With baserunners at a premium Sunday night, Chicago Cubs slugger Anthony Rizzo was ready to swing at a 3-0 pitch from Clayton Kershaw when he led off the seventh inning.
But the Dodgers’ iron-man ace knew better, as he bounced the next pitch into the dirt for a walk and went on to complete seven innings in a 1-0 masterpiece as the Dodgers evened the best-of-seven National League Championship Series at one game apiece.
“We just faced the best pitcher on the planet,” Rizzo said, summing up the game.
Kershaw pitched 4 2/3 perfect innings before finishing with seven innings of two-hit ball. He showed no signs of wearing down after throwing 110 pitches to win Tuesday’s game and seven pitches Thursday to close out the deciding game of the NL Division Series over the Washington Nationals.
“That’s why he has been the best left-hander in the game for the last five or six years,” veteran catcher Miguel Montero said.
Montero was unable to duplicate the heroics of Saturday night’s grand slam as Kenley Jansen struck him out to end the eighth. Jansen earned the two-inning save after throwing 51 pitches Thursday.
Unfortunately for the Cubs, Kershaw represented a lesson in tough love if they’re going to advance to the World Series. They very well could face Kershaw again after they survived Johnny Cueto and Madison Bumgarner in the division series.
Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks tied his season high with four walks and was pulled after throwing 91 pitches in 5 1/3 innings. But his only real flaw was the home run he gave up to Adrian Gonzalez leading off the second inning.
Hendricks labored during a 27-pitch third inning in which he issued two walks with two outs, but he did gain some redemption when he struck out Gonzalez to end the threat.
Hendricks mainly was a victim of a lack of run support, thanks to Kershaw and Jansen.
It wasn’t certain whether the Cubs’ buses would drive past the enlarged doughnut replica in front of the locally famous Randy’s Donuts located one mile from where the Cubs were scheduled to land early Monday morning at Los Angeles International Airport.
If so, it would serve as a reminder of the gigantic hole in the middle of their lineup, with Rizzo, Ben Zobrist and Addison Russell a combined 5-for-67 (.075) in the postseason.
Rizzo downplayed the possibility he and his teammates are pressing. The Cubs swung at pitches early in the count so they wouldn’t fall behind, but Kershaw needed only 40 pitches through the first four innings and finished with only 84.
“I’m trying to get six, seven, eight hits at one time,” Rizzo said. “I’ve done that before in my career, and it doesn’t work. You go about the process and keep grinding and battling.”
Perhaps the only minor tweak to the Cubs lineup before Tuesday night’s Game 3 could be moving Javier Baez to shortstop, returning Zobrist to second base and inserting Jorge Soler, Willson Contreras or Albert Almora Jr. in left field against left-hander Rich Hill.
Maddon made a few changes in the lineup for Game 2 on Sunday night, but the fifth spot still belonged to Russell, who went 0-for-3 and is now 1-for-22 in the postseason.
Maddon, figuring on a low-scoring game, started left-handed-hitting right fielder Jason Heyward because of his Gold Glove-caliber defense despite Heyward’s 0-for-4 lifetime mark against Kershaw.
Heyward was dropped from sixth to eighth in the lineup, but he came up once at a critical time. Kershaw retired the first 14 batters until Baez ended the perfect-game bid with a single up to the middle, and Contreras followed with another hit.
But the burgeoning rally wilted when Heyward hit a feeble foul pop to third baseman Justin Turner to end the threat. Heyward is now 2-for-18 in the postseason.