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Run for the Ring: NLDS Game 4

3 years agoTony Andracki

In a weird way, the most important 9th inning comeback in Cubs history was totally expected.

The San Francisco Giants led baseball in 2016 with 30 blown saves while the Cubs posted 33 come-from-behind wins in the regular season.

That said, the Cubs rallying to win Game 4 of the 2016 NLDS was still one of the wildest moments of the season and it very well may have saved that entire fall.

To begin telling the story, let’s rewind to the night before.

If anybody had told you back then, on the morning of Oct. 10, 2016, the Cubs would jump out to an early lead on the Giants behind a 3-run homer from Jake Arrieta off Madison Bumgarner, you undoubtedly would’ve thought the Cubs would be cruising to victory. But that’s not how it played out, as the Giants flipped the script and scored 5 unanswered runs, taking a 5-3 lead into the 9th inning. 

To close out the game, San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy called on Sergio Romo, who had emerged as the most reliable member of the Giants bullpen at the time. The Cubs greeted him immediately with a Dexter Fowler walk and Kris Bryant homer, tying the game and sending it into extra innings. Romo limited the damage from there and then tossed a shutout 10th inning, but was forced to throw 32 pitches.  

The Giants wound up walking off the Cubs that night and then responded by taking a 5-2 lead in Game 4 the next night. 

For the Cubs, losing Game 4 would’ve been a worst-case scenario. They had the Giants on the ropes the night before. Now, they were staring down the possibility of having to go back to a nervous, tense Wrigley Field in a winner-take-all Game 5 with a veteran Giants team that had won three of the previous five World Series and had red-hot Johnny Cueto set to start. 

It was a scenario Cubs manager Joe Maddon spoke about for years after.

“I’m telling you, man, Game 4 pretty much won the World Series,’ Maddon said early in the 2017 season. “I did not want to see Mr. Cueto pitching back [at Wrigley] again.

“That was the game for me – out of the entire postseason. To have to play the Giants where they were battled-tested, Game 5, back [at Wrigley] with [Cueto] pitching – I did not like that at all. I thought pretty much the postseason hinged on that one game in San Francisco.”

Of course, as we all know, Cueto never threw another pitch that fall.

The Cubs entered the 9th inning of Game 4 with only 2 hits in the previous 8 frames against Giants starter Matt Moore. They tripled that total against five different Giants relievers in the incredible comeback.

One of those pitchers included Romo, who was coming off that 2-inning performance the night before. He faced just 1 batter, allowing Ben Zobrist to double into the right-field corner and set the stage for Willson Contreras’ game-tying hit. Javy Báez later singled home the go-ahead run and Aroldis Chapman struck out the side in order in the bottom half to put the finishing touches on the wild inning and set the Cubs’ date with the Dodgers in the NLCS.

Entering that 9th inning, the Cubs had just a 2-percent chance of winning the game. Even after Zobrist’s double put the tying run on second base with nobody out, the Cubs still only had a 36-percent chance of winning.

Here’s how both teams lined up to begin that night, though Contreras came through with the big hit off the bench, pinch-hitting for Chris Coghlan (who was pinch-hitting for Addison Russell):

Cubs

Dexter Fowler – CF
Kris Bryant – 3B
Anthony Rizzo – 1B
Ben Zobrist – LF
Addison Russell – SS
Jason Heyward – RF
Javy Báez – 2B
David Ross – C
John Lackey – P

Giants

Denard Span – CF
Brandon Belt – 1B
Buster Posey – C
Hunter Pence – RF
Brandon Crawford – SS
Conor Gillaspie – 3B
Joe Panik – 2B
Gregor Blanco – LF
Matt Moore – P

Fun facts:

  • The Giants entered Game 4 having won each of their previous 10 games when facing postseason elimination (including Game 3 of the NLDS).
  • The Cubs’ win marked the first time the franchise had won a postseason series in back-to-back seasons since 1907-08.
  • Prior to the Cubs’ comeback, only one other team in the history of Major League Baseball had overcome a 3-run deficit in the 9th inning of a postseason clincher: The 1986 New York Mets.
  • All 13 pitches Chapman threw in the bottom of the 9th inning were clocked at least 100 mph.

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