CHICAGO — Holy cow, as Harry Caray surely would have said.

Holy crap, as the Los Angeles Dodgers may as well have said late Saturday night.

The Cubs took the Dodgers’ best punch as the curtain opened on this National League Championship Series and came roaring back anyway. Easy, peasy. The Dodgers trailed, tied it and were ohsoclose to seizing Game 1 with Clayton Kershaw set to start Game 2—and wouldn’t that have been something, a real possibility of sticking the Cubs in a two-game hole heading back to Los Angeles?

And then came the freeway pileup.

“It stings a little bit, absolutely,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.

All across the postseason landscape this autumn, from Baltimore to Cleveland to Washington to Los Angeles, these playoffs have been about matchups and craziness and creativity. As the Cubs put up a five-spot in the bottom of the eighth to hang an 8-4 collar on the Dodgers in a Wrigley Field housequake on a rocking Saturday night, these two teams took even that to another level.

“Holy s–t, I almost passed out,” Cubs assistant hitting coach Eric Hinske said to nobody in particular as the coaches came clomping in from the field, through the tunnel, toward their office afterward.

“Just doing what we do,” said Javier Baez, who has moved to the top of the charts with a bullet as the Most Entertaining Player in All of Baseball these days, of teammate Miguel Montero’s pinch-hit, bottom-of-the-eighth grand slam against Dodgers reliever Joe Blanton.

“I think anybody in our lineup can change the game with one swing.”

So much happened, with so much more still to come in this series. Baez swiped home plate in the second inning, becoming the first Cub to steal home in a postseason game since 1907. Wrigley Field wouldn’t even open for another seven years after that.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon hooked starter Jon Lester after only six innings and 77 pitches, with a 3-1 lead that melted away two innings later and opened the door to all kinds of loud second-guessing. Then he summoned closer Aroldis Chapman with the heat on in the eighth inning for what was going to be another six-out save.

“It was an aggressive move by Joe,” Roberts said.

Except, it never got that far for two reasons: One, Adrian Gonzalez belted a two-out, game-tying single against Chapman; and two, Roberts ordered two intentional walks in the bottom of the eighth inning while hunting matchups—the second one loading the bases and designed to force the Cubs to pinch hit for Chapman.

They did. With Montero.

“That was strange,” Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant said of the two free passes to load the bases. “I was kind of lost there.”

“I hadn’t seen that,” Cubs catcher David Ross said. “I’ve never seen it. But he was trying to find a matchup, and that’s the cat-and-mouse game between the managers.”

Know who had seen something similar? Ben Zobrist. Big shock, that came back when he was playing for Tampa Bay and his manager was, yes, Joe Maddon. Zobrist quickly cited the time the Rays were playing the Texas Rangers back during Josh Hamilton’s MVP days and Maddon ordered Hamilton walked with the bases loaded.

So while there’s precedent for just about everything in this crazy game, still. Let’s be real. It took Zobrist a minute to come up with the Hamilton example, and in that time he said he thought even the Dodgers’ players were wondering what was going on.

He had started the trouble by greeting Blanton with a double to start the inning. Two batters later, with one out and first base open, the Dodgers elected to intentionally walk Jason Heyward, who has struggled with the bat all year, to set up a double play.

Understandable, even if it meant pitching to Baez. He flied to right, and there were two outs with Chris Coghlan approaching. That’s when the four fingers came out again from the dugout. Walking Coghlan would bring Chapman to the plate, and in a 3-3 game, that would mean lifting Chapman for a pinch hitter, which would improve the Dodgers’ chances of scoring and winning the game in the ninth inning.

But only if they could get out of the eighth.

At second base, as Blanton was throwing the four balls to Coghlan, Los Angeles’ Chase Utley engaged Zobrist in a quick conversation.

“Is Montero hurt?” Utley asked, thinking perhaps Roberts had some intelligence few others had.

Nope, Zobrist said as both players tried to think along with their managers.

Ross already has tried doing that with Maddon. But it made his head hurt too much.

“I stopped last year,” he quipped. “I didn’t know if it was me thinking along with Joe or the foul balls to the mask.”

This game, it was like a stuffed-crust pizza. The basics were delicious enough. But OK, fine, go ahead and splurge.

It even started early in the day, when Roberts decided he wanted both Howie Kendrick and Enrique Hernandez in the lineup. Hernandez wasn’t even on the Los Angeles roster in the NLDS, but he was added Saturday because in Lester’s first start against the Dodgers this year, Hernandez walloped his second pitch for a home run. Being that it was the only run Lester allowed Los Angeles in 15 innings this year, of course the Dodgers wanted him in the lineup.

Being that Kendrick and Hernandez both play second base and the outfield, Roberts texted the veteran, Kendrick, earlier in the day and asked which he preferred.

“Left field,” Kendrick texted back.

Two batters into the bottom of the first, following Dexter Fowler’s leadoff single, Bryant laced a long fly to left that Kendrick simply didn’t get back on in time. It banged off the ivy-covered wall for an RBI double.

Then the Cubs scored two more in the second—the second run being Baez’s steal of home. The play actually was a safety-squeeze bunt with Lester at the plate, but Baez strayed too far from third, catcher Carlos Ruiz threw and Baez broke for the plate. Ruiz’s throw was off line, and Justin Turner couldn’t redirect it home in time to catch Baez.

“Definitely not the way we drew it up,” Bryant said. “But Javy’s a playmaker. He seems to find a way.”

Bryant noted Ruiz’s poor throw, said his thanks that Baez didn’t get hurt on the play and noted, “Javy doing crazy things out there…that’s just what we do.”

“Just what we do.” You heard that over and over in the Cubs clubhouse, the home of a supremely confident team that is growing more bold and more confident as each day passes in this postseason. Chicago survived San Francisco, stared down a potential disaster Saturday and keeps on rolling.

Maddon has preached all season to embrace the expectations, and the Cubs certainly are. Maybe the billy goats and black cats appeared at times in the past, but as the T-shirt worn last week by celebrity fan Bill Murray read, “I ain’t afraid of no goat.”

When Montero’s grand slam blasted into the night, it was party time again.

Baez was in the video room behind the dugout at the time, quickly studying his latest at-bat.

“I think I busted, like, three chairs,” Baez said of his mad scramble back into the dugout. “Everybody was going crazy, man. We needed that run bad.”

By then, Lester was long gone.

“I just thought that tonight Jon really wasn’t on top of his game,” Maddon said of his starter, who allowed just one run and four hits but several loud outs in six innings, adding: “If Jon was on top of his game, I may not have done it [pinch hit for him in the sixth], but I didn’t think he had his best stuff tonight.”

Roberts, meanwhile, said he would sleep well despite the loss.

“As long as you think things through and put guys in the best position to have success on your team, a chance to win, you can do the right things, but they can’t always work out,” Roberts said.

So score another one for the Cubs, who keep figuring out ways to make things work out for themselves.

Maddon echoed Roberts, speaking of Chapman’s blown save despite fanning Corey Seager and Yasiel Puig before Gonzalez’s game-tying single: “Because it didn’t work out doesn’t mean it was wrong.”

Yeah, this thing is going to be fun over the next several days. And the Cubs, well, they’ve already exceeded what they did in last year’s NLCS against the Mets: They’ve won a game.

“Something about the playoffs,” Bryant said. “You see things you normally don’t see. Sure, it’s stressful sometimes. You’re heart beats a little faster.”

Tick, tick, tick. It sure does. And after the Cubs escaped this one, Chicago’s heart is beating a little faster as it heads toward Kershaw on Sunday night.


Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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