Just like that, the Dodgers magic was mashed.
With one swing, a new Dodgers miracle was sent sailing into a warm Midwestern night, disappearing into bleachers filled with laughing, singing fans who howled with a pounding reminder.
The Dodgers aren’t playing the Washington Nationals anymore.
These are the Chicago Cubs, the seemingly destined Chicago Cubs, bearing down on 108 years of bad history, and at least for one night, even the charmed Dodgers weren’t going to get in their way.
“It stings a little bit, absolutely,” Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts said Saturday night. “Yeah, I thought we were going to win.”
They did not win. They were down, they were tied, and then, they lost, oh, how they lost, on an eighth-inning grand slam by Miguel Montero to give the Cubs an eventual 8-4 win in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series.
For one delicious moment the Dodgers appeared once again headed for another improbable October victory. They had come back from a 3-1 deficit in the eighth inning against the Cubs’ heat-throwing reliever Aroldis Chapman. They had tied the score in the top of the inning, and reliever Joe Blanton appeared on the verge of fighting through a rally in the bottom of the inning.
The bases were loaded but Montero, who did not have a hit in this postseason, was down 0 and 2 to Blanton and looking overmatched and …
Montero deposited a hanging slider into the right-field bleachers for a slam that set the old ballpark to rocking and the Dodgers to packing.
If was the kind of Cubs win that confirmed that the Dodgers aren’t the only one in this series with magic, and for Dodgers fans that is a scary thing indeed.
“We hang in there, we don’t give up,” Cubs Manager Joe Maddon said, and wasn’t that something the Dodgers were saying about themselves?
Next up, Game 2 Sunday night and guess who must once again pull the Dodgers off the same ledge from which they have dangled repeatedly in the last week. Welcome back to Clayton Kershaw, and wasn’t he just on the mound a few minutes ago?
“I’m not going in with any restrictions. No excuses at this point,” said Kershaw, who threw seven pitches in a two-out save Thursday night in the clinching division series game against the Nationals.
The Dodgers need no excuses after hanging tough until that hanging slider, which came during an inning when Roberts made the same bold moves that have previously worked so well in this postseason, yet moves that might now leave him open to questioning.
Ben Zobrist led off with a double against Blanton, and, one out later, Roberts intentionally walked the struggling Jason Heyward to set up a right-on-right matchup with Blanton and hot Javier Baez. Brash move, but Baez flied out, so it worked.
“There’s really no matchup advantage, it’s more of, I trust Joe, I’ve trusted him all year long, he’s been great for us, and he got ahead 0 and 2 and left a pitch up,” Roberts said. “I felt good for us to win the game if we could get out of that inning. And it just didn’t work out.”
Some will say two intentional walks in one inning were too many in a tie game. Others will say Roberts stuck with Blanton too long. But if you loved Roberts when he was doing magic in Game 5 in the division series in Washington, then you have to love him for taking chances here. Here’s hoping this failure doesn’t dissuade him from taking chances again.
“I would do the same thing over again, 10 times out of 10 I would take Joe Blanton against Montero,” said Roberts, and that’s good to hear.
The hardest part for the Dodgers wasn’t just watching that ball sail out of the park, but thinking about how far they had climbed to get into a position to even make that inning matter. In the top of the eighth, they were trailing, 3-1, and showing few signs of real life.
But then it became classic Dodgers, as Andrew Toles singled, pinch-hitter Chase Utley coaxed a five-pitch walk and Justin Turner banged a grounder to deep-playing third baseman Kris Bryant to load the bases.
Enter Chapman, the Cubs ninth-inning, 100-mph-throwing savior summoned into the earlier high-leverage situation.
For two hitters, he was all gas, striking out Corey Seager and Yasiel Puig on flailing hacks that missed pitches that thwacked loudly into the catcher’s mitt.
But on his third hitter, Chapman’ gas exploded off the bat of Adrian Gonzalez, who steered a one-out single to center field to tie the score.
It was a huge sigh of relief after early struggles that, for the Dodgers, it made this seem like a hangover game more than an opening game.
The Dodgers gave up a run in the first when Howie Kendrick, in his second start of the postseason, misplayed a ball in left field.
They cost themselves a potential rally in the second when Gonzalez was thrown out at the plate after a questionable decision to send him on a two-out single by Kenta Maeda.
They gave up a run in the third when catcher Carlos Ruiz, making his first start of the postseason, made an ill-advised pickoff throw that allowed Baez to record the first Cubs postseason steal of home in 109 years.
The Dodgers were bad, then they were good, then they ... well, their mojo was stolen by the Cubs, who may have had it all the time.
“We played hard, we played well, and we do have Kersh going tomorrow,” said Roberts, looking for a silver lining after a loss that nonethless felt like the beginning of a storm.