Cubs take advantage of Blanton, Dodgers pitching

first_img Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error There was a general uneasiness long before Joe Blanton’s nightmarish National League Championship Series continued when he surrendered another majestic, game-altering, series-shifting home run.Blanton was entrusted with a 1-1 tie in the sixth inning, Manager Dave Roberts again turning to the reliever who has been so good for so much of this season, just not for a whole lot of this series.Only nine pitches later, Blanton was looking skyward in exasperation having just given up a two-run homer to Addison Russell, who did nothing in the NLCS until the final two days, when he suddenly started doing just about everything.The Cubs ended with an 8-4 victory and 3-2 edge in games in the series, finishing a night of squirming for the Dodgers and their fans by leaving the whole place numb and motionless.But that was only the conclusion. The path to that point wasn’t exactly a reassuring one, either. LOS ANGELES >> So now the Dodgers’ fate falls into the left hand of Clayton Kershaw, and there are certainly worse places to be if you’re playing baseball.In fact, the Dodgers might be in the greatest position of all time for a club facing playoff elimination.They definitely are in the most ideal spot ever for a team trying to prevent a 108-year World Series drought from ending, even if Wrigley Field this weekend promises to feel both unfriendly and confining.Their home ballpark was a little uncomfortable right from the beginning Thursday, too, and not just because the temperature was high enough to cause sweat rings on the foul poles.center_img For starters, there were the starters, the Dodgers going with Kenta Maeda, a first-year big leaguer who has almost no one’s full faith at the moment and the Cubs countering with Jon Lester, who already had a quality start in the NLCS.The Dodgers survived Maeda’s appearance, which is really as much as they could have expected, considering the matchup of veteran bulldog versus rookie puppy dog.Dexter Fowler sent Maeda’s third pitch of the game into center for a leadoff single. His 10th pitch resulted in an Anthony Rizzo RBI double, an early queasy murmur rippling through Dodger Stadium.But Maeda continued to battle into the fourth, needing an inefficient 76 pitches to get 11 outs, yes, but managing to keep the Dodgers close by holding Chicago’s hitters to 0 for 4 with runners in scoring position.That sufficient start coupled with Adrian Gonzalez’s run-scoring groundout in the fourth left the Dodgers in the 1-1 tie, putting them in position to win a crucial game they had entered as underdogs.Still, they were tussling with Lester, an excellent pitcher, but also one who, somewhat incredibly, has a hard time throwing a baseball.Lester’s struggles with pickoff attempts and the like are well chronicled. Yet the Dodgers were unable to fully exploit the situation as much as they tried otherwise.So, finally and predictably, a tight game again fell into the lap of the team’s bullpen, the Dodgers unable hold off a Chicago lineup that awoke here in Game 4 and stayed up late to finish the job with emphasis in Game 5.And the unraveling again began with Blanton, who was on the wrong end of the Miguel Montero grand slam that decided Game 1 in Chicago.Here, Blanton struck out Jason Heyward after Baez’s inning-opening single and stolen base.That moved the Cubs to 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position, a trend that, at the time, seemed to be promising good things for the Dodgers.As far as critical games go, baseball isn’t generally kind to teams that continually fail to capitalize on precious opportunities. The gods that govern this sport have been known to eventually stop offering such chances.Then again, when an offense can explode like this Chicago offense can explode, things once lost can be quickly found again.After starting Russell off with a called strike, Blanton’s next pitch, a slider, carved its way through the thickest part of the plate. The result was as predictable as the Cubs’ reaction.As Russell circled the bases, the scene inside the Chicago dugout could be poorly described as joyous and properly described as a house party.By the time they were done dancing, the Cubs had regained the NLCS lead with the next two games set for Wrigley Field.That’s where Kershaw will come into play again, the Dodgers’ ace and savior, baseball’s closest thing to a sure thing, assigned with extending his team’s hopes and fortunes.Game 6 is scheduled for Saturday, the Dodgers facing a genuine must-win doing so with a pitcher who doesn’t often lose.For a team in a tough spot, this, at least, is about as easy as it can get, if holding off history and a charging opponent is ever easy.last_img

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