In the ninth inning of a tied playoff game, Cubs manager Joe Maddon looked at his lineup card, shaking his head as if disappointed there weren’t an array of different choices in the way of relief.
With limited options in his undependable bullpen, Maddon turned to 38-year-old starter John Lackey, throwing for the second day in a row for the first time in his career.
The veteran right-hander took to the mound with two outs and an inherited runner on base compliments of his predecessor, Brian Duensing. Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner, who had already banked LA’s lone RBI, laced Lackey’s 1-0 fastball into the glove of a fan in the center field seats for the dramatic walk-off win.
Keeping with a true Hollywood ending, Turner’s heroics came on the day the franchise celebrated Kirk Gibson’s iconic 1988 walk-off World Series home run – perhaps a foreboding sense of what’s in store for the Cubs when the series continues at Wrigley Field on Tuesday.
“One of my earliest baseball memories was being at my grandma’s house and watching that game and watching Gibby hit that homer,” said Turner, who will turn 33 next month. “It’s incredible.”
Charlie Culberson, making the most of an injured Corey Seager situation, led off the bottom frame with a double to center field. After Chris Taylor’s ground out moved the hot hitting shortstop to third, Turner lined Lester’s 2-2 pitch to right, plating Culberson to even the score.
Hill was great on the mound, tossing five innings of one run ball on three hits while striking out eight with a walk, while Lester was lifted with similar stats after 4 2/3’s, the difference of five walks and a pair of punch outs.
Both bullpens kept each other off the scoreboard until Maddon, needing to hold onto the overworked closer Wade Davis in case a save circumstance was on the horizon, brought in three-time World Series champion John Lackey, the only arm available on the Cub’s roughed up relief staff.
“I really just needed him for the save tonight,” Maddon said when asked why he did not bring in Davis. “He had limited pitches. It was one inning only, and in these circumstances you don’t get him up and then don’t get him in. So if we had caught the lead, he would have pitched.”
After former pariah Yasiel Puig, showing more patience at the plate, drew a walk, and Taylor joined him on the bases doing the same, Turner put the Dodgers one step closer to fulfilling the promise of taking the team to the World Classic by giving the boys in blue a 2-0 National League Championship Series lead.
“They’re just good,” Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “They’ve got good pitchers, good hitters. They’re just getting us out.”
With LA without a loss in the postseason, they’ll look to Yu Darvish, coming off a strong outing against Arizona in the NLDS, to keep Chicago at bay against Kyle Hendricks who booted them out of the playoffs in the Cubs pennant-clinching NLCS Game 6 win in 2016.