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 his two-run homer in the fourth inning of a 6-0 victory for the Dodgers over the Cubs in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series 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, the group can now allow itself 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 their 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 Cubs starter Jake Arrieta, charging him with 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 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 opponents, a 103-win club that rollicked through the regular season. Cubs Manager Joe Maddon remarked over the weekend that he hoped his team would treat this series like it was staged in July or August. His team is now two defeats away from thinking about next April.
To secure the lead, the Dodgers stood up to a man who once embarrassed them in this ballpark. Arrieta had not started at Dodger Stadium since Aug. 30, 2015, the night he pitched the 15th no-hitter in Cubs franchise history. A few months later, he swooped in front of Kershaw and Zack Greinke to win the National League Cy Young award.
Arrieta resembled a human in 2016. In May, the Dodgers ended a 23-game streak in which the Cubs won each time Arrieta started. He produced a 4.20 earned-run average during the final three months of the season. He found himself relegated to the No. 3 position in his team’s rotation for October.
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 two batters. Obsessed with first baseman Anthony Rizzo’s threat to steal second, he flung four pickoff throws, only to see Rizzo swipe only his fourth base of the year. A mix-up 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.”
Disgusted with the traffic, Hill flung his glove onto the bench when he reached the dugout. He was frustrated with his inability to throw his curves for strikes, but Grandal and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt counseled him to stick with the pitch.
Hill simmers on the mound. His face cannot hide his intensity. When a swarm of bugs bothered him on Tuesday, he swatted at the insects and swore.
“When he doesn’t throw a pitch that he likes, doesn’t execute it the way he wants to, he gets fired up out there,” Turner said. “And when he’s getting fired up, we love it. We all get a little laugh out of it, but that’s what makes him such a great pitcher.”
The Dodgers took the lead 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 Joc Pederson, Reddick stole second base. With Grandal at the plate, he decided to go for third.
Reddick did not view the extra base as particularly important for him scoring. But he wanted to put some doubt in Arrieta’s mind and make it tougher for him to bury off-speed pitches in the dirt, thus risking a wild pitch. Reddick swiped third and stood 90 feet away, dancing with each pitch, when the count ran full against Grandal.
“It adds a little of pressure to both [Arrieta] and the catcher,” Reddick said. “Any time you can help out your hitter, it’s what you’ve got to do.”
Grandal treats hitting like an oil prospector on the prowl, boom or bust, filthy rich or flat broke. He entered the night with only two hits in the entire postseason, both of them in the first game of the first round. After an 11-day drought, Grandal was about to strike gold.
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.
“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 popped up utility man Ben Zobrist 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, his delivery shifting into a sidearm, as he fired an 87-mph cutter. Rizzo swung through it, and Hill skipped off the mound.
“If we look back to Clayton’s effort in Chicago, that’s inspiring for all of us to look at,” Hill said. “We can all do better by going out there and putting forth the best effort that we can every time we go out there.”
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 inning was different.
Arrieta 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.”
Follow Andy McCullough on Twitter @McCulloughTimes