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
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.
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Blanton, pitching in his sixth postseason, made no excuses.
"I go with my strength there, I faced him early in the year and kind of did the same thing with success -- three sliders and struck him out," said Blanton.
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"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.