Yasmani Grandal dropped his bat in the dirt and admired his own strength. He watched as his two-run homer disappeared from sight in the fourth inning of this 6-0 Dodgers victory over Chicago in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series. Grandal did not sprint out of the box. He knew there was no need.
Such of the confidence of these Dodgers, who now lead this series, 2-1, and reside two victories away from their first World Series berth since 1988. The group weathered some Game 1 thunder and rallied with back-to-back shutouts of this 103-win Chicago club.
The Dodgers bullied Cubs starter Jake Arrieta, charging him with four runs in five innings of work. Corey Seager raked an RBI single in the third inning. After Grandal went deep, Justin Turner followed up with a solo home run in the sixth.
After a pair of abbreviated starts against Washington, Hill rebounded with six scoreless innings. He confined the Cubs to two hits, a pair of singles by All-Star third baseman Kris Bryant. Manager Dave Roberts asked Kenley Jansen to pick up the last four outs. Jansen obliged.
This ballpark held happy memories for Arrieta. He had not started at Dodger Stadium since Aug. 30, 2015, the night he pitched the 15th no-hitter in Cubs franchise history. A few months later, he swooped in front of Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke to win the National League Cy Young award.
Arrieta resembled a human in 2016. In May, the Dodgers snapped a 23-game streak in which the Cubs won each time Arrieta started. He produced a 4.20 earned-run average during the final three months of the season. He found himself relegated to the No. 3 position in his team’s rotation for October.
The Cubs did not record a hit until Bryant singled in the third. But Chicago did extract 30 pitches out of him in the second. Hill walked a pair of batters. Obsessed with first baseman Anthony Rizzo stealing second, he flung four pickoff throws, only to see Rizzo swipe his fourth base of the entire year. A mix-up with catcher Yasmani Grandal led to a passed ball.
Hill stood amid a mess. He extricated himself by striking out shortstop Addison Russell with a curveball, then inducing a groundout by catcher Miguel Montero. Disgusted with the traffic, Hill flung his glove onto the bench when he reached the dugout.
The Dodgers created a lead for Hill in the third. Andrew Toles roped a leadoff single. Hill dribbled a grounder to third base to move him into scoring position. With two outs, Corey Seager came to the plate, in search of his first postseason hit beyond the first inning.
Seager swung through a slider for strike one. Arrieta just missed outside with another slider. He decided to stick with the same pitch for a third time. The slider hovered at Seager’s belt, and he smacked it into right field for an RBI single.
The advantage grew to three an inning later. Josh Reddick chopped a one-out single off Arrieta’s glove and underneath Javier Baez’s hand at second base. As Arrieta toiled with Joc Pederson and Grandal, Reddick stole second base, then third. He was 90 feet away, dancing with each pitch, when the count ran full against Grandal.
Grandal treats hitting like an oil prospector on the prowl, boom or bust, filthy rich or flat broke. He entered the night with only two hits in the entire postseason, both of them collected in the first game of the first round. After an 11-day drought, Grandal was about to strike gold.
Arrieta opted for a fastball. The pitch was low, but over the middle. Grandal gave it a hellacious lash. The ball landed just shy of the bleachers in right-center field.
Hill protected the lead with care. At one point, he retired eight batters in a row. The streak ended when Bryant singled in the sixth. Hill popped up utility man Ben Zobrist for the second out. To the plate came Rizzo, his bat frozen in amber this series, but his eye still capable of patience.
Rizzo ignored a pair of curveballs to start the at-bat, and pulled ahead in the count, 3-1. Hill snapped a curve to pick up a second strike. Then he dropped down, his delivery shifting into a sidearm, as he fired an 87-mph cutter. Rizzo swung through it, and Hill skipped off the mound.
In the bottom of the inning, the Dodgers benefited from a tactical blunder by Cubs Manager Joe Maddon. An inning earlier, Maddon allowed Arrieta to bat for himself, exposing him to a third turn through the Dodgers batting order. Arrieta completed the fifth without incident. The sixth inning was different.
Arrieta lasted just one pitch in the inning. He hung a slider. Turner clobbered it. The homer brought Maddon to the mound. His timing was less than exquisite. The run was already on the board, and the Dodgers were that much closer to a lead in this series.