Rozner: Cards execute plan to perfection to take Game 1
With all due respect to Jake Arrieta, this is why the Cubs signed Jon Lester.
Albeit at least a year sooner than they thought they would need a Game 1 postseason start, Cubs management brought in Lester to be the guy in precisely this environment.
In other words, a circus.
And if it seemed ridiculous in St. Louis, it'll be elephants and clowns times 10 in Chicago, enough cute stories and cotton candy to start a diabetes epidemic.
But this doesn't have anything to do with your grandfather's dying wish or a foul ball 12 years ago -- an absurd tale that never held water and still won't be allowed a proper burial.
It's not about curses or ghosts, animal sacrifice or Gatorade buckets.
It's simply a series between two very good teams, one that's been great for a long time and one that's about to be great for a long time.
It's about the Boston model, which became the St. Louis model, which is now the Cubs model, brought along from the Red Sox by the man who created the template.
This was Theo Epstein's vision -- and no part of it included dancing bears and unicycles.
It did include a high-priced starter signed to take the pressure off the kids, and when Game 1 began Friday evening at Busch Stadium, the Cubs' lineup had a total of 24 games played in the postseason.
The Cards had 297.
Remove starting pitchers Lester and John Lackey and the score was 276-10, making Lester's performance absolutely crucial, and he did all anyone could have asked in a 4-0 loss to open the NLDS.
Lester's 13th postseason start came against his former teammate Lackey -- the two winning a World Series together in Boston in 2013 -- and Lester was brilliant, allowing only a first-inning run before an eighth-inning bomb by pinch hitter Tommy Pham.
The Cubs, meanwhile, had precious few chances against Lackey, but the big moment came in the seventh with the heart of the Cubs' order due up and trailing 1-0.
Kyle Schwarber led off with a bunt single to short before Kris Bryant struck out on a 3-2, sidearm fastball, and Anthony Rizzo bounced into a 3-6 double play to end the inning.
"I knew going in that it would be that kind of a (low-scoring) game," said Cubs manager Joe Maddon. "From our perspective offensively, I knew we'd have a hard time with Lackey."
Lackey went 7⅓ innings (2 hits, 1 walk) and Cards manager Mike Matheny surprisingly pulled his starter after just 86 pitches with one out and nobody on in the eighth. He went to Kevin Siegrist, who struck out Chris Coghlan and Addison Russell to end the inning.
Down 2-0 in the eighth, Maddon called on Pedro Strop with a man on and Strop hung a breaking ball to Stephen Piscotty, who blasted it out to deep left for a 4-0 St. Louis lead.
That mattered in the ninth when St. Louis closer Trevor Rosenthal allowed a couple of baserunners before striking out Kris Bryant to end the game to finish off a 4-hit shutout.
While the Cards got 3 hits, 3 RBI, 3 runs and 2 homers from rookies Piscotty and Pham, in two playoff games Bryant, Rizzo and Starlin Castro are 0-for-21 with 6 strikeouts.
"Our young guys have been great and they've contributed a lot," Matheny said. "You talk about young players and how they're gonna respond on this stage, our young guys really responded."
The Cubs have a long-term plan, but the Cards have their own plan for this series, and it looked a lot like it always does.
They pitch well, scratch out a couple runs, hit a home run once in a while and play extraordinary defense. It's not terribly exciting, but it's terribly effective.
It's why they've played in 12 NLDS in the last 15 years -- and it's how they took Game 1.
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