Three Strikes: Lester, Chapman lift Cubs over Indians to force Game 6

The Wrigley Field faithful finally got something to cheer about: the Cubs’ first World Series win at home since October 8, 1945. Their 3–2 victory over the Indians in Game 5 on Sunday night sends the series back to Cleveland for its conclusion, with the Indians still leading, three games to two.

Though Jose Ramirez’s solo homer off Jon Lester gave Cleveland an early lead—and an imposing one, given that they had gone 8–0 during the postseason when scoring first—Chicago rallied for three runs in the fourth, and Aroldis Chapman got the final eight outs for the longest save of his career.

The Hit Parade

Through three innings, Trevor Bauer had one-upped Lester, retiring nine of the first 10 batters he faced, five via strikeouts, four of them looking. Considering that he was working on three days of rest after lasting just 3⅔ innings in Game 2, he looked particularly sharp. Over the course of his 45 pitches, he hadn’t walked a batter, and had given up just one hit, a single by Addison Russell. He had a 1–0 lead, and the Cleveland bullpen loomed, perhaps after one more complete inning, to try to seal the Indians’ first championship since 1948.

But on Bauer’s third pitch of the fourth inning, he left a fastball middle-in to Kris Bryant. The slugger, who to that point was just 1 for 15 without an RBI in the series, clubbed the ball 382 feet to left-center for a game-tying homer, his first since Game 3 of the Division Series against the Giants.

Bryant was barely back to the dugout when Anthony Rizzo clubbed Bauer’s next pitch for a double off the ivy in rightfield, just the fourth time all series that the Cubs strung together back-to-back hits. Ben Zobrist then hit a sharp single to rightfield—too sharp to score Rizzo but the first time all series that the Cubs collected three straight hits (h/t Scott Miller). It was Zobrist’s seventh hit of the series, eclipsing his total for the first two rounds of the postseason.

The Cubs kept the line moving against Bauer. Russell fell behind 0–2 via a called-strike curveball and a fouled-off bunt. After taking another curve, he hit a soft groundball toward the third base side that was too slow for Jose Ramirez even to get Russell at first; Rizzo came home with the go-ahead run. Jason Heyward struck out looking at a curve, Bauer’s sixth K of the night, but Javier Baez—2 for 18 in the series to that point—laid down a perfect bunt to the third base side; Ramirez had no play, and the bases were loaded.

Manager Joe Maddon bypassed the chance to break the game open by calling upon Kyle Schwarber to pinch-hit for David Ross; understandably, he didn’t want to break up his battery. Ross battled for six pitches before lofting a sacrifice fly to left field to bring home Zobrist, extending the score to 3–1. Bauer finally escaped by punching out Lester on his 29th pitch of the inning, running his pitch count to 74. He didn’t return for the fifth.

In all, the Cubs’ five-hit inning included three hits with runners in scoring position—huge considering the Cubs had gone 5 for 37 with just two walks and 17 strikeouts with runners in scoring position through the series’ first four games.

Ace Bandage

Lester came out of the gate firing, striking out the side in the first inning on just 13 pitches and using a different one to finish off each batter: Rajai Davis whiffed on a changeup, Jason Kipnis on a cutter, Francisco Lindor on a curve. It was just the third time all year he struck out the side in any inning, according to ESPN’s Jesse Rogers.

While Lester got two quick outs in the second inning using just five pitches, Ramirez feasted on an inside fastball, launching it 386 feet to leftfield for a towering solo homer, his first of the postseason, and his first away from Progressive Field since May 23.

That mistake, the only batter Lester failed to retire from among the first 13 he faced, looked huge until the Cubs erupted for three runs in the fourth. Lester had to work out of trouble in the fifth after allowing a leadoff double to Carlos Santana, who took third on a groundout. He battled Brandon Guyer for nine pitches, finally striking him out looking at a fastball that PITCHf/x said was outside the zone, then got Roberto Perez to ground out. Still, he threw 19 pitches in the inning, his highest total of the night to that point.

The Indians closed the gap in the sixth by taking advantage of Lester’s unwillingness to throw to first base, something they exploited in the first inning of Game 1. Davis, who led the AL with 43 steals, hit a one-out single and then took a lead that was 18.5 feet by the time Lester moved and 27 feet by the time he released. He made it to second easily, then came home on a Lindor single to trim the lead to 3–2. But when Lindor tried to steal, Ross gunned him down, as he did in the third inning of the opener; this time, it was with a strong throw to Baez about five feet up the baseline towards first base; Lindor was out by a mile.

The Big Close

After his 19-pitch fifth, Lester threw 21 pitches in the sixth, running his pitch count to 90. Though he could have ridden his ace further, Maddon signaled that he wanted a fresh arm first by using lefty Miguel Montero to pinch-hit for Ross in the bottom of the sixth against righty Bryan Shaw; he struck out.

In all, Lester yielded four hits and struck out five without a walk. He netted 10 swings and misses from among his 90 pitches, including three apiece with his four-seam fastball and his cutter.

Maddon called upon righty C.J. Edwards, who immediately got into trouble when Napoli roped a single to leftfield, then took second on a passed ball by Willson Contreras, who had just entered the game. Edwards induced Santana to fly out, then gave way to Aroldis Chapman, entering a game for a potential eight-out save. Chapman had entered four postseason games in the eighth thus far but hadn’t entered a game in the seventh since May 17, 2012.

Though he nicked Guyer with a pitch, Chapman got out of the seventh-inning jam by striking out Ramirez and getting Perez to ground out. He had to deal with trouble in the eighth as well when Davis reached via a one-out infield single; Rizzo made a diving stop on a ball down the line, but Chapman failed to cover first. Davis stole second base while Chapman carefully worked Kipnis away, getting him to chase fastballs outside the zone until he finally fouled out. Davis stole third as well, for his third steal of the game—the fifth player in Series history to do so—but Chapman struck out Lindor swinging, running his pitch count to 30.

Thanks to the Cubs’ work against Cody Allen, Chapman himself had to bat while Heyward, who had singled and stole second, stole third base as well. He struck out to end the threat, then pitched a 1-2-3 ninth, striking out Ramirez on a 101 mph fastball on his 42nd pitch of the night. In a postseason that had already seen seven saves of four outs or more, Chapman finally got his first, and it was the longest thus far. It was just the third save of at least two innings in a World Series during the wild-card era, after Brian Anderson’s three-inning save for the Indians in Game 4 of the 1997 World Series against the Marlins and Madison Bumganer’s five-inning save for the Giants against the Royals in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series.

With that, the Cubs still have a chance to become just the fourth World Series team (out of 23) to overcome a three-games-to-one deficit and win the final two games on the road. The 1958 Yankees (over the Braves), 1968 Tigers (over the Cardinals) and 1979 Pirates (over the Orioles) are the other three. Meanwhile, three other teams came back to win the World Series by taking the final two games on the road, namely the 1926 Cardinals (over the Yankees), 1934 Cardinals (over the Tigers) and 1952 Yankees (over the Dodgers).

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