By Jon Weisman
The earth spins, seven days of suns rise and set, and here we are once more.
Two wins needed for land. Two games to do it, with two prime captains in Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill.
That’s the map of the world for the Dodgers, who find themselves back in the strait between exhilaration and elimination after losing Game 5 of the National League Championship Series tonight to the Cubs, 8-4.
Barely a week ago, Kershaw and Hill (with a large dose of Kenley Jansen and others) rescued the Dodgers’ title raft in the National League Division Series against Washington. Following two more victories in NLCS Games 2 and 3 against the Cubs, the Dodgers will look to circumvent their Game 4-5 losses and complete a happy repeat.
To continue scavenging sea and sky for good omens, know that those two wins followed an 8-4 Game 1 loss that played out similarly to Game 5, even to the final score. Tonight, the Dodgers fell behind early, tied the game — then watched that tie broken thanks to a home run off the previously stalwart Joe Blanton. There was even another late five-run eighth inning to ride out, and an even later short-lived comeback attempt.
On a night Dave Roberts practically promised to play a game of knockout using his relievers, Kenta Maeda started the first inning like a Weeble. After 14 pitches, the struggling righty had allowed a 100-mph single, a 108-mph fly to left, a 111-mph RBI double (for a 1-0 Cubs lead) and a five-pitch walk.
However, with consecutive strikeouts of Javy Baez and Jason Heyward, Maeda righted himself, and didn’t allow another hit until Baez’s leadoff double in the fourth. Heyward was then hit in the left hip with a 1-2 fastball, but by that inning, Roberts could feel comfortable turning the ignition on his bullpen.
In fact, after Maeda labored to get David Ross on a fly to left with his 76th pitch, Roberts made the unusual move to bring in a reliever, Josh Fields, to face opposing pitcher Jon Lester. Lester flied to left (just as he had against Maeda) — and soon after, the Dodgers tied the game.
Howie Kendrick led off the bottom of the fourth with a double. Taking advantage of Lester’s inability to hold runners, Kendrick stole third (after replay overturned an out call). That was the Dodgers’ eighth steal in as many attempts in the playoffs, impressive for a team that never stole more than nine in any single month of 2016.
Adrián González came up with the infield in and hit a grounder to his first-base counterpart Anthony Rizzo, but Rizzo bobbled the ball and could only make the out at first. Kendrick scored, and the score was 1-1.
In the sixth, though, Blanton allowed a leadoff single to Baez, who himself stole second. Heyward struck out, but Addison Russell lit into Blanton’s second ill-fated slider of the NLCS, blasting it 419 feet to center for a 3-1 Cubs lead.
The Cubs padded their lead with five runs in the eighth (their third five-run inning of the series), setting the stage for their return to Chicago. They need one victory this weekend for their first trip to the World Series in 71 years.
Los Angeles, 28 years removed from its last Fall Classic, countered with three late-inning runs, and has Kershaw, Hill and an offense adept against right-handed pitching to counter the prevailing Windy City winds.