LOS ANGELES — Sometimes, starting-pitcher matchups can be deceiving. We give you Jake Arrieta v. Rich Hill.
Arrieta’s last two starts against the Dodgers? Merely a no-hitter with 12 strikeouts on Aug. 30, 2015, in Dodger Stadium and seven shutout, two-hit innings on May 30 this season at Wrigley Field.
In direct contrast, here is Hill’s most-recent track record: His last three regular-season starts following his seven-inning perfect game lasted all of 5.1, 5.0 and 5.0 innings, and he allowed seven earned runs total. Then things got worse in the division series.
Game 2: 4.1 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, 2 BB, 7 K, including a decisive three-run homer surrendered to Jose Lobaton. And then Hill couldn’t get out of the third inning in Game 5, allowing a run, three hits and two walks before Joe Blanton got Hill out of a jam by stranding two inherited runners.
But Game 3 on Tuesday night — and possibly this entire NLCS — turned on a double-reversal of form, and now the Cubs have been shut out in back-to-back games after never being shut out twice in any entire post-season.
And all of a sudden, while Cubs manager Joe Maddon is saying, ‘it’s more of a mental trend than a physical trend. You have to be able to push back mentally until the at-bats turn around,” the Dodgers are feeding off their strong individual efforts, and an excitable, sellout crowd at Dodger Stadium.
“This is exciting,’’ Corey Seager said. “(The atmosphere) was electric. It’s an unreal feeling. You can feel the crowd, the excitement, the extra adrenalin. It’s a lot of fun.’’
So what did the Dodgers do differently against Arrieta this time around? Every hitter echoed something along these lines from Justin Turner:
“We did a good job of continuing to take good at-bats throughout the night,’’ he said. “We battled, and got his pitch count up. When we got his pitch count up, he made a few more mistakes than usual, and we were able to take advantage.’’
Seager’s two-out, third-inning single gave the Dodgers a 1-0 lead, but it was Yasmani Grandal’s long, two-run homer to right-center to cap a nine-pitch at-bat that stretched the lead to three.
And then this two-batter sequence cemented what turned out to be an easy, 6-0 victory:
– The Cubs’ struggling MVP candidate Anthony Rizzo (down to .091 in this postseason), at the plate with Kris Bryant on first and two outs in the top of the sixth, took a 2-0 fastball down the middle for a strike. Then after an excellent Hill breaking ball for strike two, Rizzo again looked confused in swinging through an 87-mph two-seamer.
– Turner, on Arrieta’s first pitch in the bottom of the sixth, pounded an 86-mph slider into the pavilion in deep left-center. The homer extended his post-season on-base streak to 13 consecutive games.
“He left it up in the zone a little bit,’’ Turner said. “He doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. So when he does, you don’t want to miss it.’’
And what got into Hill? Besides further putting the blistered finger issue behind him, Hill — in what he called ‘the biggest game of my career’ — fought through early curveball command struggles that got him into a second-inning jam caused by two walks.
“(Curveball command) definitely got better as the game went on,’’ Hill said. “We were able to establish a fastball and throw-a-strike breaking balls. Also with the slider, to be able to mix that in there and give them a different look.
“It’s about staying in the moment, and executing when you’re in that moment, and that’s all you can think about…And you continue to execute until the ball gets taken out of your hand.’’
When that happened — after six shutout innings — the only two hits Hill allowed were singles by Bryant in the third and sixth innings.
“No matter what happens, we’re still trying to attack the hitters,’’ Grandal said. “(The curveball) is his go-to pitch. So we’re going to live and die with his best pitch. We have to build a game plan around it.’’
- Seager Comeback?
Another encouraging sign for the Dodgers’ was a three-single night from presumptive National League Rookie of the Year Corey Seager. There was no surprise with his first-inning line drive to left field; after all, Seager is 5-for-8 with two homers, a double and three RBI in his first-inning post-season plate appearances.
But he remained hitless after the first inning in this postseason (leaving him 4-for-30 overall entering Game 3) until his two-out RBI single to right-center off Arrieta that scored Andrew Toles with the Dodgers’ first run in the third inning.
“It was kind of nice,’’ Seager said about ending his post-first-inning drought. “You’re trying to get a hit every AB. You try to do what you can to help your team. It’s one of those things that’s kind of laughable, but other than that, you don’t really think about it.’’
Another single in the seventh off Justin Grimm left Seager with a 3-for-4 night, and pushed his postseason numbers to 7-for-34 (.206).
“Corey is a huge piece to what we’re trying to get to,’’ Roberts said. “He got to some good pitches against a very good pitcher. Right center, left-center, bullet up the middle. So he checked all the boxes tonight.’’
- More early Kenley
Roberts again showed no hesitation in bringing in closer Kenley Jansen. This time, it was with two outs in the eighth — in a then-4-0 game— and it took Jansen just six pitches to strike out Kris Bryant on a 95-mph cutter, stranding Dexter Fowler, who had doubled off Grant Dayton.
This was Jansen’s fifth appearance of more than one inning in this postseason. In those outings, he has thrown eight scoreless innings with three hits allowed, four walks and 12 strikeouts — as opposed to his nightmarish non-save-situation appearance against Washington, when he allowed four earned runs in just one-third of an inning.
You can question Jansen pitching with a six-run lead in the bottom of the ninth if you’d like, but here’s Roberts’ reasoning: “I think this was an important game for us to have. I think he threw 18 pitches a couple of days ago, off-day yesterday, I had him in there, had him hot. I didn’t want to change the momentum at all. The pitch count was manageable, so I felt good just leaving him in there.’’
- Quick Reversal
Pinch-hitter Chris Coghlan rolled a grounder to first baseman Adrian Gonzalez for the second out in the top of the seventh. But not before Angel Hernandez — who will be behind the plate in Game 4 — got the call wrong, and called Coghlan safe. How wrong? It took only 21 seconds to overturn it, giving Joe Blanton the second out in his perfect 1-2-3 frame.