“I didn’t know for most of the game, but then I got a few texts from buddies saying ‘Smile, you look like you’re about to end it all,'” Epstein said Tuesday afternoon at Dodger Stadium.
The Cubs rallied in the ninth to beat the Giants and move on to the National League Championship Series, and Epstein was back in the stands again for the first road game of the National League Championship Series. He admitted before Game 3 he does get nervous during games “when things are hairy.”
Things were plenty hairy for the Cubs Tuesday night in a 6-0 loss to the Dodgers, leaving them trailing 2-1 in the best-of-seven series with Clayton Kershaw looming in Game 6, or even possibly in Game 5.
Since the championship series became a best-of-seven affair, the team that won Game 3 after splitting the first two games was 24-9.
Jake Arrieta struggled in a five-inning start and the Cubs continued their offensive funk, getting shut out for the second straight game by Rich Hill and the Dodgers bullpen.
Epstein said he puts his game face on during the playoffs and is locked in “pitch-to-pitch. He doesn’t like to talk during games, except with his wife and fellow front office executives.
“But we had some Giants fan that was talking all the time (during Game 4) and he’s trying to show me silly pictures on his phone,” Epstein said. “Finally I just grabbed his phone and handed it to him, ‘Sir, this is our living. Would you please leave me alone?’ He thought I was a huge (jerk). But it was good. He didn’t talk to me the rest of the game.”
Undeterred, Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and their wives were surrounded by Dodgers fans in the stands on Tuesday. A woman sitting behind Epstein frantically waved a rally towel after Justin Turner‘s leadoff home run in the sixth inning gave her team a commanding 4-0 lead.
Epstein was well aware that many Cubs fans were nervous going into Game 3.
“A little bit, but if you think about it, taking a step back, we’re 4-2 in the postseason and we haven’t really started hitting yet as a team,” he said. “Our two losses are (in starts by) Madison Bumgarner and Clayton Kershaw, and they were by one run. So I think, big picture, I still feel really good about things.”
But the Cubs still couldn’t produce in Game 3. Anthony Rizzo went 1-for-3 with a broken bat infield hit in the ninth, and is 2-for-26 in the postseason.
Rizzo was unavailable for comment afterward.
“Everyone is patting him on the backside,” Epstein said. “It’s going to be one swing that locks him in. Everyone trusts him so much. Everybody. It’s just happening at a bad time for him. It’ll be fine.”
Small picture-wise, the Cubs were facing what manager Joe Maddon called “stringent adversity” for the first time since trailing the Mets 2-0 in last year’s NLCS.
“I felt like last year the pitching just beat us,” Kris Bryant said. “And I feel like right now we’ve had some chances. We’re only down 2-1. It’s not like last year at this time, we were down 3-0. And that’s always a tough hole to climb out of. We feel fine.”
Everyone was in good spirits before the game. “Good Morning America” was trying to line up player interviews for possible World Series shows in Chicago, and “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” sidekick Guillermo Rodriguez was asking Cubs players wacky questions for a segment on the late-night show.
“People say that you hit like you have two broken arms,” Rodriguez said to Rizzo.
“Me? That’s a good thing,” Rizzo said, playing along.
Rizzo walked and stole a base in the second, but the Cubs stranded runners on second and third with one out. That was the beginning of the end. After being two-hit by Kershaw and Kenley Jansen in Game 2, the Cubs managed only two singles over the first seven innings, both from Bryant, one of the few offensive bright spots.
Now the pressure is on the Cubs to avoid going down 3-1 and possibly facing Kershaw in a clincher.
“Joe always says that any time you have that pressure attached to things, it means there is something good at the end of it,” Bryant said. “We’re having fun with it. We’re embracing it.”