It’s been 29 years exactly since Kirk Gibson’s historic walk-off homer off Hall-of-Famer Dennis Eckersley in Game 1of the 1988 World Series. Tonight, Justin Turner did the same thing, except maybe not as great. You could almost hear the call from Vin Scully:
“The tying run is on second base with two out.
“Now the Dodgers don’t need the muscle of Gibson, as much as a base hit.
“And on deck is the leadoff man Steve Sax.
“3-and-2. Sax waiting on deck, but the game right now is at the plate.
“High fly ball into right field, she is gone!
“On two bad knees
“In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened.
“And now the only question was, could he make it around the base paths unassisted.”
Okay, maybe it wasn’t that good, but damn close.
With two out in the ninth inning Sunday night, Justin Turner followed that baseball until it disappeared over the center-field fence in Gibson-like fashion, and then he raised his arms as the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Chicago Cubs, 4-1, to take a two-games-to-none lead in the National League Championship Series.
Earlier in the evening, Kike Hernandez walked to open the second inning. He stepped out from first base comfortably, one stride, then two, then another. He bounced around a little. He waved his arms around some. He faked a couple starts toward second base. He did not run.
Lester lacked precision at times but shut out the Dodgers for four innings. The former Red Sox ace left the mound after 4 2/3 innings have having allowed five walks, both his shortest postseason start and the most walks he’d given up in a postseason appearance.
The Cubs were ineffective offensively against Dodgers lefty Rich Hill, and through four innings, they had just one hit, a single, and in the series, arrived in the fifth inning 1-for-31. Their final 18 hitters in Game 1 had been retired. Hill stuck with his usual fastball-curveball plan and struck out seven Cubs – Anthony Rizzo twice on curveballs – in four innings. In the fifth, Hill threw a 1-and-2 fastball to Addison Russell, who appeared to have been thinking about that pitch for hours. He pulled the fastball into the left-field seats, just right of the foul pole. The Cubs led 1-0.
Hill finished the fifth having allowed that one run on three hits. He was removed for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the fifth when the Dodgers scored their sole run against Lester. Charlie Culberson slashed a leadoff double to left-center field and, with two out and two strikes on him, Justin Turner pushed a grounder through the right side.
Turner’s 3-run walk-off homer off Cubs right-hander John Lackey brought a full Dodger Stadium to its feet and Turner’s teammates to home plate. Yasiel Puig and Chris Taylor scored ahead of Turner.
A game for the most part dominated by the pitching from Rich Hill, Jon Lester, and both bullpens ended with a long, long ball. The Dodgers bullpen has not allowed a hit since Game 3 of the division series. Through four postseason games, Dodgers’ relievers had a 1.72 ERA. They threw for more scoreless innings in Game 2. Cubs’ relievers, through six games, had a 7.08 ERA, in part because they’d walked 15 batters in 20 1/3 innings and allowed five home runs.
The Dodgers had started this NLCS with a message on their clubhouse whiteboard: “You get few opportunities in life to be great. Be … great today!” The final three words read, “End the Cubs!” It would be among their last thoughts as they passed through the door, took a left past the video room, and continued through a hall into the dugout.
The Cubs beat the Dodgers in six games last fall, the final two outs coming off Puig’s bat. The MVP of that series, along with Javy Baez, was Jon Lester, the veteran left-hander who started two games against the Dodgers. The Cubs won them both. It was their time. Still could be. However, the clock seems to be striking midnight on the Cubs’ Cinderella story, as Tuesday’s Game 3 will be no easier. Red-hot Yu Darvish scheduled to start for the Dodgers facing off against the Cubbies’ Kyle Hendricks back at Wrigley Field.