The Chicago Cubs removed any doubt Tuesday night that they have hearts bigger than the John Hancock Tower. And the guts of diamond thieves.
San Francisco Giants fans were poised to board cable cars and tear up Fisherman’s Wharf with three outs to go in Game Four of the National League Division Series.
The Cubs, though, don’t need three outs. They only need one. And they proved it Tuesday night.
THE GIANTS LED THE Cubs by three runs entering the ninth inning, three outs away from tying the series at two games each and setting up a one-game showdown in Chicago for all the pebbles on the Lake Michigan beach.
Before the fog rolled in on AT&T Park, the calm Cubs ravaged the Giants bullpen, five guys, for four runs and a 6-5 lead.
Then they turned the bottom of the ninth over to Aroldis Chapman and he struck out the side — whiff, whiff, whiff — and the Giants were dead at the bottom of the beanstalk, 6-5 losers and sent to a long winter’s nap.
ASKED ABOUT THE possibility of a decide-it-all Game Five in Wrigley Field, Cubs manager Joe Maddon said honestly, “We didn’t want a Game Five. Have you seen our numbers against Johnny Cueto? Abysmal.”
Cueto, the former Cincinnati Reds ace, was waiting to pitch Game 5. Instead, his next game will be the first week of the 2017 season.
San Francisco’s Matt Moore held the Cubs to two runs and two hits and had struck out 10 through eight innings. He had thrown 120 pitches, but he threw 130 in a game late in the season against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
MANAGER BRUCE BOCHY, one of baseball’s best managers (he and Maddon are probably the best), decided to take Moore out with the 5-2 lead.
Even though the San Francisco bullpen did a season-long imitation of the Cincinnati Reds bullpen — bad, very bad — Bochy turned it over to his bullpen.
Surely, it could protect a three-run lead. Sure, it could get three outs before the Cubs could score three or four runs.
HE WAS AS WRONG as the Flat Earth Society. He used five pitchers in the ninth. Five. And they couldn’t get three outs before the Cubs scored four runs.
This is how the ninth inning went down and if you are a Giants fan, quit reading now.
—Derek Law pitching (1). Kris Bryant singles to left field.
—Javier Lopez pitching (2). Anthony Rizzo walks.
—Sergio Romo pitching (3). Ben Zobrist doubles to the right field corner, scoring Bryant. Giants, 5-3.
—Will Smith pitching (4). Pinch-hitter Willson Contreras singles to center, scoring Rizzo and Zobrist. Tie game, 5-5.
—Jayson Heyward bunts into a force play at second, but the relay throw to first is wild and Heyward takes second on the error by shortstop Brandon Crawford.
—Hunter Strickland pitching (5). Javier Baez singles to center, scoring Heyward. Cubs lead, 6-5.
NOW IT’S THE BOTTOM of the ninth and here is how it went with Aroldis Chapman on the mound, throwing every one of his 13 pitches more than 100 miles an hour.
—Gorkys Hernandez strikes out. Denard Span strikes out. Brandon Belt strikes out. Game over. Cubs win, Cubs win, Cubs win.
IN ADDITION TO FORMER Reds closer Chapman pitching the ninth, he was pitching to former Reds catcher David Ross.
Ross, 39, is playing his final season and on this night he got the Cubs started with a solo home run in the third to tie it, 1-1, then produced a sacrifice fly in the fifth to cut a Giants lead to 3-2.
The Giants scored two in the bottom of the fifth to take a 5-2 lead, so heading into the ninth inning Ross had the only RBI produced through eight innings by the Cubs.
Then the Cubs showed why they are the best team in baseball and why manager Joe Maddon is more of a zen guru than a baseball manager.
A few minutes after the game, TV cameras showed the obligatory champagne nonsense in the Cubs clubhouse. Then a camera panned the empty stands, empty except for a colony of sea gulls feeding on the leftover garlic fries and hot dog buns.
Wonder if one of those sea gulls could have recorded an out in the top of the ninth?