At Last: Cubs Clinch at Home; Kershaw Wins a Playoff Game

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The Chicago Cubs have played in the National League since 1876, and at Wrigley Field since 1916. Until yesterday, they had never clinched a postseason series win at home. What few postseason series they had won were sealed on the road until yesterday’s 6-4 victory over the Cardinals. The Cubs will play the Mets or Dodgers at Wrigley Field on Saturday.    Dodgers’ lefty Clayton Kershaw had only  won a single postseason game against 6 losses, in spite of all his regular season success, and was particularly known for melting down in two games last year against  the Cardinals. He finally won his second  playoff game, beating the Mets 3-1 in New York. The two teams return to Los Angeles tomorrow night for game 5 of their series.

In the earlier game the Cardinals were ahead 2-0 before most of the fans had found their seats. Cubs’ starter Jason Hammel gave up a single to leadoff hitter Matt Carpenter, then a two-run home run to Stephen Piscotty. The Cubs answered with 4 runs in the second inning. Hammel helped his cause by singling home the first run. Then Javier Baez, playing in place of the injured Addison Russell, launched a 3-run home run to make it 4-2. For Cardinals’ starter John Lackey it was the first postseason home run he’d given up, going back to 2002 when he was with the Angels.  It was a rare highlight in what has been an extremely difficult year for Baez. In April, his sister Noely, age 21 died of spina bifida. The family had moved from Puerto Rico to Florida some years ago to seek better medical treatment for her. To this day her name is stitched into Baez’s glove. Also making this year difficult, after spending a good part of last year with the Cubs, he spent much of 2015 in AAA and was only called up to the majors in September.

The game stayed 4-2 Cubs although neither starting pitcher  worked more than 3 innings. In the sixth, facing Travis Wood the Cardinals tied it. Tony Cruz, playing for the injured Yadier Molina doubled home a run. Brandon Moss singled home the tying run but Cruz was thrown out at the plate by Jorge Soler to end the inning. In the home sixth, facing Kevin Siegrist of the Cardinals, Anthony Rizzo homered to break the tie. An inning later Kyle Schwarber unloaded a monster shot over the right field wall and out onto Sheffield Avenue for the Cubs’ margin of victory. The Cardinals are now 2-3 in the 5 consecutive Division Series they have played in. Twice they made it to the World Series in that span, in 2011 and 2013. But they won’t this year in spite of their 100 wins.

Meantime in New York, it was a case of one bad inning and one exceptional pitcher that defeated the Mets. As terrific as the Mets’ offense looked Monday night in their 13-7 win, they were dormant last night against Clayton Kershaw. The only run scored on a solo home run by Daniel Murphy, his second off Kershaw this postseason. But the Dodgers had scored 3 runs in the third,  and that was all Kershaw would need. Adrian Gonzalez singled home the first run, then ex-Met Justin Turner doubled home two more. He’s done more playing against New York teams than he did playing for the Mets. In 2009 as an Oriole, he got his first big league hit against the Yankees. Now he’s been unstoppable in this series against the Mets. Mets rookie phenom Steven Matz suffered his first major league defeat and was removed after 5 innings in favor of Bartolo Colon, who worked in his third straight game out of the bull pen. He, Tyler Clippard and Jeurys Familia kept the Dodgers from scoring any more runs, but it was too late.  The two teams return to Los Angeles for game 5 tomorrow night, with the winner to meet the Cubs at Wrigley Saturday. Having to play at Wrigley so soon after a game 5 would particularly gum up the works for the Dodgers, who don’t have the pitching depth the Mets have. Kershaw pitched and won last night, Zack Greinke is set to go tomorrow night against the Mets’ Jacob DeGrom.

Today the American League teams determine who goes to the ALCS. Both series are in game 5, as far as they can go. In the first game today, at 4:07 PM in Toronto, Marcus Stroman goes for the Bluejays against Rangers’ hired gun Cole Hamels. Hamels was 7-1 since coming to Texas from the Phillies, where he had no-hit the Cubs in his final start before the trade. Stroman is the Bluejays’ miracle man. He was told his season was done before it started when he tore his ACL. But he has returned, and was 4-0 in September. The later game is at 8:07 tonight in Kansas City. Collin McHugh, a 19-game winner goes for the Astros against Johnny Cueto who was just 4-7 after coming over from the Reds at the trading deadline. The two winners meet Saturday.

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