Chicago Cubs advance to NLCS with 6-4 win over Cards
Call it historical symmetry if you will.
Back in 1932, the legend of Babe Ruth grew by another leap when he was alleged to have "called his shot" before hitting a home run against the Cubs in the World Series.
Fast-forward from grainy black-and-white to stunning hi-def.
The scene was Tuesday's fourth game of the National League division series between the Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals at slightly modernized Wrigley Field.
In the seventh inning, one inning after Anthony Rizzo had broken a 4-4 tie with a home run into the right-field bleachers, a sturdy, compact kid who reminds some of the Babe in appearance and swing, absolutely crushed a pitch from the Cardinals' Kevin Siegrist and sent it high toward right field for a mammoth home run, giving the Cubs an insurance run as they beat the Cardinals 6-4 to advance to the NL championship series for the first time since 2003.
The slugger's name Tuesday was Kyle Schwarber, and word got out in the postgame clubhouse from center fielder Dexter Fowler that Schwarber called his shot.
"Yeah," Schwarber said. "We were out in center field, and Joe (manager Maddon) was making a pitching change, and I was just joking around. I said, 'I'm going to hit a home run off this guy, and he (Fowler) is like, 'Well, do it.' There you go."
And there it went, with the Cubs saying the ball nestled safely on top of the right-field videoboard.
That wasn't the only history made on this day at the old ballpark. With their victory, the Cubs clinched a postseason series at home for the first time in the history of Wrigley Field.
"When you're 61, there's not a whole lot of firsts left," said Joe Maddon, who in his first year as Cubs manager guided his team to a victory over the Pirates in the wild-card game and the Cardinals in the division series. "How old is this place? It's pretty cool.
"I'm happy for everybody. That's the best way to describe it. I'm happy for everybody here. I'm happy for the organization, the Ricketts family (owners of the Cubs).
"That's where the satisfaction comes to me. They put their trust in me and us to do this. And this is what's happening right now."
The ballgame itself was a supremely entertaining affair between these two ancient rivals from the National League Central. The Cubs were going to do all they could to keep this series from going back to St. Louis for a decisive fifth game.
That meant Maddon was readying his bullpen soon after Cubs starting pitcher Jason Hammel gave up a 2-run home run to Stephen Piscotty in the first inning.
Maddon left Hammel in to bat with two outs and two on in the second. Hammel singled up the middle to score Starlin Castro. Javier Baez then came up and crushed an opposite-field home run to right. Baez started at shortstop in place of Addison Russell, who injured his hamstring in Monday's game.
Maddon admitted he was "real close" to hitting for Hammel.
"If the bases would have been loaded, it would have been (Tommy) La Stella," Maddon said. "The fact it was first-and-second and Hammer, he can handle the bat pretty well, which he showed you with a basehit to center field, but it was pretty close."
As it was, Hammel was around for only 3-plus innings, with Maddon turning to seven relief pitchers.
Justin Grimm looked like his old self, striking out three in one inning.
Travis Wood pitched well but had a run charged to him when Trevor Cahill (1-0) gave up a run in the Cardinals' 2-run sixth, when they tied the game at 4-4.
But from there, Fernando Rodney, Clayton Richard, Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon kept the Cardinals at bay while Rizzo and Schwarber were putting the Cubs out in front to stay.
As Rizzo and Schwarber rounded the bases on their home runs, Wrigley Field shook and vibrated, and the noise level was reminiscent of that in the old Chicago Stadium, when the Blackhawks and Bulls rocked the joint.
"You hit it, and you run around the bases and the place is going nuts," Schwarber said. "That's when it hits you, that this is what it's all about. This is what you live to play baseball for, is playing in front of your home crowd in the playoffs.
"Then coming into the dugout, you know, our team is awesome. I can say it over and over again, the personalities that we have in the clubhouse are unbelievable, and it makes it so much fun to come to the ballpark every day."