Series Status: Indians lead, 3-2
W: Jon Lester (3-1, 1.93)
L: Trevor Bauer (0-2, 5.54)
S: Aroldis Chapman (4)
MVP: Aroldis Chapman
After dropping the previous two games to fall behind 3-1 in the series, the Cubs entered Game 5 needing a victory to prolong their season and force a trip back to Cleveland.
Chicago starter Jon Lester cruised through the first five hitters before Jose Ramirez tagged a pitch down and in and sent it into the bleachers in left, giving Cleveland a 1-0 lead in the top of the 2nd.
Indians starter Trevor Bauer worked his way through the Cubs’ lineup with few issues the first time through the order. The second time around, however, proved to be more troublesome for the aviation-loving righty.
Kris Bryant, who had been 1-for-15 in the World Series up to this point, led off the bottom of the 4th and jumped on a 1-1 pitch, sending it into the first row in left center to tie the game at 1-all. Before the crowd had a chance to settle down, Anthony Rizzo followed up with a double off the wall in right that just missed going out. A Ben Zobrist single put runners at the corners for Addison Russell, who hit an infield single to bring in Rizzo. Javy Baez hit a bunt single one out later to load the bases for David Ross, who was playing in his final game at Wrigley Field. Grandpa Rossy came through with a sac fly to left, driving in Zobrist and pushing the Chicago lead to 3-1.
The Indians would get a run back in the top of the 6th when Rajai Davis hit a one-out single and proceeded to steal second base. After Lester struck out Jason Kipnis looking, Francisco Lindor did what he has done all postseason and came through for Cleveland, hitting an RBI single to Dexter Fowler in center to make it a 3-2 ballgame.
A series of questionable Joe Maddon substitutions (more on that in a bit) led to an interesting top of the 7th. Carl Edwards Jr. opened the frame by allowing a leadoff single to Mike Napoli. After inducing a Carlos Santana fly out, Maddon turned to Aroldis Chapman to get the final eight outs of the game. A hit-by-pitch placed runners at second and third with two outs, but Chapman got Roberto Perez to ground out, ending the threat.
Cleveland made things interesting yet again in the top of the 8th. Another one-out single by Davis followed by steals of second and third that put the tying run 90 feet away with two outs, but Chapman got Lindor looking to end the inning.
After a scoreless bottom of the 8th, Chapman came on for yet another inning and worked a 1-2-3 top of the 9th, giving the Cubs a 3-2 win and forcing the series back to Cleveland.
The term “must-win game” is thrown around a lot in sports, mostly regarding games that are anything but. However, it was not hyperbole to use that in regard to the Cubs on Sunday night. Had they lost, their season would quite literally have been over. To fend off Cleveland, Chicago needed a big performance from its pitching staff and boy did they get it.
Lester, who looked off in his start in Game 1, was locked in from the outset as he struck out the side in the 1st. While he did allow a couple of runs, Lester really wasn’t hit all that hard. The lone exception was Ramirez’s home run and even on that one, Lester hit his spot. You just have to tip your cap to Ramirez for hitting a tough pitch and move on. Overall, Lester allowed two runs on four hits while striking out five over six innings.
Despite that performance by Lester, the outing by Chapman will be the one in the spotlight after this game, and deservedly so. While Chapman’s preference for entering a clean inning is well known, Maddon went to the flame-throwing lefty with a runner on first in the top of the 7th with the Cubs clinging to a one-run lead. And how did Chapman respond to entering the game so early? By throwing 42 pitches in 2 2/3 shutout innings, earning the longest (and biggest) save of his career. Chapman allowed just one hit while striking out four during his time on the mound.
They ended up working out for the Cubs in the end, but Maddon’s substitutions in the bottom of the 6th/top of the 7th were head-scratchers.
Having Miguel Montero pinch hit for Ross with two outs and nobody on base seemed like a bit of over managing. Because you know Montero is not going to be behind the plate against a team with the speed of Cleveland, it meant Willson Contreras would be entering the game, putting the Cubs a freak injury away from having Baez behind the plate. Unlikely, sure, but injuries are far from predictable.
The other questionable move was pulling Lester after just 90 pitches over six innings of work. Was he losing effectiveness? Possibly. He did allow a run on a couple of singles in his final inning of work. It just seemed like an odd choice to go away from Lester in favor of Edwards when the season was hanging in the balance. In the middle of July? Sure, make the move. The end of October? I just don’t know.
The bottom of the 4th notwithstanding, the Chicago offense was far from a well-oiled machine. While the Cleveland pitching staff obviously has a lot to do with these difficulties, the Cubs have been chasing pitches all series long and that continued on Sunday, with the Cubs striking out 14 times.
Chicago heads back to Cleveland for Game 6 on Tuesday. Jake Arrieta (1-1, 3.78) will take the mound for the Cubs, who will be looking to stave off elimination yet again to force a Game 7. The Indians will counter with right-hander Josh Tomlin (2-0, 1.76). First pitch is set for 7 p.m. (CST).