Two quick runs off the best pitcher on the planet on Saturday night afforded the Cubs exactly what they needed to snap a 71-year-old drought.
Already confident after consecutive offensive outbursts in the previous two games, a two-run first inning against Clayton Kershaw had Cubs hitters in a positive frame of mind.
They rode the surprising rally and a dominant performance by Kyle Hendricks to a 5-0 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers at Wrigley Field in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series. The win earned the Cubs their first NL pennant since 1945 and on Tuesday night they’ll seek their first World Series title since 1908 when they face the Cleveland Indians in Game 1.
“It’s huge for the confidence, the positive momentum from LA, to carry over back home,” left fielder Ben Zobrist said. “Those were the biggest moments in the game early on to help everybody keep pushing and that we got this thing -- that we’re in charge of the game early. “That’s a huge momentum builder.”
The Cubs did a little bit of everything in the first inning against Kershaw, who dominated them for seven scoreless frames in a 1-0 Dodgers victory in Game 2 on Sunday night. Some hitters took a more aggressive approach against the three-time NL Cy Young winner while others remained patient. The one constant throughout the 30-pitch frame was that Cubs hitters took advantage whenever Kershaw made a mistake.
Dexter Fowler started with an opposite-field double on a 1-1 slider and Wrigley was rocking when Kris Byrant singled him in to make it 1-0. Andrew Tolles’ error on Anthony Rizzo’s gapper to left center put runners on second and third. Zobrist took advantage and put the Cubs ahead by two with a sac fly to center.
“I think the boys were just ready to go,” Fowler said.
The confidence gained from 18 runs scored in the fourth and fifth games of the series was evident before the Cubs ever took the field. Players looked loose during pregame warmups, whether it was Albert Almora Jr. and several teammates banging air drums to Phil Collins’ ‘In The Air Tonight’ or Javy Baez pumping his fist to a loud beat mere seconds before the Cubs took the field.
The confidence carried over as the two runs represented the first time all season that Kershaw had allowed a pair to score in the first inning.
“They jumped on it,” catcher Miguel Montero said. “They were all over his fastball and they spit on his breaking ball.
“We felt good coming into the game knowing that we were facing the best pitcher on the planet. But we felt good about ourselves because we got the lead.”
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts thought the key was that the Cubs took advantage of Kershaw’s mistakes as opposed to his previous start when he allowed two hits. Addison Russell kept the pressure on Kershaw when he ripped a hanging slider for a leadoff double in the second inning and he later scored on Fowler’s two-out single to left.
Rookie catcher Willson Contreras crushed a hanging slider for a solo homer in the fourth inning to make it a 4-0 lead.
“They had a great game plan tonight,” Roberts said. “And there was a couple mistake sliders that they took advantage of. But they were running counts, they used the whole field, and there was traffic all night for Clayton. And he gave it everything he had, but when they did -- when he did make a mistake, they made him pay.”
Rizzo gave the Cubs an even bigger lead when he hammered a 1-1 fastball from Kershaw in the fifth inning for a solo homer and a 5-0 lead. Combined with the dominance of Hendricks, the cushion made any talk about curses or billy goats or five outs seem downright silly.
“It felt really good, amazing,” Rizzo said. “We were on the board and I tell our pitchers all the time, ‘If you don’t let ‘em score, it’s impossible (for them) to win.’ ”
Ohio State is undefeated no more.
Thanks to a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown in the game's final five minutes, Penn State pulled off a stunning upset of the previously undefeated Buckeyes, 24-21, on Saturday night in Happy Valley.
The Nittany Lions trailed 21-7 at the start of the fourth quarter, getting three huge plays en route to a touchdown before kicking a field goal to bring them within four points. The Buckeyes went down the field and lined up for a field goal that would've put them up by a touchdown, but the kick was blocked, Grant Haley picking the ball up and returning it 60 yards for a crazy go-ahead score.
Here's the play:
Ohio State got the ball back with four and a half minutes remaining but couldn't get out of its own territory, J.T. Barrett sacked on third and fourth down to turn the ball over to Penn State and seal the game.
The game started with a sloppy first half, the Buckeyes scoring first with a field goal off a punt fumbled by the Lions. An 11-play, 78-yard touchdown drive capped a 26-yard pass from Barrett to Marcus Baugh made it a 9-0 game (thanks to a missed extra point), and after Ohio State added a field goal, Penn State stitched together a 74-yard drive finished off with a 20-yard pass from Trace McSorley to Chris Godwin for a touchdown, making the game 12-7 at halftime.
A monstrous 74-yard touchdown run by Curtis Samuel was immediately followed by an Ohio State safety, making the Buckeyes appear in complete control at 21-7.
But then came that fourth quarter, Penn State scoring on a drive that featured plays of 16, 37 and 35 yards. The capper was a two-yard rush by McSorley, and the Lions were within a touchdown. Then came that field goal and the ensuing blocked kick return for a score that served as the game-winner.
The score was hardly indicative of how productive the two teams were. Ohio State had a massive 413-276 advantage in total yardage, holding onto the ball for nearly 15 more minutes. The Buckeyes were 10-for-24 on third and fourth down, while the Lions were just 2-for-14. And while Barrett completed 28 passes, McSorley completed just eight. Barrett finished with 245 passing yards and a touchdown, while McSorley had 154 yards and a touchdown plus 63 rushing yards and a score on the ground.
Saquon Barkley had 99 rushing yards for Penn State, while Samuel and Mike Weber each had 71 rushing yards for Ohio State.
Saturday night's result dramatically shook up the Big Ten, removing Ohio State from the list of the conference's undefeated teams. The Buckeyes, at 6-1, can of course still win a slew of championships, but the margin for error has practically evaporated if they're going to reach the College Football Playoff.
The win sent Penn State to 5-2, and the Lions sit in second place in the Big Ten East Division standings behind only undefeated Michigan.
The Lions next take on Purdue, and the Buckeyes next take on Northwestern.