maddon decided that it was time to stop messing around with this one-run lead and bring in the flamethrower. So in came Aroldis Chapman, and he stayed in for 2.2 innings and a season-high 42 pitches.
It shouldn’t come as any shock that the second pitch Chapman threw last night hit triple digits on the radar gun. The impressive part is that the ninth-inning specialist was able to keep his fastball in the upper 90s/low 100s for the duration of his eight-out save. He put a 101 mph heater past Francisco Lindor to end the eighth inning, and then proceeded to finish off Jose Ramirez in the ninth inning with three consecutive 100 mph fastballs in order to move the series back to Cleveland.
Back in the second inning, Anthony Rizzo and David Ross combined in foul territory for the first time to bring football’s tip drill to baseball. Their second combination wasn’t as stylish, so let’s focus on this one instead. This is also proof that no matter how unique a moment seem be in baseball, there’s a good chance that it’s been done before. In this case, a very similar play happened 36 years ago.
As Joe Buck noted in the clip above, that was the second-to-last out of the 1980 World Series that eventually went Philadelphia’s way. The Cubs still have two games worth of outs to get in Cleveland if they’re going to break the century-long title drought of theirs, so you can’t exactly say that this repeat of history is a good omen for Chicago. It definitely doesn’t hurt to have a tiny bit of World Series history resurrecting itself in your favor, though.
It also doesn’t hurt to have a send-off like this ahead of the final game (or two) of the season.