Cubs beat Dodgers, head home with 3-2 lead in NLCS
By BETH HARRIS, AP Sports Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Jon Lester pitched seven sharp innings, Addison Russell hit a tiebreaking homer and the Chicago Cubs moved one win from their first World Series trip in 71 years by beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 8-4 on Thursday.
The Cubs grabbed a 3-2 lead in the NL Championship Series and will have two chances to wrap up that elusive pennant back home at Wrigley Field.
The first comes Saturday night in Game 6, when Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw faces major league ERA leader Kyle Hendricks.
Emerging star Javier Baez was in the middle of everything for the Cubs, a common theme this October. The second baseman made a sensational defensive play when the game was still close in the seventh, and his three-run double capped a five-run eighth that made it 8-1.
After busting out of his postseason slump Wednesday, Russell hit a two-run homer for the second straight game. This one was a sixth-inning drive off losing pitcher Joe Blanton that gave Chicago a 3-1 lead.
By winning consecutive games in Los Angeles, the Cubs took control of the best-of-seven series after getting shut out in Games 2 and 3.
Of course, there’s no need to remind longtime fans that the Cubs were in the same favorable position 13 years ago — heading home to Wrigley Field with a 3-2 lead in the NLCS.
But even with ace pitchers Mark Prior and Kerry Wood starting the final two games, Chicago collapsed against the Marlins in one of its most excruciating failures.
More than a decade later, the franchise is still chasing its first World Series championship since 1908.
Baez had three of Chicago’s 13 hits, matching the team’s total in Game 4, when the Cubs snapped a 21-inning scoreless streak and won 10-2.
Lester allowed one run and five hits, improving to 2-0 in three playoff starts this year. He has given up two runs in 21 innings.
The left-hander struck out six and walked one.
Anthony Rizzo’s run-scoring double gave the Cubs a 1-0 lead in the first.
Los Angeles tied it in the fourth on Adrian Gonzalez’s RBI groundout.
After scoring their first run, the Cubs stranded six runners through the first five innings before finding success against the Dodgers’ third reliever.
Russell homered on an 0-1 pitch from Blanton, who gave up a single to Baez leading off the sixth. Baez stole second and scored on Russell’s shot to center field that put the Cubs ahead on another unusually hot night at Dodger Stadium.
Chicago jumped on struggling Dodgers rookie Kenta Maeda from the start. Dexter Fowler singled leading off the game and scored on Rizzo’s double to right two batters later.
Maeda gave up one run and three hits in 3 2/3 innings, struck out six and walked two in losing for the second time in three postseason starts. The right-hander has allowed eight earned runs in 10 2/3 innings with a 6.75 ERA over three appearances.
The Dodgers’ defense fell apart in the eighth when the Cubs extended their lead to 8-1.
Gonzalez tried flipping Russell’s slow roller to reliever Pedro Baez, who came over to cover first and bobbled the ball for an error.
Pinch-hitter Willson Contreras followed with a single, and the runners moved up on pinch-hitter Albert Almora Jr.’s sacrifice bunt. Fowler reached on an infield single to first, with Gonzalez losing a foot race when Fowler slid into the bag, scoring Russell.
Kris Bryant reached on an infield single to third, with the Dodgers unsuccessfully challenging the call that he was safe.
The Dodgers thought they’d finally escaped the inning on a double play when Rizzo lined to Kike Hernandez, who forced Fowler at second. But the Cubs challenged the call and it was reversed, allowing Chicago to prolong the inning. Baez got yanked after walking Ben Zobrist to load the bases. Ross Stripling came on to face Baez, who doubled to deep right, driving in three more runs.
With the Dodgers trailing 3-1, Gonzalez found himself on the wrong end of a video review for the second straight game.
With Baez playing way out on the outfield grass in shallow right field, the slow-footed Gonzalez tried to take advantage with a drag bunt leading off the seventh. Baez rushed in for a barehanded scoop and off-balance throw, but Gonzalez initially was called safe by first base umpire Ted Barrett. The Cubs challenged and the call was overturned.
In Game 4, Gonzalez was tagged out at home to end the second after sliding with his left hand stretched toward the tip of the plate while Contreras applied the tag near Gonzalez’s upper left arm. The Dodgers challenged, and the video review upheld umpire Angel Hernandez’s call.
Vin Scully was back at Dodger Stadium for the first time since ending his 67-year career behind the microphone earlier this month.
The 88-year-old Hall of Fame announcer attended as a spectator and proclaimed, “It’s time for Dodger baseball!” from an upstairs suite.
Cubs outfielder Matt Szczur isn’t on the NLCS roster, but he’s contributing. A day after his bat was borrowed by Rizzo to hit a home run, Szczur revealed during an in-game TV interview that Russell wore a pair of his underwear leggings Wednesday after leaving his own at home.
Dodgers: Kershaw takes the mound in Chicago on an extra day of rest. The left-hander is 2-0 with a 3.72 ERA in three starts and one relief appearance this postseason. Overall, the three-time Cy Young Award winner is 4-6 with a 4.39 ERA in 17 career playoff appearances.
Cubs: Hendricks’ 2.13 ERA was tops in the majors this season. The right-hander allowed a solo homer in 5 1/3 innings of Game 2, his longest career postseason start. The Cubs lost 1-0 to Kershaw.