Justin Turner wended through the ground-floor maze of this 103-year-old ballpark, walking across the green carpet that leads into the visitors’ batting cage at Wrigley Field. A cluster of reporters awaited him after a 3-2 defeat to the Chicago Cubs in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series as the Dodgers struck out at a chance to sweep their way into their first World Series since 1988.
Turner did not make an out Wednesday. He bashed one of his team’s two home runs, a gargantuan blast off Cubs closer Wade Davis in the eighth inning. It was not enough. The game ended an inning later with Turner standing in the on-deck circle. By the time he returned to the dugout, the strains of “Go Cubs Go” rained down onto the field from the lungs of 42,195 fans, the theme song of a defending champion granted another day before winter.
“They’re not just going to roll over and hand it to us,” Turner said. “We’ve got to go out and prepare and play hard, and hopefully get a better result tomorrow.”
On the precipice of history, the Dodgers stumbled.
Alex Wood could not contain Cubs second baseman Javier Baez, the hitters could not solve Cubs starting pitcher Jake Arrieta and they could not unseat Davis. For the first time this series, the absence of injured shortstop Corey Seager looked glaring. The offense stranded nine runners.
Baez drilled a pair of solo home runs off Wood, who gave up three in all. Arrieta walked five and hit a batter but struck out nine in 62/3 innings. It was the lengthiest, most effective outing by a starting pitcher against the Dodgers in this postseason. Davis survived a taxing eighth and induced a game-ending double play by Cody Bellinger in the ninth.
The odds still reside heavily in the Dodgers’ favor. They hold a 3-1 lead. Davis needed 48 pitches to collect six outs, a workload that could limit his availability for Game 5. And the Dodgers will counter with ace Clayton Kershaw.
As the players filtered into the batting cage for interviews, the presence of Kershaw acted as a salve against despair, despite his recent proclivity for surrendering home runs.
“Good thing,” Bellinger said, “we’ve got Kershaw going tomorrow.”
They will need him, as he duels with Cubs left-handed pitcher Jose Quintana. Both men gave up two runs in five innings in Game 1. The Dodgers do not care to contemplate the possibility of a Game 6 in Los Angeles, and the specter of another bout with Cubs ace Jon Lester.
They could have taken care of business Wednesday. The atmo-sphere felt ripe for a coronation. The Cubs took pains to relay their pregame calm. Cubs manager Joe Maddon even impersonated Hamlet.
“It’s not about panic or not panic,” Maddon said. “It’s about hitting or not hitting. That’s the question, Mr. Shakespeare.”
In Wood, Chicago faced someone who had not pitched in three weeks, kept on ice after the first-round sweep. After earning a spot on the All-Star team, Wood regressed in the second half. He yielded 13 homers in 12 starts. His fastball velocity decreased. He posted a 4.03 earned-run average in September.
The Cubs hammered two second-inning homers. Chicago catcher Willson Contreras boomed a 91-mph fastball beyond the left-field bleachers. Contreras gazed at the drive as it crashed into the Vienna Beef sign next to the scoreboard.
It was estimated at 491 feet, the longest home run in the postseason.
“He hit it pretty far,” Wood said. “If you’re going to admire one, that’s a good one to admire.”
One out later, Baez broke through for his first hit of the postseason by smoking a curveball deep to left, giving the Cubs a 2-0 lead. The Dodgers formulated a response in the top of the third, a solo homer from Bellinger.
All five runs Wednesday occurred on bases-empty blasts. Neither team could manufacture offense. The Cubs simply dropped more bombs. Baez tagged Wood again in the fifth on a low changeup.
The lead was just large enough for Arrieta. He bulled through the Dodgers lineup with reckless abandon, aided by the feeble swings of his guests.
Andre Ethier, making his second consecutive start in left field, struck out with two runners aboard to end the first. Chase Utley ended the fourth by grounding into a double play. Ethier and Curtis Granderson both struck out with a man on first in the sixth. The flammable Cubs bullpen ended a Dodgers threat in the seventh when Bellinger flied out against left-hander Brian Duensing.
Turner awaited as the eighth began. Maddon chose to use Davis for the first time this series. Turner greeted Davis by smashing a fastball off the left-field scoreboard. The crowd sounded stricken, a feeling only worsened after a walk by Puig. Davis steadied himself as he tried to escape.
After Ethier popped up, Granderson swung at a 2-2 curveball in the dirt. He did not appear to make contact with the pitch, though he would insist otherwise after the game, but the umpires afforded him an extra strike.
The decision enraged Maddon. He screamed long enough to merit an ejection, but the point was soon moot. Granderson struck out on the next pitch, his fourth strikeout of the night. A walk by Yasmani Grandal afforded Utley the opportunity to wave at a 96-mph fastball for the third out.
It took Davis 34 pitches to finish the inning. The ninth appeared treacherous, but he defused the situation. He struck out pinch-hitter Austin Barnes on three pitches, all looking. He walked Chris Taylor, before Bellinger whacked a fastball on the ground to Baez. The Cubs turned two. The Dodgers fell short.
The champions lived another day. The Dodgers would need another to snatch away the National League crown.
“I wouldn’t say the pressure is on us,” Roberts said. “We’re in a pretty good spot.”