NLCS Game 4: Joe Maddon and the Cubs fight back to avoid sweep

CHICAGO — In conversations around downtown offices and on the sports talk airwaves, Chicagoans spent their Wednesdays playing an eager game of pick your adjective.

Depending on the person, the defending champion Chicago Cubs either looked tired, listless, disinterested, resigned or any combination thereof. The elimination of the home team in the NLCS was imminent, clear as the cool October day that was blessing the city.

But while even some Cubs players including star Kris Bryant have copped to being tired after a long season and hard-fought NLDS win over Washington, the team summed enough energy for Wednesday’s Game 4 against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The result: A 3-2 victory that forced a Game 5 on Thursday night and marked the fifth straight Cubs win while facing elimination, dating back to Game 5 of last year’s World Series.

That series, of course, featured three straight victories as the Cubs won their first title since 1908. Doing something similar against the Dodgers remains a longshot as Los Angeles holds the pitching advantage over the last three games that the Cubs held over the Indians last fall.

Any enthusiasm gained from Game 4 has to be tempered by the fact that Clayton Kershaw is going for a Dodgers team that was 6-0 this postseason before losing by a single run at Wrigley Field.

Still, Wednesday’s win, which came after a players-only meeting in the team’s old clubhouse at Wrigley Field, allowed the Cubs to take at least one final star turn as defending world champs.

It also featured a number of Cubs showing they matched none of the adjectives being used to describe them.

• Despite coming into the game 0-for-20 this postseason, Javy Baez took advantage of his lineup spot and hit two solo homers off Dodgers starter Alex Wood. One came in the second, the other in the fifth and proved to be the difference. (All of the Cubs’ runs came on homers as Willson Contreras opened the scoring with a mammoth 491-foot blast off the video board in left field.)

Baez also started the double play that ended the game.

“When young guys like that really struggle, you’ve got to stay with him,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “It was a really good matchup for him tonight.”

• In what could well prove to be his final start in a Cubs uniform, free agent-to-be Jake Arrieta was everything his team needed to be, giving up just one run and three hits over 6 2/3 innings. Five walks got him into trouble, but a total of nine strikeouts helped him out. The Wrigley Field crowd gave him a standing ovation as he was pulled from the game with two outs in the seventh and Cody Bellinger coming to the plate for a fourth time.

“Hopefully it’s not a goodbye,”  Arrieta said of doffing his cap toward the cheering crowd. “I still intend to have another start in this ballpark. But if that’s where it all ends, I did my best and I left it all out there.”

• Closer Wade Davis played the role of ultimate fireman, recording six outs over the final two innings to record the save. But it came at a cost: Davis threw 48 pitches and almost certainly won’t be available out of an otherwise struggling Cubs bullpen for Game 5.

• Finally, in one of the night’s crazier moments, Maddon was ejected after arguing what was a baffling call by the umpire crew. While it looked like Dodgers outfielder Curtis Granderson had struck out against Davis in the eighth on a 2-2 pitch, the crew gathered and determined that Granderson had tipped the pitch. Replays appeared to show otherwise and they spurred Maddon to earn his second ejection in the series. He was also thrown out out of Game 1 after arguing an overturned play at home plate involving the collision rule.

In the end, it was no harm, no foul as Granderson struck out on the very next pitch. But with the tying run standing at first and Granderson representing the go-ahead run, the possibility of what could have happened did not escape Maddon.

“That can’t happen,” Maddon said. “The process was horrible. To have that changed and if Granderson hits the next pitch out, I might come running out of the clubhouse in my jockstrap. That was really that bad.”

After three games of being that bad, the Cubs earned a 351st day of having the right to be called defending world champs. Had they lost, they’d have about two weeks of being the reigning world champs before passing the crown to the Dodgers, Yankees or Astros.

In the clubhouse afterward, the Cubs said all the usual things. They’ve won three straight games before and can do it again. Not in our house. One game at a time. One at-bat at a time.

Maybe it happens. Maybe Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo finally get their bats going. Maybe Jose Quintana pitches as well as he did against the Washington Nationals.

Or maybe Wednesday just proves to be a dead cat bounce and the Cubs go home.

Whatever the case, they didn’t do what everyone expected on Wednesday night and roll over.

Instead, they showed some life.

And now they have some.

Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon argues with umpires. (AP Photo)