The Cubtober Diary: The bunt that turned a series
LOS ANGELES – The Cubs needed heroes like them on Wednesday night – along with an interesting story to go with it.
Addison Russell and Anthony Rizzo were the storylines of Game 4 of the National League Championship Series against the Dodgers. Void of a run for 21 innings and down in the series 2-1, it was the former that snapped out of his slump with a two-run homer after narrowly missing one earlier in the game.
Then the former switched bats with teammate Matt Szczur and had three-straight hits and three RBIs that boosted a 10-2 win. Those were such obvious narratives of a critical Cubs’ victories that they dominated the chatter from the final pitch till the start of Game 5 on Thursday.
Yet the true hero of Game 4 had the smallest hit of the evening on Wednesday. Without him, none of the other stuff may have taken place to snap the Cubs out of their offensive doldrums.
That’s Ben Zobrist, who wasn’t exactly tearing the cover off the ball just like Rizzo and Russell. The utility player was batting under .200 for the playoffs with just a single hit in his 11 previous at-bats in the NLCS, including a fly out in the second inning of Game 4.
When he came up again in the fourth the Cubs were still without a hit off starter Julio Urias who already struck out four batters. But Zobrist came up with a way to mix things up.
“Whenever I give him a sign, it never works. So I’m glad he thought of it on his own,” said Maddon of Ben’s decision in the moment that changed the game.
On the first pitch Zobrist laid down the unexpected bunt up the third base line. It rolled just enough but not too much that it gave a charging Jacob Turner no chance to reach it from third. Finally the Cubs had a hit and just their third baserunner of the game.
“How about the bunt gets the whole thing rolling by your No. 4 hitter?”said Maddon, referencing Zobrist’s four bunts during the 2016 regular season. “How unlikely is that?”
Some might have said that 20 minutes later when a Cubs offense that was asleep for the better part of 3 1/3 games suddenly awoke. Javier Baez got the second hit of the inning and then Willson Contreras got the third to drive Zobrist home for the first run. Jason Heyward’s groundout got Baez home before Russell busted out of his slump with a two-run homer to make it 4-0.
Rizzo snapped out of his funk with a homer the next inning and the rout was on. The Cubs would score five more runs before the game was over to reach double digits on the scoreboard for the fourth time in team playoff history. In fact, the last time they had exactly 10 was Game 1 of the World Series in 1908.
“Zo started it off with that bunt – then it was off to the races,” said Dexter Fowler, who had two hits and a RBI in Game 4.
Maybe that will be the same for a Cubs offense that became the first in team history to be shutout in back-to-back games in the playoffs. That was a big issue that the Cubs took care of on Wednesday night with the smallest of hits.