LOS ANGELES – Yasiel Puig homered, doubled and drove in two runs. He wagged his tongue. He flipped his bat, but not on the home run, because you’d expect that. He took a curtain call, whether you asked for it or not. And on a night in which Clayton Kershaw was so-so, following an afternoon in which shortstop Corey Seager was removed from the roster because of a back injury, the Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the Chicago Cubs, 5-2, in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series at Dodger Stadium.
The Dodgers’ fifth run, in the seventh inning, was awarded when replay officials determined Cubs catcher Willson Contreras had blocked the plate while not in possession of the ball. Charlie Culberson, attempting to score from second on a Justin Turner single, had been ruled out by plate umpire Lance Barksdale. After a replay delay, Culberson was declared safe, though he did not appear to touch the plate. Cubs manager Joe Maddon was ejected for arguing the call. The Dodgers scored twice in the inning against the Cubs’ bullpen, which had posted a 6.75 ERA in the division series win against the Washington Nationals.
Puig, who batted .455 in the division series, helped carry an offense that scratched two hits in the game’s first five innings. He doubled in a run in the fifth inning, then homered against Cubs reliever Mike Montgomery to lead off the seventh.
The Cubs led, 2-0, into the middle innings. Clayton Kershaw pitched three scoreless innings, then fell behind Contreras, 3-and-1, to start the fourth. Contreras singled hard to center field on a fastball. Albert Almora Jr. then pushed the count to 3-and-2. Kershaw attempted to finish him with a slider. Almora hit it into the left-field bullpen. Kershaw watched it go. When left fielder Kiké Hernandez stopped chasing, Kershaw dropped his head.
In his previous start this postseason, against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Kershaw had allowed four home runs. In the regular season, he allowed a career-high 23 home runs. In his career, his home runs allowed per nine in the postseason (1.3) is more than double that of the regular season (0.6).
In the fifth inning, after striking out Hernandez, Jose Quintana walked Logan Forsythe and Austin Barnes. As the sell-out crowd chanted his name, Puig then hammered a line drive off the base of the wall in left-center field. As Forsythe crossed the plate, Puig arrived at second, held up his arms, then slammed his hands against his thighs. Barnes, held at third on the double, scored on a Culberson sacrifice fly, hit to left field on a two-strike curveball. Culberson, the veteran utilityman who’d spent his summer in Triple-A Oklahoma City before wrangling 13 late-season big-league at-bats, was on the roster and starting at shortstop because of Seager’s injury.
Kershaw allowed four hits and two runs in five innings. He was pinch-hit for in the bottom of the fifth inning after 87 pitches. Quintana, too, departed after five innings. He’d thrown 12 pitches in relief in Game 5 of the division series, then endured a harrowing trip west.
Like the rest of his teammates and their families, in the hours after the Cubs’ four-and-a-half-hour Game 5 win in Washington D.C., Quintana boarded a flight early Friday morning to Los Angeles. His wife, Michel, was with him. Sometime later, as the Cubs celebrated their victory at 35,000 feet, Michel took ill, severely enough the plane was diverted to Albuquerque, New Mexico. There, Jose, and a team scout, according to Cubs officials, accompanied Michel as she was taken for medical attention.
While the flight did not resume for another five hours, Jose stayed in Albuquerque with his wife, who, according to the team, suffered from an irregular heartbeat, perhaps associated with a panic attack. She was well enough to board a flight several hours later, and the Cubs who remained behind arrived in Los Angeles late Friday night.
Meantime, manager Joe Maddon and his bosses hoped Quintana would be well enough – physically and emotionally – to start Game 1 Saturday evening against the Dodgers. Quintana assured them he could. The alternative was John Lackey, who was assigned to the bullpen for the division series and hasn’t throw a pitch in two weeks. Reasonably certain Quintana was their man, Cubs officials slept on the choice and on Saturday, hours before game time, made it official.
The Cubs, meantime, had made two lineups for Game 1, and in dealing with the Quintana situation and sorting through their better options against Clayton Kershaw, may or may not have been slow in getting their starting nine delivered to the Dodgers.
Dave Roberts, the Dodger manager, grumbled, “There’s a little gamesmanship going on, I think,” and offered no details. Dodgers officials said they weren’t concerned. The word “gamesmanship”, however, carries a dark connotation, particularly in October.
Maddon countered by reciting the facts, that the Cubs had endured a trying Game 5 nearly 3,000 miles away, had spent a good part of Friday morning in the wrong town, then had waited to see if their starting pitcher would arrive on time and in a frame of mind to pitch, then had made up as much sleep as they could, and then got to Dodger Stadium on Saturday still sorting through their strategies.
“Gamesmanship,” Maddon said. “I have no concerns about sending lineups over early. I don’t know that we, if we had been late at all. … I don’t worry about holding it back. I don’t worry about anybody getting more time to divulge anything that we may be able to do.”
Peter Chase, the team’s media relations director inserted, “We had a 12:45 bus to the ballpark. Got here at 1:15. And it was posted at like 1:24. So, I don’t know.”
Continued a wry Maddon: “I apologize for being so late with the lineup today.”
During pregame introductions, Maddon and Roberts shook hands and shared a bro hug at home plate, and after the anthem tipped their caps toward one another.