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OTD: Cubs Rally in San Francisco to Clinch Back-to-Back NLCS Appearances

OTD in 2016, the Cubs capped off an improbable comeback as they defeated the Giants by scoring 4 runs in the 9th to advance to the NLCS.

Photo: USA Today Sports

It’s already been five years since the Chicago Cubs‘ coveted 2016 World Series championship run. The Cubs went 11-6 in route to breaking the curse. Today is the anniversary of the third postseason win of that historic season. It was a game the Cubs had just a 2.5% chance of winning entering the ninth inning, per FanGraphs.

I will never forget the anxiety, the negative thoughts, and even more so, the media, during the Cubs Division Series against the San Francisco Giants in 2016.

The Narratives

The Giants at the time were coming off three World Series championships, all in even years, 2010, 2012, and 2014. The amount of times Cubs fans had to hear that narrative wasn’t exactly a bad thing, but it was annoying.

After all, the Cubs never trailed in this series once it ended.

At that time, pressure wasn’t exactly fun to talk about for Cubs fans, as we all know. It was only 108 years of pressure and heartbreak over those years. The Cubs had only won one playoff series since 2003.

The Cubs were the best team in baseball in 2016, winning 103 games. The Giants were playing with house money in this series.

San Francisco was a pesky team with plenty of postseason experience behind Brandon Crawford, Buster Posey, and Hunter Pence. Madison Bumgarner had become a playoff legend years prior, owning a glistening 2.11 postseason career ERA in addition to winning the NLCS and World Series MVP in 2014.

How We Got to Game Four

The Cubs took a 2-0 series lead after winning Game One behind a late-inning solo home run by Javier Baez and a magnificent pitching performance by Jon Lester. In addition, a solo home run by pitcher Travis Wood and a solid start by Kyle Hendricks in Game Two led to the 2-0 lead.

Game Three was memorable despite the loss. Jake Arrieta hit a two-run shot to give the Cubs the lead early and Kris Bryant hit a late-inning two-run homer to send the game to extra innings after the Cubs allowed three runs to the Giants the inning before. The Giants won in 13 innings, putting pressure on the Cubs in a pivotal Game Four.

Series Clincher

To be honest, I barely remember the first eight innings of game play in Game Four. I’m sure most Cubs fans would agree, as they were thinking ahead to a potential season-ending or series-clinching Game Five back at Wrigley Field, setting up another pitchers duel between Lester vs. Johnny Cueto.

Thankfully for Cubs fans, we never got to see that matchup.

The Cubs trailed 5-2 entering the ninth inning. Giants pitcher Derek Law opened the inning replacing Matt Moore. He allowed a single to NL MVP Bryant. That was all the leash the Giants gave Law, as he was replaced by Javy Lopez to face Anthony Rizzo.

Lopez walked Rizzo, bringing the 2016 World Series MVP Ben Zobrist to the plate as the tying run. Giants manager Bruce Bochy went to his bullpen again, bringing in Sergio Romo.

The pitching changes did not phase the Cubs because the offense exploded. Zobrist shot a double into the right field corner, scoring Bryant and making it a 5-3 ballgame. Rizzo advanced to third base on the play, giving the Cubs two men in scoring position with no outs in the inning.

Bochy brought in Will Smith, the fourth pitcher of the inning to try and finish the job. Willson Contreras pinch hit for Chris Coghlan and got his biggest hit as a member of the Cubs to that point, singling a shot up the middle, scoring Rizzo and Zobrist. It was now a 5-5 ballgame.

One moment people forget is Jason Heyward‘s sacrifice bunt that turned into a throwing error, allowing him to advance to second base and giving Baez a chance to give the Cubs the lead.

Bochy went to his fifth reliever of the inning, Hunter Strickland. With a 0-2 count, Baez mashed a 100-mph fastball back up the middle, scoring Heyward from second base. The Cubs scored four runs in the inning.

The offense that seemed dead for the first eight innings exploded out of nowhere. Camera shots of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer on the first base side celebrating explain it all. Cubs fans from far and near were going absolute bonkers over what they were witnessing. The comeback was complete.

Aroldis Chapman finished it off, completing what he was acquired at the deadline to do, as he struck out the side in the bottom of the ninth inning to clinch the Cubs’ second consecutive NLCS appearance.

It Was Just the Beginning

That night in San Francisco will always be overlooked because of what was to come. The ups and downs of the NLCS and World Series seemed light years ahead of what happened on October 11, 2016. However, we may have never got those moments if Zobrist doesn’t hit that double or if Contreras and Baez don’t come through with the biggest hits in their careers at that time.

In hindsight now, after all we’ve have watched play out as Cubs fans, this game was just the beginning of what became the golden era of Cubs baseball.

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