Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts made all the right moves in the Division Series. Sticking with Joe Blanton in the NL Championship Series opener backfired.
Blanton gave up a tiebreaking grand slam to pinch-hitter Miguel Montero and a homer to Dexter Fowler on consecutive pitches in the eighth inning Saturday night, dooming the Dodgers to an 8-4 loss against the Chicago Cubs.
Roberts was praised for his aggressive pitching moves in the Game 5 clincher at Washington, where closer Kenley Jansen was summoned in the seventh and ace starter Clayton Kershaw earned the save.
But against the Cubs, a big decision backfired.
Adrian Gonzalez had just tied the score with a two-out, two-run single on one of the 100 mph-plus darts from Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman.
Blanton relieved to start the eighth and gave up Ben Zobrist’s leadoff double. Addison Russell grounded to third, and Roberts had Blanton intentionally walk left-handed-hitting Jason Heyward to bring up righty Javier Baez for a righty-against-righty matchup.
“You’ve got to walk Heyward with the open base,” Roberts said.
Baez flied to right. Lefty Chris Coghlan hit for righty David Ross, and Roberts decided to intentionally walk him to load the bases — bringing up Chapman’s spot in the batting order.
“Obviously, I’m looking at the card and I see Chapman’s still in the game,” Roberts said. “I felt good for us to win the game, if we could get out of that inning.”
And it just didn’t work out. But it was – our guys fought. It was a well-played game.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon responded by sending up the left-handed-hitting Montero. Roberts chose to stick with Blanton — Chicago would have batted righty Willson Contreras if the Dodgers brought in a lefty.
“I trust Joe. I’ve trusted him all year long. He’s been great for us, and he got ahead 0-2 and left a pitch up,” Roberts said. “It just didn’t work out. But it was — our guys fought. It was a well-played game.”
Montero fouled off a slider and swung past another. Blanton came back with yet another slider on the 0-2 pitch. Montero drove it about halfway up the right-field bleachers.
“Bases loaded, I was going to go with my strength,” Blanton said. “I faced him earlier in the year. I kind of did the same thing and had success. Got ahead and tried to bury a slider and I didn’t and got lucky on that one, actually. Probably the same pitch as the next one, or very close. Both backup sliders. Just didn’t execute. Especially 0-2, can’t do that in that situation.”
Montero took a curtain call, and the crowd was still roaring when Fowler sent a hanging curveball 362 feet to right.
Kershaw will try to tie the best-of-seven series Sunday night for the Dodgers, though the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner carried a heavy load in the Division Series against Washington. He pitched in all three Dodgers wins and earned a two-out save in the decisive Game 5 on Thursday.
That was one of several unconventional moves by Roberts, who pushed Jansen to a career-high 51 pitches before Kershaw came to the rescue.
“We’ll be ready tomorrow,” Gonzalez said. “This game gave us a lot of confidence. We know we can beat them.”
The Dodgers were playing from behind most of the night.
Kenta Maeda gave up three runs and four hits before pinch-hitter Andre Ethier hit a solo homer batting for the pitcher in the fifth.
Los Angeles managed just one run and four hits in six innings against Jon Lester before tying it in the eighth.
Trailing 3-1, the Dodgers loaded the bases with none out when Andrew Toles beat Kris Bryant to third after he fielded Justin Turner’s infield single.
Chapman came in to relieve Pedro Strop and struck out Corey Seager and Yasiel Puig before Gonzalez lined a 102 mph fastball up the middle.
“If it was a sloppy game and we didn’t play or compete, you get a little bit more of a sour face,” Roberts said. “But we played hard. We played well. And we do have Kersh going tomorrow, so that’s a good thing.”