CHICAGO -- Innings before the 23-year-old Javier Báez turned a scoreless game into a 1-0 win over the Giants, the man they call Grandpa Rossy helped set the stage for the Cubs' victory in Game 1 of the National League Division Series on Friday night at Wrigley Field.
Assigned, as he always is, to catch lefty Jon Lester, David Ross assisted his batterymate out of some early trouble with his arm. Though Lester allowed leadoff hits in each of the first three innings, Ross wiped away two of them.
He threw out Gorkys Hernández trying to swipe second in the opening frame, and, two innings later, picked off Conor Gillaspie as he strayed too far from first while anticipating a Johnny Cueto sacrifice. In doing so, Ross, at 39 years old, became the first catcher since 1935 to tally a pickoff and a caught stealing in the same playoff game.
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Ross had previously been 0-for-6 in his attempts to throw out a runner in the postseason.
"We're all trying to do our part," Ross said afterward. "I think we just try to play our roles. It's been all year where guys are trying to take advantage of Jon and big leads, and I can take advantage of that on my end. The arm felt good in this atmosphere. The adrenaline has been pumping for a couple days now. That's what the veteran is supposed to do - he's supposed to set the tone."
So hesitant to throw to first during his final years in Boston, Lester has been susceptible to steals. He's addressed the deficiency since arriving in Chicago, and Ross has helped neutralize the running game as well. Together, they held opponents to 28 steals and a 68 percent success rate in 2016, after allowing 44 stolen bases at an 80 percent success rate one year ago.
"I think you definitely want to [take advantage], but Ross behind the plate did a great job firing balls down to second," Giants first baseman Brandon Belt said. "If [Lester] is quick enough to the plate and they make that throw, it's hard to steal bases on them anyway. The problem is we've got to get more people on base."
To do that, the Giants will have to figure out 2016 ERA champ Kyle Hendricks in Game 2 on Saturday night (8 ET/7 CT on MLB Network).
Ross' pickoff throw of Gillaspie was especially impressive, as Statcast™ tracked it at 83 mph after a 0.65 second exchange. Ross' pop time -- defined as the time elapsed from the moment the pitch hits the catcher's mitt to the moment the intended fielder receives his throw -- registered at 1.49 seconds. The league average is 1.64. Statcast™ also tracked Ross' pop time at 1.86 seconds (the league average is 1.99) when he nabbed Hernandez at second.
"It wasn't a set play to pick, but I saw him take that extra shuffle, and so I just whipped it down there," said Ross, who led the Majors with five pickoffs this season. "It was just one of those things where I'm reading the runner. I don't have to worry about the hitter when we pitch out, so that helps out a lot."