NLCS Game 1: Puig, Taylor power Dodgers past Cubs 5-2
LOS ANGELES — Chris Taylor hit a tiebreaking homer in the sixth inning, Yasiel Puig added a homer and an RBI double to his dynamite postseason, and the Los Angeles Dodgers overcame a short start by Clayton Kershaw for a 5-2 victory over the Chicago Cubs on Saturday night in the NL Championship Series opener.
Charlie Culberson doubled, drove in the tying run and scored another while replacing injured All-Star shortstop Corey Seager for the resourceful Dodgers, who improved to 4-0 in this postseason.
With another collective offensive effort and four innings of perfect relief pitching, Los Angeles calmly overcame an early two-run deficit and took the first game of this rematch of the 2016 NLCS, won in six games by Chicago on the way to its first World Series championship in 108 years.
Game 2 is Sunday, with Rich Hill starting at home against Chicago’s Jon Lester.
Kershaw pitched five innings of four-hit ball, but the Los Angeles ace fell behind 2-0 before getting pulled for a pinch-hitter during Los Angeles’ tying rally.
But after winning 104 games in the regular season and sweeping Arizona in the Division Series, the Dodgers have a lineup and bullpen equipped to handle it. They made Kershaw’s latest laborious postseason start irrelevant, just as they did after he gave up four homers in his playoff-opening start against the Diamondbacks last week.
Albert Almora Jr. hit a two-run homer in the fourth, but the final 18 batters failed to reach base for the weary Cubs, still bouncing back from a 10-hour cross-country flight after finishing off Washington late Thursday night.
Jose Quintana pitched five innings of two-hit ball for the Cubs one day after his wife, Michel, was taken off the team plane in Albuquerque with a medical ailment. But the Dodgers tied it against him in the fifth and went ahead in the sixth with Taylor’s leadoff shot off loser Hector Rondon.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon was ejected in the seventh after a call at the plate was reversed. Culberson initially was ruled out when he attempted to score from second, but was called safe after video review when catcher Willson Contreras was deemed to be in violation of blocking home plate without the ball.
Kenta Maeda got three outs and the victory in his latest standout relief effort, and Kenley Jansen struck out all four batters he faced for his third save this postseason.
Puig added another huge offensive game to his recent surge with his first career postseason homer — though in a postgame interview on TBS, he was convinced he had hit one before. The Cuban slugger also included his usual array of bat flips and portentous pauses at the plate.
He drove a double deep into the left-center gap in the fifth inning to score Los Angeles’ first run, and his sky-high homer off Mike Montgomery in the sixth barely got over the fence in left. Puig is 7 for 15 with six RBIs in the Dodgers’ first four playoff games.
Almora scored the winning extra-inning run in Game 7 of last year’s World Series against Cleveland, but his homer off Kershaw was his first career extra-base postseason hit. He had just eight homers in the regular season, but made no mistake when Kershaw left a full-count slider over the plate.
Kershaw’s inability to match his sublime regular-season performances in the playoffs is a central theme of his career. The three-time NL Cy Young Award winner won the NLDS series opener last week despite giving up four homers at Dodger Stadium, and Almora’s shot made him the first Dodgers pitcher to yield five homers in a single postseason.
And despite pitching for the third time in six days after a start and a relief appearance against Washington, Quintana was outstanding from the beginning at Dodger Stadium, retiring 12 of Los Angeles’ first 13 batters.
Los Angeles finally got rolling in the fifth when Logan Forsythe and Austin Barnes drew one-out walks. Puig hammered a double to left-center, but the ebullient Cuban slugger headed to second only after flipping his bat and spreading his arms wide at the plate.
Culberson then came through with a sacrifice fly that easily scored Barnes.
Cubs: Lester won Game 5 of the 2016 NLCS at Dodger Stadium. He started Game 2 of the Cubs’ Division Series this year, and he added 3 2/3 innings of relief in Game 4 on Wednesday, but the veteran compared that relief appearance to normal side work between starts. Lester’s nine career postseason victories are the most among active pitchers except Justin Verlander, who picked up No. 10 in Houston earlier Saturday.
Dodgers: Hill is a former Cubs pitcher with just one career postseason victory, but the resilient veteran regularly comes through in tough situations for LA. He made it through just four innings in Game 2 against Arizona, but yielded only two runs.