It looked like familiar things were afoot last night, with the San Francisco Giants posting a 5-2 lead over the Chicago Cubs heading into the ninth inning thanks to a strong effort from Matt Freaking Moore. The Giants lefty went eight innings and struck out ten, allowing only two hits and two walks. All of a sudden, a Game 5 back in Chicago against Madison Bumgarner loomed, and I don't know if a single person who has ever cared about the Cubs felt good about that. Even after the game, wunderkind general manager Theo Epstein admitted he was not necessarily looking forward to that eventuality. But there was still the ninth inning to play.
In a move that was dissected almost immediately, Bruce Bochy removed Moore for the ninth to bring in a string of ineffectual relievers starting with Derek Law. Law promptly gave up a single to Kris Bryant and was replaced by Javier Lopez, who was removed after walking Anthony Rizzo. Sergio Romo, the one-time and sort-of-once-again closer for San Francisco, then came on to face Ben Zobrist, who is somehow always around and always manages to do something worth remembering. He struck again last night, with an RBI double to make it 5-3, Giants.
Peace out, Sergio Romo, and everyone say bienvenido to Will Smith. Joe Maddon countered with Wilson Contreras to hit for Chris Coghlan (who was briefly going to pinch hit for Addison Russell), and Contreras hit a seeing-eye ball up the middle that scored both Zobrist and Rizzo, tying the game.
If you thought that maybe the Cubs—short on magic, or long on the wrong kind of magic all these goddamned years—had used up all their good fortune, you thought incredibly wrong. Look at this nonsense from Jason Heyward:
What should have been a rally-deflating (the Giants had still not recorded an out) double-play bunt instead had the effect of being the sacrifice Heyward hoped for—only he was on second thanks to Brandon Crawford's throwing error. Then it was time for the single most exciting player in the postseason to come up: Javy Baez. He was the star of the NLDS, hitting a go-ahead home run in the eighth inning of Game 1 and flashing some incredible leather through the series, including last night.
Baez came up with Heyward on second and only one out. He smacked a ball up the middle and easily played Heyward to give the Cubs an improbable 6-5 lead. Something like the 87th Giants pitcher of the inning came in and finally got David Ross to ground into a double play and end it. Unfortunately, San Francisco had to contend with a far more efficient bullpen from Chicago: Just Straight Up Gas. Aroldis Chapman struck out the side, throwing only three balls the entire outing.
It was a stark contrast to the Giants' ninth inning, and Bochy will be second-guessed to death, because that is the way this all works. But Matt Moore threw 120 pitches going into that ninth inning and his highest total on the season was 133, and he's only back a little over a year since having Tommy John surgery.
"That's a lot of work he did," Bochy said of Moore after the game. "At that point where he's at, he did his job. We were lined up. I would like to think you're going to get three outs there. We couldn't do it. Because of the job he did, we had all the guys set up, we just couldn't get outs."
Engaging in these hypotheticals is an exercise in damned if you do, damned if you don't. Had Bochy stuck with Moore for the ninth and the Cubs' rally, the question would then become whether he kept Moore in too long. There's something to be said for the way the Giants starter dominated the Cubs lineup for eight innings, but like Bochy said, you'd like to think you could get three outs there. But San Francisco didn't, and in a bizarre twist it was the Giants, not the Cubs, who were damned last night.