LOS ANGELES – It was an only-in-L.A. scene, the Cubs beating the best pitcher in baseball and the game’s hottest team in front of 52,326 fans.
The Cubs flipped the script on Tuesday at Dodger Stadium, with Travis Wood outpitching Clayton Kershaw and manager Dale Sveum calling this 3-2 victory perhaps the most satisfying win for his coaching staff in almost two full seasons.
At this point, Arizona Fall League roster announcements are like Christmas morning for Cubs fans. They don’t get to enjoy too many nights like this, focusing on the present instead of an abstract future.
“I love the matchup,” Wood said. “You know you got to bring it.”
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Wood scored the game’s first run and kept a monster Dodgers lineup off-balance for seven innings, allowing only one unearned run. Starlin Castro knocked Kershaw out in the sixth with a two-out RBI single into left field. Pedro Strop pointed to the sky after getting a double-play ball to escape a jam in the eighth. Kevin Gregg watched Yasiel Puig pop out to end the game and pumped his fist.
The sellout crowd included soccer star David Beckham, actors John C. Reilly and Bob Newhart, rapper Cee Lo Green, Dodger legend Tommy Lasorda, ex-Bull Steve Kerr, Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips and whoever they put up on the two big video boards for Bongo Cam and Air Guitar Cam.
The Cubs (56-76) don’t have their Jumbotron yet, and haven’t come up with the kind of big-market resources the Dodgers have poured into a 77-55 team that will be tough to beat in October.
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But after two drafts, two fire sales at the trade deadline and several targets acquired on the international market, the Cubs at least have the hope Theo Epstein’s front office is heading in the right direction, though there are no guarantees any of these kids will make it.
“We’ve closed some gaps to have some talent,” Sveum said. “There are some power arms in the minor leagues, as well as the (Kris) Bryants and the (Jorge) Solers and we already had (Javier) Baez in the system.
“We’ve done really well with players, C.J. Edwards and guys we’ve gotten in some of these trades, (like Jake) Arrieta and Strop. We’re filling some huge gaps.
“When it’s gonna pay off? Obviously, that’s a wait-and-see.”
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Kershaw (13-8, 1.72 ERA) passed the 200-inning mark on Tuesday night and will probably have to work on another Cy Young acceptance speech. The Cubs aren’t there yet and will have to get so much better, though Wood (8-10, 3.09 ERA) continues to justify his All-Star selection and Jeff Samardzija looks like he could be an Opening Day starter for years to come.
“Just this week alone, we faced (Stephen) Strasburg,” Sveum said. “(The other night Andrew) Cashner probably had as good a stuff as all of them, too, at 98 mph and with the slider that he was sporting.
“This is the best pitching on a consistent basis that I’ve ever seen in the game. We’re right on to Philadelphia and (Roy) Halladay and (Cliff) Lee. You’re still dealing with teams having two, three, sometimes four guys that can go out and throw shutouts on any given night.”
For one night, the Cubs neutralized Kershaw, forcing the lefty to throw 107 pitches in 5.2 innings, some 24 hours after getting dominated by Zack Greinke.
“When you face a guy like that, you know you got to bring your A-game,” said catcher Dioner Navarro, who went 2-for-4 with a walk, run scored and an RBI. “I’m always looking forward to that challenge. In this game, to be the best, you got to beat the best. We did a great job as a group.”