CHICAGO -- Even by Dodgers standards, the strategy in the bottom of the eighth inning Saturday night was unconventional. Not Clayton Kershaw-closer unconventional, but unusual for sure.
Still, after a pair of intentional walks loaded the bases, the Dodgers had a matchup they were comfortable with when setup man Joe Blanton hung an 0-2 slider and pinch-hitter Miguel Montero slugged it for a tiebreaking grand slam, sending the Cubs to an 8-4 win in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series at Wrigley Field. Game 2 is Sunday (8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on FS1) at Wrigley.
"Tonight, first one, check swing so I got ahead. Second one, tried to bury a slider and I didn't, got lucky on that one actually, probably the same pitch as the next one, both backup sliders and didn't execute and can't do that, especially 0-2 -- 0-1 it might happen -- 0-2 it can't happen and it did. Bottom line, I didn't execute when I needed to and got burned on it."
Reinvented as a reliever, the 35-year-old Blanton has been the eighth-inning bridge to Kenley Jansen, a formula that has the Dodgers still alive. But like he said, you can't hang an 0-2 slider.
"Honestly, as soon as I missed the 0-1 slider, I was like, 'Man, that was a good pitch to hit.' After that, I just choked up a little bit and tried to get a pitch out over the plate and drive it," said Montero. "There's no other way to do it; I just got to get a hit somehow and he threw a good slider for me, right to my barrel. But to be honest, in the back of my head I was like, I want that slider back, because it was such a good pitch to hit. And I guess he heard me because he threw it back, and luckily I hit the ball pretty good.
"I never even thought I was going to hit at that point. [Cubs manager] Joe Maddon took me out to hit [right-handed hitter Willson] Contreras against the lefty, and they didn't bring in the lefty, so I guess it was a little mistake there, huh? "
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts didn't bring in lefty Grant Dayton because Montero was only 2-for-11 against Blanton. That's why he intentionally walked previous batter Chris Coghlan, who was 8-for-17 against Blanton.
"I know Joe's going to throw strikes," said Roberts, "and so to then walk Coghlan, to then bring up Montero, if I go to a left-hander [Dayton] they bring in Contreras. So, right there there's really no matchup advantage. It's more of I trust Joe."
Blanton rejected questioning that he has been overused lately, pitching in four of the five NL Division Series games after making 75 appearances during the season, going 7-2 with a 2.48 ERA and numbers almost equal against batters on either side of the plate (.198 vs. right-handers, .186 vs. left-handers). He said usage in the postseason is easier if anything because of the travel off-days.
"This is the life of a reliever, you've got to be ready tomorrow," he said. "This game doesn't matter, it's over."
Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for MLB.com since 2001. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.