With a strong bullpen and the walk-off clutchery of Justin Turner, the Los Angeles Dodgers opened up a commanding lead in the National League Championship Series, taking Game 2 from the Chicago Cubs, 4-1. It was an excellent game, and you should feel bad if you didn’t watch it.
Yasiel Puig opened the ninth inning with a walk against Cubs reliever Brian Duensing and moved to second base on a sacrifice bunt. With two outs, John Lackey entered the game, walked Chris Taylor, and gave up a booming game-winning homer to Justin Turner. It’s entirely possible that Puig hasn’t stopped running yet. I’m imagining him breaking through the dugout wall like the Kool-Aid man and not stopping until Chicago.
Turner drove in all four of the Dodgers’ runs, and it’s worth noting that he just missed three Pedro Strop pitches that were far too plump. The pitches down the middle cost the life of this Camping World advertisement, for example:
Justin Turner: Not a big Camping World guy. #NLCS pic.twitter.com/Dkjihk4Wwx— Dean Straka (@dwstraka49) October 16, 2017
As for the Cubs, it’s like the old saying goes: “When John Lackey is your preferred ninth-inning option on the road, John Lackey is your preferred ninth-inning option on the road."
The Cubs opened the scoring in the fifth inning, with Addison Russell driving a solo shot over the low Dodger Stadium fence in left field. Rich Hill’s 89-mph fastball down the middle might have been one of his only mistakes of the night:
The Cubs strike first! Addison Russell goes yard in the 5th to put the Cubs up 1-0! #NLCS #MLBonTBS pic.twitter.com/cxmoBPIi0v— TBS Network (@TBSNetwork) October 16, 2017
The Dodgers quickly answered in the bottom half of the inning, with Charlie Culberson leading off with a double and scoring on Turner’s two-out single, but that was the only clutch hit they could.
Hill went five full innings, allowing three hits and a walk, striking out eight. He was pulled for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the fifth after throwing just 79 pitches. Welcome to October, 2017. Please take your shoes off and leave your starting pitchers outside before coming in.
Lester wasn’t nearly as sharp on the Cubs’ side, throwing just 4⅔ innings and walking five. It was the first time he walked at least five batters since May, and just the 15th time he’s done it in his career. It was also only the eighth time in his career that he threw more than 100 pitches in an outing that was shorter than five innings, but he gave up at least three runs in each of those outings.
Both bullpens were excellent through the middle and later innings, making it a pure 2017 postseason experience, but the Dodgers’ relief corps was nearly flawless. The only baserunner allowed by a Dodger reliever in four innings was a hit-by-pitch from Kenley Jansen in the ninth. Dave Roberts is entirely comfortable pulling his starting pitchers after just five innings, and his bullpen is making the strategy seem brilliant.
Turner’s long home run to center field came 29 years to the day after Kirk Gibson’s walk-off home run in 1988. That was the last time the Dodgers were in a World Series, and this home run brought them a heckuva lot closer to their next one.