MLB

Paving a path to a Cubs comeback from 3-0 NLCS deficit

Yes, the outlook isn’t brilliant for the Chicago National League baseball club. After a 6-1 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series on Tuesday, Chicago Cubs fans shuffled out of Wrigley Field, some snapping a selfie with the field and the scoreboard in the background, most trudging despondently down the ramps of the old ballpark, the realization that the season is almost over after eight-plus months of box scores and highlights and cheering and washing that lucky Anthony Rizzo T-shirt for the next game.

But it’s not over. Not yet. Sure, the Dodgers are up three games to none and that means it’s an almost impossible to task for the Cubs to rally, but such a comeback has happened once before. Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein knows about that one. He was the general manager of the 2004 Boston Red Sox, the miracle team that rallied in the ALCS against the New York Yankees and went on to win the World Series.

Here’s the thing: That comeback seemed even more impossible than this one appears to be for the Cubs. Even forgetting the enormous weight of the history between the Red Sox and Yankees franchises, the Yankees had won Game 3 by the beastly score of 19-8. “The Yankees stripped the Red Sox of all dignity last night,” wrote Boston Globe scribe Dan Shaughnessy. “So there. For the 86th consecutive autumn the Red Sox aren’t going to win the World Series.”

Let’s use their comeback as a blueprint for the Cubs.

Game 4: Red Sox 6, Yankees 4 (12 innings)

The first key is to have the right mindset and keep a positive attitude. Back in 2004, Red Sox manager Terry Francona said, “I can’t bail. I won’t bail on these guys.” Joe Maddon echoed those thoughts after Tuesday’s loss. “I’ve got the little wristband on — ‘We never quit.’ Something we’ve talked about the last three years,” he said.

Game 4 featured the famous David Ortiz walk-off home run in the 12th inning to win it, but before that the Red Sox tied the score in the bottom of the ninth off Mariano Rivera. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts knows a little something about that game. He was the pinch runner who stole second base and then scored the tying run on Bill Mueller’s base hit.

He was asked about that on Tuesday and while he said he never specifically mentions that piece of history with his players, he did say, “A message I do bring up is the sense of just being prepared for a particular moment, and I was in 2004.”

As invincible as Rivera seemed in 2004, so does Kenley Jansen in 2017. He blew one save all season. In seven innings in the postseason, he has allowed two hits and one walk with 12 strikeouts. As the Red Sox got to Rivera, the Cubs will have to get to Jansen.

Ortiz eventually hit the home run off Paul Quantrill. No doubt, it’s time for Rizzo or Kris Bryant to hit a big home run. The winning pitcher in that game? Curt Leskanic. Somebody deep in the Chicago bullpen will have to come up big.

Game 5: Red Sox 5, Yankees 4 (14 innings)

Ortiz won this with another walk-off hit, after the Red Sox had rallied in the eighth inning with two runs to tie it. The Dodgers will be starting Clayton Kershaw in this game, but the Yankees had a pretty good pitcher going as well in Mike Mussina. Lesson here: Just because the opponent has a future Hall of Fame starter — yes, Mussina is a future Hall of Famer — doesn’t mean you can’t win the game.

The hero for Boston was Tim Wakefield, who pitched the final three innings in relief. A veteran starter coming out of the bullpen with a clutch extra-inning relief appearance? That sounds a lot like John Lackey, doesn’t it? “Your back’s absolutely against the wall,” Maddon said. “Tomorrow is a Game 7. We have three or four Game 7s in a row coming up right now. We’ve got to counterpunch it at some point, and that’s absolutely necessary tomorrow. We need to gain some kind of mental momentum, and obviously that’s our last chance to do it tomorrow.”

Having to win four Game 7s means Maddon will undoubtedly have to scramble with his pitching. That’s why Lackey probably becomes an important guy at some point, unless the Cubs get some lights-out performances from the starters. An extra-innings victory, like the Red Sox had, also will help because it may then force Roberts to scramble with his pitching staff. An advantage the Dodgers have right now is they don’t have to do that; if the Cubs can somehow force that to happen — make Jansen and Brandon Morrow throw a lot of pitches, or Kenta Maeda to go several innings in relief, then suddenly the Dodgers bullpen will be forced to use some of the back-end guys and you never know what can happen at that point.

Game 6: Red Sox 4, Yankees 2

Curt Schilling’s Bloody Sock Game. He allowed one run in seven innings and Mark Bellhorn hit a big three-run homer off Jon Lieber.

With Jake Arrieta going in Game 4 and Jose Quintana in Game 5, this would be Jon Lester‘s game. He doesn’t need a bloody sock, but if anybody is up for a shutdown game, it’s Lester. Score early off Rich Hill when the Bellhorn equivalent hits a three-run homer — how about Jon Jay as the surprise hero? — and Lester goes seven or eight and the Dodgers never get to Morrow and Jansen with the lead.

Game 7: Red Sox 10, Yankees 3

Now all the pressure will be on the Dodgers. Hey, the Cubs already have a World Series title. They’re playing with house money by this point. The Dodgers, meanwhile, haven’t been to a World Series since 1988. In this game, the Red Sox jumped all over Kevin Brown. Ortiz hit a two-run homer in the first and then Johnny Damon hit a grand slam in the second.

As good as Yu Darvish looked in Game 3, he’s certainly capable of a blowup start. Remember that 10-run outing he had back in July for the Texas Rangers? Or the two games in early September for the Dodgers when he twice allowed five runs in outings of three and 4⅓ innings? When his fastball command wavers, teams can get to him.

The Red Sox also had to scramble for a starter in this one, as Derek Lowe started on two days’ rest. The Cubs probably won’t have to do anything crazy like that, as Kyle Hendricks would be starting on normal rest. But if things get dicey, they could use Arrieta and Quintana in relief.

Maddon said he wasn’t going to do anything out of the norm before Game 4. He said he has three meetings each season: spring training, the All-Star break and before the playoffs. “There is nothing inspirational I could possibly say that’s going to make a difference,” he said. “I trust our guys.”

Plus, my cab driver on the way to the park guaranteed the Cubs would come back. “Look at last year,” he told me. “Even when they were losing, they still believed in themselves. They will do it again.”

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