Remembering October: NLCS Game 2

October 16, 2016

2016 National League Championship Series Game 2: Dodgers vs. Cubs at Wrigley Field

For the Cubs, Game 1 of the NLCS went according to plan – sort of. The home team grabbed an early lead but let the Dodgers get back into the game. However, a five-run eighth inning allowed the Cubs to pull away late. Game 2 would be critical, as the Cubs would either take a two-games-to-none lead or lose the series lead as the two teams headed to Los Angeles for the next three games.

Clayton Kershaw would be the Dodgers’ Game 2 starter, and in case you didn’t figure it out from the Fox broadcasters’ constant praise of him, he’s generally considered to be the game’s best pitcher. He had a rough outing in his last start, Game 4 of the NLDS against the Nationals, and has not been good in the postseason throughout his career. But he partially overcame his poor playoff reputation by earning the save in the Dodgers’ dramatic Game 5 series-clinching victory.

Kyle Hendricks would get the Game 2 start for the Cubs. He was knocked out of his Game 2 NLDS start after being struck by a line drive but appeared to be ready to go for this one. Despite Kershaw’s past October struggles, we had to assume that Hendricks would have to pitch the game of his life to lead his team to victory.

I won’t spend as much time recapping this game as I have with other games in this essay series so far, because there just isn’t that much to say about it. There were only five combined hits in this game, which lasted two hours and 45 minutes – amazing considering the snail’s pace that most postseason games are played at these days.

After an uneventful first inning, the veteran Adrian Gonzalez, who tied the game for the Dodgers with a two-run single in the eighth inning the night before, took a 1-0 Hendricks pitch and launched it to center for a home run to lead off the second. We were hopeful that Kershaw would again be vulnerable and that the Cubs would be able to easily overcome this deficit, but through the first few innings it was clear that Kershaw was on top of his game. They’d have to hope he makes a mistake or two and work hard to scratch across any runs.

Hendricks was also strong and kept the Cubs in the game, not allowing any other runs through five. But the Cubs could do absolutely nothing against Kershaw. They got their only two hits off him in the fifth, when Javier Baez and Willson Contreras both singled with two outs. But Jason Heyward fouled out on an 0-1 count to end any small hope of scoring in that inning.

In the sixth, with one out, Hendricks walked Gonzalez then gave up a single to Josh Reddick, and Joe Maddon pulled him. Though he was at 91 pitches, it wouldn’t be the last time this postseason that fans would question whether Maddon had too quick of a hook for the regular season ERA leader. Carl Edwards, Jr. came in and got Joc Pederson to ground into a double play to end the inning, and the Cubs bullpen kept the Dodgers in check the rest of the night.

But again, the Cubs’ offense never even came close to scoring. Kershaw left after seven innings, but star closer Kenley Jansen was just as dominant over the final two innings. Anthony Rizzo, struggling in the postseason to this point, came up with two outs in the ninth and had a chance to be a hero – but instead, on the first pitch he hit a soft line drive to second that was caught. Wrigley Field was almost silent as the Dodgers celebrated a Game 2 victory.

To an objective observer, this was a great game to watch. But for Cubs fans, it was frustrating to only give up a solo home run and lose not only the game, but homefield advantage in the series. We have to give a lot of credit to the Dodgers at this point, both for showing a lot of fight in their Game 1 loss and for coming through for a hard fought victory in this one. It looks like we have a series on our hands.

Brian Johnston is the author of the book The Art of Being a Baseball Fan, his story of following the 2015 Chicago Cubs, available on Amazon. He lives in St. Joseph, Michigan with his wife and two children.