Yasmani Grandal did not sprint out of the box. He knew there was no need, no reason for false hustle, no penalty for the admiration of his own brawn.
He dropped his bat in the dirt and trotted to first base after launching the two-run home run in the fourth inning that propelled the Los Angeles Dodgers to a 6-0 victory over the Chicago Cubs in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series on Tuesday night at Dodger Stadium.
“He’s a strong young man,” manager Dave Roberts said. “And he put a good swing on it.”
The blast represented a line of demarcation in this series, a moment when the tectonic plates of the clash shifted the advantage toward the Dodgers. After a summer spent concentrating on survival, they can now allow themselves to dream. With a 2-1 lead in this series, the team stands two victories away from its first World Series berth since 1988.
Rocked by Chicago’s thunder in Game 1, the Dodgers have responded with the first back-to-back postseason shutouts in franchise history. Rich Hill continued the trend set by Clayton Kershaw in Game 2. Pitching in what he called “the biggest start of my career,” Hill spun six tidy innings as he confined the Cubs to a pair of singles by All-Star third baseman Kris Bryant.
The Dodgers bullied Chicago starter Jake Arrieta for four runs in five innings of work. Corey Seager raked an RBI single in the third. After Grandal went deep, Justin Turner followed up with a solo home run in the sixth. Joc Pederson tacked on an RBI double against reliever Mike Montgomery in the eighth. Pederson stole third base and scored on a groundout by Grandal.
The late rally placed Roberts in an intriguing dilemma. He had already activated closer Kenley Jansen to protect a four-run lead with two outs in the eighth. He elected to stick with Jansen for the final three outs, despite Chicago’s need for half a dozen runs.
“I didn’t want to change the momentum at all,” Roberts said.
Why would he? The Dodgers have bloodied the nose of their opponent, a 103-win club that rollicked through the regular season. Cubs manager Joe Maddon remarked over the weekend that he hoped his players would treat this series like it was being staged in July or August. His team is now two defeats away from thinking about next April.
The Cubs did not record a hit until Bryant singled in the third. But Chicago did extract 30 pitches out of Hill in the second. He walked Anthony Rizzo and, obsessed about the first baseman stealing second, he flung four pickoff throws, only to see Rizzo swipe his fourth base all year. Then he walked Jorge Soler, and a mixup with Grandal led to a passed ball.
Hill stood amid a mess. He extricated himself by striking out shortstop Addison Russell with a curveball, then inducing a groundout by catcher Miguel Montero.
“Yaz did a great job keeping me back on track,” Hill said. “I was just executing pitches after that.”
The Dodgers took the lead when Seager drove in rookie Andrew Toles with a single in the third. The advantage grew an inning later. Josh Reddick chopped a one-out single off Arrieta’s glove. As Arrieta tussled with Pederson, Reddick stole second base. With Grandal at the plate, he decided to go for third, making it tougher for Arrieta to risk a wild pitch on off-speed pitches in the dirt.
With the count full, Arrieta opted for a fastball. The pitch was low, but over the middle. Grandal gave it a hellacious lash. The ball landed just shy of the bleachers in right-center field. It was his first hit since the first game of the postseason.
“He still made a really good pitch down in the zone,” Grandal said. “I was just lucky to put a swing on it, and hit it out.”
Hill protected the lead with care. At one point, he retired eight batters in a row. The streak ended when Bryant singled in the sixth. Hill got utility man Ben Zobrist to pop up for the second out. To the plate came Rizzo, his bat frozen in amber this series, but his eye still capable of patience.
Rizzo ignored a pair of curveballs to start the at-bat, and pulled ahead in the count, 3-1. Hill snapped a curve to pick up a second strike. Then he dropped down, shifting into a sidearm delivery as he fired an 87-mph cutter. Rizzo swung through it, and Hill skipped off the mound.
In the bottom of the inning, the Dodgers benefited from a tactical blunder. An inning earlier, Maddon allowed Arrieta to bat for himself, exposing him to a third turn through the Dodgers batting order. Arrieta completed the fifth without incident. The sixth was different. He lasted just one pitch in the inning. He hung a slider. Turner clobbered it.
The homer brought Maddon to the mound. His timing was less than exquisite. The run was already on the board, and the Dodgers were that much closer to a lead in this series, close enough to dream.
“We’re going to take things one day at a time, and we’ll see what happens,” Grandal said. “We’ll keep attacking and keep playing how we’ve been playing all year.”