Remembering October: NLCS Game 3

October 18, 2016

2016 National League Championship Series Game 3: Cubs vs. Dodgers at Dodger Stadium

In a former life, Rich Hill was a promising young pitcher for the Cubs. He got the start in Game 3 of the 2007 NLDS against the Diamondbacks and gave up three runs in three innings as Arizona finished off the series sweep. After that, he only made five starts for the Cubs in 2008 before making eight major league stops and many more minor league stops in between.

At 36, Hill had the best year of his career in 2016, splitting time between the Athletics and Dodgers. Still, he was about as unlikely of a playoff starter as we could possibly see. And for the Cubs, he represented a ghost of years past as their National League Championship Series with the Dodgers shifted to the West Coast for Game 3, tied up at one game each.

Given the Cubs’ inconsistent offense so far this postseason, including a rough night in Game 2 against Clayton Kershaw, Joe Maddon shook up the lineup a little bit. Anthony Rizzo and Ben Zobrist, normally the 3-4 hitters in the lineup, switched places. Miguel Montero, the Game 1 hero but otherwise forgotten man in the catching mix, got a start, as did Jorge Soler, who had a great 2015 postseason but was basically a nonfactor for the majority of the season. Would the changes work?

Um… nope.

Through six innings, the offense looked clueless against Hill. By far their best chance was in the second inning, when Rizzo and Soler drew walks and advanced on a passed ball by Yasmani Grandal to set up second and third with only one away. But Addison Russell struck out and Montero grounded out to end the threat. After that, one inning after another, the Cubs’ offense went quietly.

Meanwhile, Jake Arrieta again got the Game 3 start in this series and was far from dominant. He lasted five innings and, ironically, didn’t walk anyone after having trouble with command for much of the season. But after giving up an RBI hit to Corey Seager in the third and a two-run homer to Yasmani Grandal in the fourth, he was doomed to take the loss.

Maddon pulled Arrieta after he gave up a home run to Justin Turner to lead off the sixth. The Dodgers have a clip of Animal from “The Muppets” chanting “Justin!” over and over that they play on their videoboard after Turner does something big. The fans at Dodger Stadium joined in and seemed to love it, but I was getting pretty annoyed. For me, it was certainly the lowest point of the entire season.

The Cubs offense did nothing against the Dodgers’ bullpen over the final three innings. Manager Dave Roberts used closer Kenley Jansen to get the last four outs, probably an unnecessary move given how hapless the Cubs’ offense looked all night even though the Dodgers were only up by four at the time he came into the game. Not that it mattered, but Mike Montgomery gave up two more runs in the eighth to make the final score 6-0.

As I’ve been writing this series, I’ve had a lot to say when discussing the Cubs’ wins. But despite all the great memories from this past October, this was a pretty forgettable game. Games like this happen to every team, but they really hurt in the postseason because of the magnitude of each game. Suddenly, the Cubs would have to win Game 4 the following night or they would be facing elimination. Browsing around the internet after the game, fans everywhere were in full panic mode. Is this team going to let us down again?

No, the series was not over. But I think a lot of Cubs fans were getting nervous because we haven’t been in this situation all year and we weren’t quite sure what to make of it. The team was in first place since the first week of the season and never looked back. For the first time in 2016, the Cubs found themselves in a trailing situation. How would they respond?

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.