USA TODAY US Edition
ROYALS 1 WIN AWAY FROM SERIES
Kansas City routs Blue Jays 14-2 to take 3-1 ALCS lead
The Chicago Cubs, whose past century of futility has been defined by their ability to blow pennants and critical games in manners that defy explanation, managed to add another episode to their tortured collection Tuesday.
The Cubs lost 5-2 to the New York Mets, with the go-ahead run scoring on a strikeout that became a wild pitch, a tally that might have all but ended their dream season.
The Cubs, who beat the Mets all seven times they played in the regular season, are on the verge of being swept out of the postsea- son, trailing New York 3-0 in the National League Championship Series.
The only team in baseball history to overcome a 3-0 deficit was the 2004 Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship Series against the New York Yankees.
Cubs President Theo Epstein happened to be the Red Sox general manager at that time, so you can’t blame him for still believing there’s a little magic left.
“Down 3-0,” Epstein said, “my memory of that is the pregame, just my sense from the clubhouse, was they all kind of looked around the room and realized how much they did care about each other. They didn’t want the season to end like that, to have such a great season end on such a negative note.
“That wasn’t something they wanted to tolerate on behalf of their teammates. They pulled for one another and overcame it and got some momentum going with each win.”
Yet these are the Mets, with the finest collection of young pitching in the game, with Jacob deGrom the latest to shut down the Cubs offense. He gave up two home runs but little else in his seven-inning stint and tied a major league record with his third postseason victory on the road.
“This is what we play for,” he said. “We play to get this chance, and you never know how many times you’re going to get it, so you want to make the best of it.”
The Cubs believe in the same concept, but they’ve scored five runs in three games, with three of them via the home run.
“Their pitchers have been outstanding,” manager Joe Maddon said of the young and hirsute Mets staff.
Maddon and the Cubs can certainly lament their lack of offense and heap praise upon the Mets staff, yet they’ll still be most haunted by a single errant pitch.
With the scored tied at 2 in the sixth inning, Cubs reliever Trevor Cahill appeared to escape a huge jam, striking out Michael Conforto. But, of course, these are the Cubs.
Cahill’s knuckle-curveball bounced in front of the plate, Conforto swung, and the ball caromed off Cubs catcher Miguel Montero’s shinguard and to the wall. Conforto began running to first base. Yoenis Cespedes scampered home from third. Everyone was safe, and the Mets suddenly had a 3-2 lead.
The Cubs’ gaffes continued when Wilmer Flores hit a liner to right field that Jorge Soler let skip by him and all the way to the wall. Conforto appeared to score easily, but when the ball reached the wall and disappeared into the ivy, center fielder Dexter Fowler alertly threw his arms up in the air.
It was ruled a ground-rule double, keeping Flores at second and, more important, preventing Conforto from scoring. Mets manager Terry Collins went ballistic, but home-plate umpire Ted Barrett merely was following Wrigley Field’s ground rules, and the Cubs caught a huge break.
No matter, the Mets came right back in the seventh with two more runs, sparked by Cespedes’ run-scoring single, silencing the crowd of 42,231 and moving the Mets within one game of their first World Series since 2000.
The Mets’ potency and the Cubs’ gaffes — left fielder Kyle Schwarber’s misplay on Cespedes’ one-out hit in the seventh boosted that rally — left Maddon with little time to reverse those trends.
“They’ve taken advantage of us in different moments,” Maddon said. “You see that this time of year, and it does magnify it. The ball off Schwarber’s glove, a slow roller to third, all these become very important things.
“We have to come back tomorrow and bring it back to us.”
Certainly, the Mets were hardly intimidated by the Wrigley faithful, continuing their own offensive assault. The Mets, who finished the season winning 24 of their last 32 road games, have been lethal since July 25, leading the National League with 352 runs and 100 homers.
And, of course, no one on the planet these days is hotter than Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy. The Cubs’ plan before the game was to start pitching him away, thinking he could only hurt them by pitching him middle-in.
It worked to perfection when Murphy struck out on three pitches in the first inning.
Not so fortunate the next time up.
Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks started him inside but then left an 88-mph sinker over the heart of the plate, and Murphy crushed it to center field.
He has homered in five consecutive postseason games, tying Carlos Beltran of the 2004 Houston Astros for the major league record.
Murphy, who hit just six home runs in his first 330 plate appearances this season, has six homers in his 31 postseason plate appearances.
His latest show of force left Collins grasping for an explanation.
“I’ve watched a lot of baseball,” Collins, 66, said after Game 3, “and I don’t think I’ve ever seen somebody put on a show like this. The question is, who is this guy? He’s been unbelievable.
“Hopefully he just keeps it up for certainly a few more games.”
The Cubs, for their part, would rather not be on the business end of any more Murphy heroics.
“He is as locked in as can possibly be,” Epstein said. “A big part of our advance process focused on him and finding ways to not let him beat us. But we haven’t been successful so far.”
Yes, momentum can be a beautiful thing.
“That’s a great word to use, there is momentum, and it car- ries on,” Collins said. “When guys at this level, when they’re hot, they stay hot for a while. I just think the focus, the energy level, the fatigue is not a factor in the postseason necessarily, even though it’s October baseball.
“We have enough days off to get some rest. But what we’ve got to do, we’ve got to find a couple other guys to get them hot.
“For us to be a real dangerous club offensively, it’s pretty much throughout the lineup that we can do some damage.”
All of it leaves the Cubs in a tight spot, even before they get in their own way with a variety of gaffes and mild misplays.
And that’s not even accounting for a tortured past — a century’s worth of odd and ugly endings — that reared itself again in Game 3.