Shortstop Javier Baez, who was inserted into the Chicago Cubs lineup on Tuesday due to an injury to Addison Russell, provided a three-run home run to help lift the Cubs over the rival St. Louis Cardinals in Game 4, 6-4, and advance them to the National League Championship Series.
It was a seesaw battle with the Cardinals jumping out to a 2-0 lead on Stephen Piscotty's home run in the top of the first inning. But the Cubs would answer back in a big way in the bottom of the second. With Kyle Schwarber and pitcher Jason Hammel on base, Baez, who only had 289 career at-bats, stepped up to the plate. The 22-year-old ripped a 393-foot homer off of Cardinals starter John Lackey, sending the Wrigley Field fans into a frenzy.
Lackey, who had a 2.77 earned-run average over 218 innings this season, would only last three innings, and was replaced by Adam Wainwright, who threw two shut out innings.
The Cardinals would draw even in the top of the sixth, when Tony Cruz doubled to score Jason Heyward, followed by Brandon Moss' single that brought in Jhonny Peralta. But Cruz was thrown out at the plate to end the inning, and the base-running mistake would prove costly.
Chicago would answer back in the sixth inning. First baseman Anthony Rizzo went deep on reliever Kevin Siegrist deep with a solo blast, and Schwarber padded the lead with a home run in the seventh.
Despite a two-out single by Matt Carpenter, Cubs closer Hector Rondon was able to clinch the win by striking out Piscotty. It was a painful way for the Mike Matheny's squad to end the season. St. Louis had won 100 games, the best in Major League Baseball, but simply didn't get the starting pitching they were hoping for in the postseason. After a Game 1 shutout, the Cardinals staff combined to allow 20 earned runs over the next three games.
The Cubs, who have not won a World Series since 1908, return to the NLCS for the first time since 2003. They entered the playoffs as a wild card, and after defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Jon Maddon's squad will face the winner of the New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers. The Cubs are the first team to advance to the championship series in either league.
"It's indescribable," said Maddon, when asked to describe the feeling of going to the NLCS.
"We play hard. We learned to play defense during the course of the year. Our pitching kept getting better. I like the make up of the group."