CHICAGO -- In this old ballpark where even the outfield ivy has taken on a role, the weight of history is now on the Mets' side. Their 5-2 win over the Cubs in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series on Tuesday at Wrigley Field gave them a 3-0 series lead, moving the Mets to within one victory of their fifth NL pennant and their first World Series appearance since 2000.
The Mets will try to close out the Cubs in Game 4 on Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET air time, 8 p.m. game time on TBS).
What the Mets are facing is a Cubs team backed into one of Wrigley's quirky corners, knowing only one Major League team has ever come back from a 3-0, best-of-seven series deficit in 34 attempts. They also know that the architect of that club, the 2004 Red Sox, was none other than Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein.
"Of course you think about those things, you think about the parallels, think about the fact that that happened against a New York team," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "We think about all that stuff, but it's up to us to go out and play and execute. I put all my stock in the fact that I know our guys are going to be ready to play tomorrow."
Maddon's hope is that the Cubs can rip apart history in much the same way the Mets have done this month. Before this series, Collins' club had not beaten the Cubs all year. Until Game 3, they had not won at Wrigley since May 19, 2013.
They overcame that last part behind second baseman Daniel Murphy, who matched an MLB record by homering in his fifth consecutive postseason game, and starting pitcher Jacob deGrom, who overcame a rocky first inning to move to 3-0 this October. Aside from solo homers to Kyle Schwarber and Jorge Soler, deGrom was everything the Mets needed him to be.
Along the way, the Cubs made multiple defensive mistakes, including a Soler blunder in the sixth that allowed a Wilmer Flores double to scoot into the ivy. Though that play wound up being a positive break for the Cubs, who could not parlay it into a comeback, other mistakes cost them dearly. Chief among those was a Trevor Cahill wild pitch that allowed Yoenis Cespedes to score the go-ahead run on Michael Conforto's sixth-inning strikeout.
"I think we're all very aware of how close we are, and at the same time, we're not taking it for granted because they are a very, very good team -- a very explosive team -- that can blow up at any time," Conforto said. "We're not taking them lightly. We're going to show up the same way tomorrow that we have the last three games."
By the ninth, a light rain had begun falling on Chicago's North Side, as Jeurys Familia locked down the final three outs for his franchise-record fifth postseason save.
"There's no excuses to what happened today," Schwarber said. "They just played better than we did. Now we've got our backs against the wall, but we're going to keep fighting until the end."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Lost in the ivy: One batter after the Mets scored the go-ahead run on a wild pitch, they nearly doubled their lead when Soler allowed Flores' hit to scoot all the way to the right-field wall. Umpires called it a ground-rule double when it rolled into the ivy, forcing Conforto to stop at third -- even though he would have scored easily on the play. That brought a steaming-mad Collins out of the Mets' dugout, arguing to no avail. The next batter, deGrom, flew out to strand two men in scoring position in a one-run game. More >
"It was a tough one," catcher Miguel Montero said of the wild pitch. "I went down to block it, and it unfortunately [got away]. It really hurts. I've blocked pitches like that many, many times. It really, really hurt. It was strike three. You know what? It happens. It's part of the game. You can't block every ball."
Power rangers: With one out in the first, Schwarber launched his fifth postseason home run, an opposite-field shot to left, and set a franchise record -- not just for a rookie, but for any Cubs player in the postseason. The previous mark of four was shared by Aramis Ramirez and Alex Gonzalez in 2003. Soler tied the game in the fourth with a solo shot, his third postseason homer. How much do the Cubs count on home runs for their offense? Twenty-one of their 29 postseason runs have come via the homer. More >
"This is not the spot we want to be, but we're here and we have to face it," Schwarber said of the deficit in the NLCS. "It's a little taste of adversity. We know that we're a good team and we know that we can do a lot of special things."
Murphy strikes again: A no-doubter to center field, Murphy's third-inning homer off Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks was his sixth of the postseason, giving him sole possession of the Mets' franchise record for an entire career. It also marked Murphy's fifth consecutive postseason game with a homer, matching Carlos Beltran's record run for the 2004 Astros. More >
"It's ridiculous," Mets third baseman David Wright said. "We were talking in the dugout, and being here in Chicago, [he] should have given the shoulder shrug like [Michael] Jordan after that last one. It's fun to watch. Being a hitter, I understand how difficult it is to do what he's doing, to continue this hot streak for 10 days or whatever it's been."
Eleven straight: Just like in NL Division Series Game 5, deGrom struggled to find his footing early, giving up Schwarber's homer en route to a 29-pitch first inning. But he grew incredibly efficient after that, averaging fewer than 12 pitches per inning the rest of the way. After Soler homered with one out in the fourth, deGrom retired the final 11 batters he faced. More >
"There's confidence in this clubhouse in everybody. We just got to keep playing baseball. One New York team has blown a 3-0 lead, let's make it the other New York team. That's the way we're going to look at it. That's the only thing we can do is be optimistic, and come out and play baseball." -- Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo, referring to the Red Sox's come-from-behind win over the Yankees in the 2004 American League Championship Series
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The Cubs' 15 home runs are the second-highest total in the franchise's postseason history, trailing the 17 they hit in 2003.
Though 20 big leaguers have won each of their first three career postseason starts, including the Cardinals' Michael Wacha as recently as 2013, no Met had ever done it until deGrom. The right-hander's three road wins are also tied for the most in history in a single postseason.
WHAT'S NEXT Mets: The most untested member of New York's rotation will take the mound at Wrigley Field on Wednesday. Rookie left-hander Steven Matz will make his eighth career start in NLCS Game 4, after giving up three runs in five innings and taking the loss in NLDS Game 4 against the Dodgers. Matz has never faced anyone on Chicago's postseason roster in a big league game.
Cubs:Jason Hammel takes the mound in Game 4 on Wednesday at Wrigley Field. On May 13, the right-hander held the Mets to one run on five hits over eight innings. Of course, that team didn't have Wright or Cespedes. Hammel made one abbreviated start in the NL Division Series, giving up two runs over three innings in Game 4 against the Cardinals.