LOS ANGELES — The moment the bullpen gates swung open on Saturday night, it became clear who seized the advantage in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series.
The first man out for the Cubs was righthander Hector Rendon, an omission from his team’s roster in the first round. The first man out for the Dodgers was lefthander Tony Cingrani, a revelation since his midseason trade from the Reds.
Both entered in a tie game. Only Cingrani left it that way.
Chris Taylor hammered a tiebreaking solo homer in the sixth off Rondon, putting the Dodgers ahead for good in what became a 5-2 victory. The Dodgers tacked on insurance runs against a Cubs bullpen that has a 7.08 ERA in the postseason.
“I think standing out right now, their bullpen is pretty firm,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “And we have to really get our feet back on the ground.”
Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig drove in a pair of runs, accentuating his triumphs with his arm-waving, sensibility-thrashing celebrations. His damage included a seventh-inning solo shot against Cubs lefthander Mike Montgomery. It was the first career postseason homer for Puig, who is 7-for-15 with six RBIs in the playoffs. “This is my best season,” he said.
The Dodgers added a run in the seventh when Justin Turner singled home Charlie Culberson, on the roster only because Corey Seager will miss the NLCS with a back injury. Culberson was ruled out and never touched the plate, but the call was overturned when replays showed that Willson Contreras illegally blocked the plate. A furious Maddon was ejected, a fitting image for a team that entered the NLCS running on fumes.
As a group, the Cubs endured an emotional gantlet in the 48 hours leading up to their rematch against the Dodgers. After surviving a 4-hour, 37-minute clincher against the Nationals in Game 5 of the National League Division Series, the delirious Cubs boarded their charter to Los Angeles early Friday morning, only to be diverted to Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Jose Quintana’s wife, Michele, fell ill during the flight. But little more than a day later, Quintana climbed the mound to start Game 1 of the NLCS.
The lefthander was not even announced as the starter until a few hours before game time, partly because he remained in New Mexico until Friday night to be with his wife, who was said to be doing well. He showed no ill effects, holding the Dodgers to two runs in five innings.
While the Cubs scrambled, the Dodgers swept Arizona in their NLDS. That domination made for a week of resting and waiting. When ace Clayton Kershaw took the ball for Game 1, he did so after not having pitched since Oct. 6. That rest translated into rust for Kershaw, who was pulled after throwing 87 pitches in five innings.
Kershaw surrendered a two-run homer by Albert Almora Jr. but otherwise limited the damage on a night in which he lacked his best command. But while the rest may have diminished Kershaw, it allowed manager Dave Roberts to aggressively use a bullpen that logged four scoreless innings of relief. That included using the recently converted Kenta Maeda in a tie game in the sixth and leaning on closer Kenley Jansen for a four-out save. Said Kershaw: “Those guys have been unbelievable.”
The Cubs’ relievers continued an awful postseason. Despite Chicago’s victory over the Nationals in the NLDS, Cubs relievers had allowed 13 runs in 17 innings. Aside from Wade Davis’ seven-out save in Game 5, the Cubs’ best relief outings came from starters pressed into duty.
Montgomery was charged with two runs and allowed four hits in one inning. He has allowed five runs in three appearances in the postseason. Rondon was pulled after retiring only one batter. Said Maddon: “Neither situation worked out.”