When his eyes registered the location of the last pitch, Yu Darvish stepped outside the batter’s box. He stared at the umpire to be sure. It was a fastball from Cubs reliever Carl Edwards Jr. like the three pitches before it, and it was not a strike, like the three before it. In October, good luck can give a man pause.
There was only one thing left to do. Darvish roared and chucked his bat into the grass. The trajectory of the lumber was not majestic. It felt more visceral, the stunned reaction of seeing fortune smile on the Dodgers.
“The story of the night,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, “is Yu Darvish.”
In a postseason packed with bat flips, this one in the sixth inning of a 6-1 victory over the Cubs was the most improbable. With two outs and the bases loaded in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series, Roberts allowed Darvish to bat for himself, even after sending Curtis Granderson to the on-deck circle as a decoy. Roberts decided outs were more precious than runs — and he would be rewarded with both.
The move looked curious in the moment. In hindsight, it served as another chapter in this pristine postseason, one in which the Dodgers own a commanding 3-0 series lead, and reside one victory away from their first World Series since 1988. Roberts manages a club in an enviable position.
Roberts operates with urgency in the playoffs, willing to insert pitchers and pinch-hitters with abandon in search of exploiting any edge. Here he opted for restraint, hoping to extend Darvish deeper into the game. As his team stormed to their sixth consecutive playoff victory, Roberts received the best of both worlds: Darvish took a walk to extend a two-run lead to three, then lasted 6 1/3 innings without permitting another run.
Darvish surrendered a solo homer to the second batter he faced, Kyle Schwarber. He did not allow another Cub to stand on third base. He finished with seven strikeouts. He lasted long enough to avoid exhausting the bullpen.
“He just pitched his game,” pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said. “It was really special.”
As Darvish displayed the strength of his chin, his teammates demonstrated their indefatigability. The lineup swarmed Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks, their nemesis from last October, with homers by Andre Ethier and Chris Taylor, then milked two runs out of Joe Maddon’s tinderbox bullpen in the eighth.
Hendricks took the mound with a lead. Darvish had given up two hits in his first postseason start as a Dodger. He allowed three in Tuesday’s first inning. Schwarber lifted a thigh-high cutter into the left-field bleachers for a solo shot. The blast gave away the strength of the wind as it carried out of the ballpark: The ball would be flying. A pair of well-struck singles followed, though Darvish escaped with a pair of strikeouts.
For the third game in a row, the Cubs scored first. An answer arrived in the top of the second. Hendricks tested Ethier with an 87-mph sinker, and the veteran ripped a tying homer over the ivy in right field.
“Every time they get something, it’s about how we can answer,” Ethier said. “Just trying to keep them on their heels as much as possible.”
Hendricks relies on generating outs on the ground. The Dodgers intended to hunt elevated fastballs, as Ethier did in the second and Taylor did in the third. Taylor crushed a 3-1, 89-mph two-seamer beyond the fence in center to put the Dodgers ahead.
In the top of the fifth, Taylor delivered a run off Hendricks. After a double by Joc Pederson, Taylor stung an 89-mph sinker past third base for an RBI triple to continue his spectacular, surprising season.
“To say I expected this to happen, I’d be lying,” Taylor said.
Hendricks stumbled into the sixth. A Dodgers rally started with an error by third baseman Kris Bryant, who fumbled a grounder off Yasiel Puig’s bat. Ethier singled up the middle. Maddon had seen enough. Hendricks departed and into the fray came Edwards.
The first round of these playoffs was not kind to Edwards. He pitched in all five games against Washington. He issued four walks. He gave up six runs. His ERA was 23.14. He rebounded to collect four outs Sunday against the Dodgers, which earned him a chance to douse this blaze.
Edwards did not crumble immediately. A walk by Austin Barnes loaded the bases, but a flyout by Pederson wasn’t deep enough to allow Puig to tag.
That forced Roberts’ hands. Granderson returned to the dugout. Darvish grabbed a bat, with little instruction from his manager.
Darvish did not think he could manage a hit but tried his best to seem menacing. He crowded the plate and feigned a bunt attempt as Edwards opted for a first-pitch fastball. It sailed high. A second fastball rose even higher. From behind the plate, catcher Willson Contreras barked at Edwards.
The jitteriness forced Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio out of his dugout. His message did not take. The crowd groaned when Edwards fired a third fastball outside the zone. By the fourth, there was disbelief. Edwards missed outside. Darvish roared and flipped his bat. “I was really happy,” Darvish said.
Darvish returned for the bottom of the sixth and pitched around a leadoff single by first baseman Anthony Rizzo. Darvish pumped his fist when Taylor turned a 6-3 double play. After striking out shortstop Addison Russell to start the seventh, Darvish was done. His teammates would handle the rest.
Tony Watson took care of the last two outs of the seventh inning, and Brandon Morrow worked the eighth. Ross Stripling gave up two hits in the ninth, but Kenley Jansen got the final three outs, striking out two.
“He put us in a great spot,” Roberts said of Darvish. “We just fed off him tonight.”