Strangest night of October.
Cody Bellinger took the final big swing, yet somewhere down the right-field line he stopped running, stared at the sky, and rubbed his head as if lost.
On an unseasonably warm Wednesday night that played like late August at Chavez Ravine, the Dodgers lost their first postseason game after six consecutive wins, 3-2 to the Cubs to end a possible sweep in the National League Championship Series.
After which, another unusual sight, Dodgers shaking their heads and speaking in monotone.
“It sucks we took our first ‘L’” said pitcher Alex Wood, who took that loss. “It was a tough game.”
It was, indeed, but everybody chill. It was strange, but it wasn’t ominous. It was a hiccup, not a heartache.
You knew the defending champs weren’t going to go down without one last punch. You knew Wrigley Field wasn’t going to roll over without one last roar.
The Dodgers still lead the series three games to one. They can still finish it Thursday night here with their ace Clayton Kershaw on the mound against the Cubs’ Jose Quintana.
The Cubs still just had five hits, scoring all their runs on home runs. They are still just batting .163 in this series. They still don’t have a bullpen, because they used closer Wade Davis for 48 pitches to save their season.
“We’ll come back here tomorrow and we got our guy going and hopefully finish it off tomorrow,” said Wood.
That’s the feeling. That’s what the Dodgers are thinking. And even though Kershaw lost the clinching NLCS game on this same mound last October, this is a different team, a more rested Kershaw, a stronger bullpen.
“Yeah, I wouldn’t say that the pressure is on us,” said Dodger manager Dave Roberts. “I think that we’re in a pretty good spot. We’ve got our No. 1 pitcher going tomorrow, and we’ve got two of the guys at the back end rested [Brandon Morrow and Kenley Jansen].”
Roberts doesn’t sound like he’s panicking, so neither should you. “I still like the position we’re in,” he said.
But still, it was all so odd.
Until the final out, it felt like the Dodgers would win. A week ago, perhaps, the Dodgers would have won.
In the ninth inning against a tiring Davis, Chris Taylor worked a one-out walk and up stepped Bellinger, who had earlier homered off Cubs starter Jake Arrieta. If Bellinger couldn’t get it done, then the impossibly hot Justin Turner, who had homered in his previous at-bat, was waiting on-deck to finish it.
Except Bellinger finished it first, and not in a good way, hitting a sharp ground ball that second baseman Javier Baez snagged for the start of a game-ending double play. “It felt good off the bat, but unfortunately, it was hit right at ’em,” Bellinger said. “That’s the last thing I wanted to do, hit a ground ball with J.T. behind me, but that’s baseball.”
Those final words were ones that have been repeated by vanquished Dodgers foes throughout this postseason, but never by the Dodgers themselves. “That’s baseball” is usually spoken after a defeat. Such a peculiar night.
Still, it was startling to hear the crowd of 42,195 erupting in cheers and jeers throughout a night that began with the place smothered in church quiet.
Willson Contreras and Baez each homered against Wood in the second inning, and the building shook. Baez homered again in the fifth and he later emerged from the dugout to pump his fist and lead the cheers. Then, when Arrieta left the mound in the seventh inning after allowing just one run in what might be his final Cubs appearance, the crowd stood and screamed as if he had just thrown a no-hitter.
Finally, in the eighth, the fans erupted in a chanted expletive that fueled them for the rest of the game. With one out and Yasiel Puig on first, Curtis Granderson swung through what was clearly a third strike that was dropped by catcher Contreras. But the umpires ruled it a foul tip. With the Cubs egging on the fans with a video replay showing the terrible call, with Cubs manager Joe Maddon running around the field screaming and gesturing, Wrigley was engulfed in chaos.
Normally this October, the Dodgers have capitalized on such madness. But this time, Granderson was sent back to the plate, where, rather appropriately for this night and for his brief Dodgers career, he promptly struck out.
The game ended one inning later with one final Wrigley salute, the fans singing “Go Cubs Go” in a full-throated tribute to a team that stayed alive for one more night.
“It’s great to have this win, because if we’re not, we’re going home tomorrow,” said Baez. “I feel like we’re still not on track as a team. I think if we get back on track, everybody as a team, we’re going to be the best again.”
Does anybody believe they can do that against Kershaw? Well, at least one person thinks it’s possible.
“We have to elevate our game offensively,” said Maddon. “You’ve got to be a tougher out with two strikes. You’ve got to move the baseball in situations. We’re capable of doing all those things.’’
Yet for the Dodgers, this still feels a bit like the Lakers’ losing the first game of the 2001 NBA Finals to the Philadelphia 76ers after winning 11 straight games to the start the postseason. This also feels like the Kings’ losing Game 4 of the Western Conference finals to the Phoenix Coyotes after winning 11 of the first 12 games to start the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Both of those teams won championships. For these Dodgers, that remains a reasonable goal.
“Sweeping the Cubs was going to be a hard thing to do,” said Bellinger. “Good thing we got out front [in the series]. We’re not going to take it easy, but it is nice to have that little breather.”
It is a breather which, one way or another, officially ends Thursday night. If the Dodgers win, they are in the World Series for the first time in 29 years. If the Dodgers lose, OK, you can start to panic.