LOS ANGELES -- With Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill out of the way temporarily, the Cubs went back to being the Cubs on Wednesday night. Slumping Addison Russell and Anthony Rizzo homered in a 10-2 blowout win over the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium to deadlock the best-of-seven National League Championship Series at two games apiece.
It's now a best-of-three series to see who will face the American League champion Indians in the World Series, which starts on Tuesday on FOX.
"This is a big win, for sure," Rizzo said. "To even up the series, we have a chance to take another one here [Thursday] and go home with a 3-2 lead. In a way, this is just one game and we know it's going to be a quick turnaround, but this was definitely a big game for us."
"I think we're in a great spot," countered Dodgers center fielder Joc Pederson. "[Kenta Maeda] goes tomorrow, then [Kershaw] and [Hill]. We play at home tomorrow and we could easily be up 3-2 headed to Chicago."
Russell, who had taken Urias to the track for a flyout in the second inning but was batting .040 (1-for-25) in the postseason, homered to center on a 2-0 fastball to cap a four-run fourth. That snapped Urias' string of facing 167 batters without allowing a home run this year at Dodger Stadium. Rizzo, batting .063 in the postseason, homered off Pedro Baez in the fifth inning and added a two-run single off Ross Stripling in a sloppy five-run sixth.
The key for Rizzo wasn't necessarily his approach, but his gear. He borrowed one of Matt Szczur's bats after striking out in his first two plate appearances.
"I hit well with his bat, so he has hits in it," Rizzo said of Szczur, who isn't on the playoff roster but is traveling with the Cubs. "Same size, just different model and different name and it worked."
"What you've seen so far. It's been a pretty interesting series to this point," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "I did not expect it to be such a lopsided victory for us today. Although [the Dodgers] had theirs yesterday. Like I said, it's two out of three right now. We know it's at least going back home at some point. Tomorrow will be a pretty nice day to come out on top and going back home, having to win one of two. We've been pretty good at Wrigley all year."
Before the game, Maddon said he wanted the Cubs to do the same thing they've done all season in winning 103 games, and that's score first and win innings. And that's what they did.
The Dodgers uncharacteristically helped beat themselves, committing four fielding errors -- more than in any other game this year and the most in a Dodgers postseason game since five in the 1974 NLCS -- and having two innings end with runners cut down on the bases. The Dodgers felt that a controversial review in the second inning -- when Adrian Gonzalez was out at the plate and the call stood -- was a momentum killer.
"Yeah, I'm a big believer in momentum and certain plays. You look back tonight and some plays shifted the momentum," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "To get a lead would have been big for us, and I thought we put ourselves in a position to get to [Cubs starter John Lackey]. But he escaped. You know, credit to those guys that once we kept him in the ballgame, they got the hits when they needed."
Two of the errors came in the sixth inning, contributing to two runs scoring on a Baez sacrifice fly.
Lackey, pitching with a five-run lead, walked the first two batters in the bottom of the fifth and was removed by Maddon an inning shy of qualifying for the victory. A single by pinch-hitter Howie Kendrick off winning pitcher Mike Montgomery loaded the bases. One out later, the Dodgers got a huge break when Justin Turner's possible double-play grounder deflected off Montgomery's glove into left field for a two-run single. According to Statcast™, 13 plays of similar criteria this year resulted in at least one out each time, with four of them turned into double plays. It was the last hit for the Dodgers until Yasiel Puig's one-out single in the ninth.
The starting pitching matchup featured the 20-year-old Urias, the youngest pitcher to ever start a postseason game, and Lackey, three days shy of turning 38. That created an age difference of 17 years, 294 days, the fifth largest between starters in postseason history. Lackey, who beat the Dodgers in Game 3 of the 2014 NLCS while with St. Louis, was making the 22nd postseason start of his career, tying him with Whitey Ford for sixth on the all-time list. Andy Pettitte holds the record (44).
Urias was making his 16th career start and first in three weeks, as management tried to thread the needle between rationing innings on his arm while winning with a short-handed rotation that needed him. He escaped a second-inning jam created by a Chase Utley error and a two-out walk in the third inning, but he couldn't get out of the four-run fourth.
"I thought he had really good stuff," Roberts said of Urias. "Just that inning got away from us."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Momentum changer: The postgame theme for the Dodgers was the momentum shift resulting from a play that ended the second inning. Gonzalez was called out by home-plate umpire Angel Hernandez trying to score from second after a throw from right fielder Heyward and a tag by Contreras. Gonzalez insisted he touched the plate with his left hand before the tag and the Dodgers challenged. The call stood, but the Dodgers were stunned. Gonzalez said the play turned the game around, despite the final score.
"There's so many parts of the game that change with a play like that," Gonzalez said. "We take a lead against them right there, we could easily put their backs against the wall. But because of that, they got momentum and were able to beat us tonight. Angel called what he saw, and everything is moving so fast, you cannot blame Angel. He's going to call what he sees. It's not on Angel at all."
Bunt to win: The Cubs finally scored in the fourth, ending a streak of 21 scoreless innings. Zobrist got things started with a bunt single, and he moved up on Baez's soft single to left before scoring on Contreras' single. Contreras reached second on the throw home, which was off target. Baez then scored on Heyward's groundout, and Russell followed with a two-run homer to right to open a 4-0 lead. It was Russell's second hit in 26 at-bats this postseason, and the first homer off Urias at Dodger Stadium this year.
Zobrist's bunt got it all started.
"I'm not a cleanup hitter," Zobrist said. "I'm just batting fourth."
Glove work: Contreras made a key play to end the first when he picked off Turner at second. The Major League average pop time was 1.99 seconds, and Contreras was clocked at 1.89 seconds, according to Statcast™. The rookie catcher also drove in the Cubs' first run with an RBI single in the fourth, driving an 0-2 pitch to left. He was more excited about his defensive play.
"[Turner] was far from second base, and I saw Addison Russell, and he was looking at me, and he put on the sign and we just executed it," Contreras said.
"He's a weapon, the way he throws the baseball," Maddon said. "He's not afraid. He's fearless."
Bullpen taxed: Hill's six dominant innings on Tuesday night had even greater meaning after Urias was removed following 3 2/3 innings on Wednesday night, leaving 5 1/3 innings for relievers Baez, Josh Fields, Stripling, Luis Avilan and Alex Wood to pick up. On Thursday, the Dodgers give the ball to Maeda, whose two postseason starts have lasted three and four innings, so the bullpen could be busy again.
"I think that for us thinking through it, the best thing for us is to have [Kershaw] pitch Game 6 and have Kenta to go tomorrow," Roberts said. "And tomorrow, with the guys that we have at the back end of the 'pen [Kenley Jansen, Joe Blanton and Grant Dayton], I feel really good about the position we're in."
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Russell, 22, is the fourth Cubs player age 22 or younger to hit a home run in the postseason, joining Frank Demaree, Kyle Schwarber and Baez.
Cubs reliever Carl Edwards Jr. retired the first two batters he faced in the seventh, but then he walked Corey Seager. Contreras ran out to the mound, and athletic trainer Ed Halbur and Maddon came out to check on Edwards, who was lifted because of tightness in his left hamstring.
"Yeah, it could have been a cramp. We're not 100 percent sure yet," Maddon said. "It wasn't anything awful. I just talked to our trainer, and we've got to wait until tomorrow to see how he reacts to it. Talking to him in the clubhouse, he described it as being less than mild. So hopefully it was just a cramp, and we'll reevaluate tomorrow."
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
In the top of the sixth, the Dodgers thought they had thrown out Zobrist at first. But the Cubs challenged the ruling, and after a review it was overturned, and Zobrist was safe with an infield single.
WHAT'S NEXT Cubs:Jon Lester will make his third postseason start this year and second in the LCS on Thursday in Game 5. In Game 1, Lester did not get a decision, but he held the Dodgers to one run over six innings in Chicago's 8-4 win. This will be his fourth career start at Dodger Stadium. On Aug. 28, he gave up three hits over six scoreless innings.
Dodgers: Maeda will start Game 5. Maeda needs a turnaround, after making postseason starts of three innings in Washington and four innings in Chicago -- allowing seven runs combined. In a between-starts bullpen session twice as long as normal, Maeda worked on his fastball, which he said has been leaking over the plate to left-handed hitters. Maeda has already made more starts this year than he ever did in Japan.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com and covers the Dodgers.