LOS ANGELES — The Dodgers’ Justin Turner stands out for his stellar play as an All-Star third baseman and fielder and for his distinctive look. Who else in baseball has a red beard like his?
But on Sunday night, in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series, Turner elevated his profile a good deal more, smashing a three-run, walk-off home run with two out in the bottom of the ninth inning that gave the Dodgers a 4-1 victory and a two-games-to-none lead over the Chicago Cubs.
His blast, over the center-field fence off the Cubs’ John Lackey, left Dodger Stadium in an absolute frenzy. Fans chanted “Jus-tin, Jus-tin, Jus-tin” as he rounded the bases and then embraced his teammates, with the Dodgers now halfway to their first World Series appearance in nearly three decades.
It was a complete night for Turner, whose two-out single in the fifth inning had tied the score at 1-1. What happened from there was a battle of the bullpens, and for the second time in this series it was the Cubs’ relievers who faltered, although this time not as quickly as in Game 1.
When the Dodgers’ bullpen door has flown open in this series, their fans are able to find comfort in the fact that it is a relief corps that ranked first in earned run average in the National League this season. And in eight innings against the Cubs over two games, the Dodgers’ bullpen has allowed one baserunner — who was hit by a pitch.
In contrast, while the Cubs had a bullpen that ranked third in the National League in the regular season, it has been increasingly shaky this October, forcing Manager Joe Maddon to improvise as he searches for outs.
In Game 1, his bullpen almost immediately allowed the Dodgers to break a 2-2 tie in the middle of the game and then add to that lead.
In Game 2, the Cubs’ bullpen proved tougher, holding off the Dodgers into the bottom of the ninth. The left-handed reliever Brian Duensing pitched around Yasiel Puig to start the inning and after the Dodgers bunted Puig to second, Duensing got a second out.
At which point, Maddon turned to the veteran Lackey, a starter converted to the bullpen for the postseason but who did not pitch in the first round.
Lackey walked the first batter he faced, Chris Taylor, putting runners at first and second and bringing up the more dangerous Turner. At that point, Maddon might have gone to Wade Davis, his closer, whose tough, seven-out save against Washington in Game 5 of the division round had allowed the Cubs to get this far.
But he did not. Instead he stayed with Lackey and he proceeded to throw a fastball over the middle of the plate that Turner crushed.
That left Maddon to second-guess himself. His Dodgers counterpart, Dave Roberts, had no such problems. After Dodgers starter Rich Hill lasted five innings, he brought in Brandon Morrow as his first reliever. He impressively fired two quick innings on 18 pitches, and unfurled 99 miles-per-hour fastballs with ease.
In the ninth, with the game still tied, Roberts finally turned to his All-Star closer Kenley Jansen. When Jansen then hit Anthony Rizzo on the arm with out it ended a streak of 22 straight Cubs retired by the Dodgers bullpen in the series. No matter. Jansen overpowered the next two Cubs hitters and set the stage for Turner’s heroics in the bottom of the inning.
The Cubs had started the game with Jon Lester on the mound. He is a postseason stalwart, a three-time World Series winner, and he was pitching on Sunday night after also making a relief appearance in the first round in addition to a start.
Against the Dodgers, he battled his command but kept the Dodgers from scoring until Turner’s single in the fifth. With his pitch count at 103, Maddon pulled him for Carl Edwards Jr., who has been ragged recently but in this instance kept the Dodgers at bay through the sixth inning, including a strikeout of Puig.
Pedro Strop then got the Cubs through the seventh, and Duensing did his job, too.
Maddon had backed Edwards before the game, as well as his other relievers. And in actuality, the Cubs did not have many other alternatives, not at this late date.
“When guys struggle, I know everybody wants you to open up a new can of relief pitchers, but that’s not how it works,” Maddon said. “These are our guys, and I have a lot of faith in our guys. I have to keep putting them out there in the situations they’re supposed to be in, and you believe it’s going to work out right.”
In Game 2, it more or less did for Maddon, until Lackey’s final pitch.
Published at Mon, 16 Oct 2017 04:40:45 +0000