Chicago Cubs Stun San Francisco Giants with four-run Rally in Ninth to Close Out NL Division Series
SAN FRANCISCO — If reminders of what this season is about were necessary, if we needed to identify again those who were preordained to be its central characters, we got them Tuesday night. The San Francisco Giants were prepared to hijack this post-season, just as they had done every other year dating back to the start of the decade.
We were going to read more about the heroics of Matt Moore and his eight innings of two-hit, 10-strikeout ball. We were going to learn about Conor Gillaspie, who cranked out four more hits and was trying on the costume reserved each post-season for the Giants’ latest unknown hero. And we were going to believe that the Giants would never face elimination and actually lose.
But that had us looking too far outside the box. The box, in 2016, contains the Chicago Cubs, baseball’s best team. And baseball’s best team responded to the defibrillator Tuesday night, using an unlikely and enthralling ninth-inning comeback to snatch a 6-5 victory in Game 4 of their National League Division Series, finally inducing the last breath from a Giants team that always seemed to have one more.
If the Cubs go on to win the World Series — and we are a country mile from that — this game will be cited. For eight innings, they got next to nothing off of Moore. For eight innings, San Francisco celebrated runs scored by Gillaspie and his pesky buddy Joe Panik, the co-heroes of the Giants’ Game 3 victory.
But on Tuesday, two truths bubbled to the top of this cauldron. The Giants’ bullpen has flat-out stunk in some of the season’s most critical moments. And the Cubs were baseball’s best team for a reason.
Consider the Cubs’ strengths, of which there are many. They placed in the top three in baseball in runs scored, on-base percentage, on-base-plus-slugging percentage, earned run average and the advanced fielding metric of defensive runs saved. Translated, for non-baseball nerds: They can hit, pitch and defend better than almost any team in the game. It is a formula that won them 103 games, eight more than the next-best teams, Washington and Texas.
In this series, it won them three more. But barely.
The Cubs’ comeback began when they trailed 5-2, when they had managed just those two hits off Moore, only David Ross’s solo homer in the third and Anthony Rizzo’s single in the fourth. But after eight innings, after he had prevented the Cubs from ever having two men on base in one frame and had thrown 120 pitches, Moore was done. He had done his job and then some. He had effectively saved the Giants’ season.
But San Francisco’s struggles in the second half of the season — and they were mighty — were highlighted by the struggles of its bullpen. In Game 3, the Giants carried a two-run lead into the ninth, and manager Bruce Bochy called on Sergio Romo to close out the game. Romo had settled the closer spot for the Giants over the latter part of September. But Monday, with a shot to step on the Cubs, he gave up Kris Bryant’s two-run homer that tied the game.
The Giants won that game in 13 innings, but that victory didn’t solve the closer equation. Right now, San Francisco doesn’t have a pitcher who Bochy will just stick in the game automatically to get the final three outs.
So Tuesday night, he went with matchups. First came right-hander Derek Law to face the right-handed hitting Bryant. Law is an excitable 26-year-old rookie who pitched two scoreless innings Monday night. But on Tuesday, Bryant singled to left.
That was a start, and considering what the Cubs had endured against Moore, it amounted to a rally. Bochy immediately emerged from the dugout and called for Javier Lopez, his veteran lefty and a stalwart of Giants World Series winners past, to face the left-handed-hitting Rizzo, the No. 3 man. Rizzo is one of the best hitters in the National League, but his single off Moore was his first of the post-season. He came into the at-bat 0 for 13.
And when Lopez missed with a 3-2 fastball, Rizzo walked.
Here, finally, the Cubs had something going. Bochy reached into his bag again, and this time came up with Romo to face the switch-hitting Ben Zobrist. And here, AT&T Park, which had already been making appointments to gather round and watch Game 5 Thursday night from Chicago, grew nervous. It didn’t take long. Batting left-handed, Zobrist ripped Romo’s 3-1 fastball into right field. Bryant scored. Rizzo took third. The Cubs had the tying runs in scoring position and no one out.
With that, Bochy looked at Romo and decided again he had had enough. With left-handed pinch hitter Chris Coghlan announced, Bochy turned to Will Smith, a trade-deadline acquisition from Milwaukee, and a left-hander. But Cubs manager Joe Maddon countered with Willson Contreras, and the matchup again favored Chicago.
Suddenly, all the good work the Giants did was unraveling. Contreras smacked a single up the middle. Rizzo scored. Zobrist scored.
The Cubs were tied.
That wasn’t enough. Though Jason Heyward laid down a poor bunt against Smith, Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford threw the ball away trying to turn a double play. That left Heyward as the lead run, still in scoring position. And when right-hander Hunter Strickland came in, and Javier Baez singled Heyward home anyway, the Cubs had their 106th victory of the season — few as improbable, none as meaningful.
The Giants had previously won 10 straight games in which they faced elimination, dating back to 2012. Now they are eliminated in absolutely absurd fashion.