NLCS Game 2: Turner’s Gibson Not Music to Cubs

With one swing in the bottom of the ninth Sunday night, Justin Turner gave the Dodgers and their fans something they haven't had most of this postseason. Just when it looked like both League Championship Series were going to be the anti-division series that preceded them, along came a little old-fashioned off-the-charts heroism.

Sweep the Diamondbacks just to get to this LCS in the first place? Boooooooring. Get to a 2-0 National League Championship Series lead like methodical businessmen or like John McGraw's ancient "scientific" baseball men? Pfft. Too easy.

The Dodgers' third baseman who looks like Sasquatch and hits the way you'd imagine Sasquatch to hit picked up at the end of Game 2 almost right where the Astros' Justin Verlander and Jose Altuve left off on the American League side of the LCS street a day earlier.

Verlander going the distance? Delicious. Altuve channeling his inner Flash at the end to win it? Scrumptious. Taking advantage of Cubs manager Joe Maddon channeling his inner Buck Showalter and hitting for distance in the bottom of the ninth with two on and two out and the game threatening to go into extra innings? Priceless.

That's the way to slam exclamation points not just home, but right through the ground. Maybe even coming up from the Indian Ocean in a big splash at the other end.

With Yasiel Puig and Chris Taylor aboard on walks, Puig from Cub reliever Brian (I Just Can't Stop) Duensing and Taylor from John Lackey, Turner hit Lackey's 1-0 pitch out of sight. Happy 29th anniversary, Kirk Gibson.

"I'm not saying he's David Ortiz," said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, a teammate of Big Papi's on the 2004 curse-busting Red Sox, "but I played with David, and you're talking about big spots and coming up big. And J.T.'s that guy for us."

The last time the Dodgers won a World Series it began with Gibson's unforgettable, leg-hobbled game-ender against Hall of Famer Dennis (the Menace) Eckersley, who lamented just as unforgettably that the lesson learned that night was "never throw a slider to a cripple."

Turner wasn't even close to needing a handicapped pass on his batting helmet visor. But he qualified the Cubs for one as he thrust his helmet toward the pitcher's mound as he scampered toward the plate and into a swarm of teammates. The Cubs now sit two losses away from hearing, Ahhhh, wait till last year!

It didn't start that way when Addison Russell led off the top of the fifth with a line drive down the left field line that landed fair in the seats off Dodger starter Rich Hill. It didn't even look that way when fill-in Dodger shortstop Charlie Culberson opened the bottom with a double off Cubs starter Jon Lester and, two outs later, Turner shot a base hit to right to send Culberson home.

Wearing out Lester to the tune of 103 pitches by the time the well-seasoned left-hander finished his evening's work — with a walk to Cody Bellinger after Turner's steak single — was part of the Dodger plan. It's just about how they approach every arm they face. Drain the suckers dry.

Carl Edwards, Jr. relieved Lester and got a couple of good tastes of that even though he got rid of every Dodger he faced without a blemish. Puig and Logan Forsythe struck out swinging against him, but Forsythe made him throw seven pitches and Puig, eight.

Hill was pretty stingy himself for the most part. He struck out eight in five innings' work and was anything but thrilled to come out of the game, hurling a cup of ice to the dugout floor in frustration.

The bullpens took up the battle and made it count for most of the final four innings, with the Dodger pen having the better of it — as in, four punchouts, no walks, and no hits over the final four innings. And a manager who didn't out-smart himself reaching to and deploying his bulls, either.

Then Duensing walked Puig on four straight pitches to open the Los Angeles ninth before Culberson sacrificed Puig to second on a first-pitch changeup that had "bunt or die" punched on its hide. Kyle Farmer, pinch-hitting for Dodger closer Kenley Jansen, struck out swinging on a full count.

And then it happened. Maddon reached for Lackey and not his closer Wade Davis. Buck Showalter, call your office.

Davis gave Maddon a seven-out effort in the Comedy of Errors on Chiller Theatre game against the Nationals that put the Cubs in the LCS in the first place, but that was last Thursday night. With three days to regroup, Maddon could and should have had Davis on standby at minimum. Maybe even opening the inning altogether.

"We needed him for the save tonight," Maddon said, sounding rather like the Orioles' Showalter explaining why he couldn't find Zach Britton to pitch to Edwin Encarnacion in the bottom of the ninth of last year's American League wild card game. "He had limited pitches and was one inning only. If we had caught the lead, he would have pitched."

Lackey hasn't had a spotless first inning of work since 2015. He's been a starter for just about his entire career, much of it illustrious enough, but he works out of the Cub bullpen this postseason thanks in big part to his 4.59 regular season ERA.

You want to "save" Davis for the save that might not even come when you bring in a pitcher a) who never pitched on consecutive days in his entire career until Sunday night; and, b) whose work in his first inning this year produced a 5.70 ERA, and who surrendered 36 bombs this year as a guy who pitches to contact but isn't 29 anymore?

Be our guest, Joe, the Dodgers could well have said to themselves.

Lackey was uncomfortable enough facing Taylor, asking catcher Willson Contreras to go through the signs again almost every other pitch, it seemed. He started Turner with a slider low and away for ball one. Then he threw a fastball just a hair off the center of the plate and watched it disappear over the center field fence. Where an only-too-happy-to-be-there Dodger fan waited along a rail several feet behind, in Dodger team jacket and game cap, to snag with an outstretched glove on the fly.

"He just has that pulse," Roberts said of Turner, "where he can just kind of keep his calm and stay within the strike zone." Just what the Cubs didn't need.

Once upon a time, Lackey was the second rookie ever to win Game 7 of a World Series. In 2013 he became the only man in history ever to start and win two Series-clinching games for two different teams. Last year, he became one of the few to win three Series rings with three different teams.

Put into a no-win position Sunday night, Lackey must have been the single most humiliated Cub on the field as Turner started his round trip. "I'm just betting on his experience right there as much as anything," said Maddon after the game. "I know that he went out there and tried to make the pitches that he wanted to make."

A pitcher's and a manager's lot includes tasting greatness and swallowing failure in the same season, never mind career. For Lackey and Maddon, Turner's launch was just too big a gulp of the latter. They know enough about heroism to know how to hate when it comes on their dollar.

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