CHICAGO — The Cubs were banking on starter Jake Arrieta continuing his remarkable run to push them ahead Monday in the best-of-five National League Division Series with the Cardinals.
When that didn't work out as planned, they turned to a pretty good plan B, hitting a postseason record six home runs in an 8-6 victory.
Now Joe Maddon's boys can clinch their first trip back to the NL Championship Series since 2003 this afternoon in Game 4 at raucous Wrigley Field, with former Ray Jason Hammel on the mound for Chicago against veteran John Lackey, who will be working on short rest.
"The wind was blowing out, we'll concede that, but most of them were properly struck," Maddon said. "Our guys are definitely capable of what you saw."
The six home runs were one more than any team had hit in a playoff game — five had hit five, including the 1984 Cubs — and they came from the top six hitters in their order, including three under age 24.
"That," Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said, "was a lot of fun."
With the winds measured at 17 mph and gusting, rookie Kyle Schwarber hit the first, giving the Cubs a 1-0 lead in the second. Starlin Castro was next, pulling them even at 2 in the fourth. Kris Bryant and Rizzo (both hitless in the first two games) went back-to-back in the fifth, putting the Cubs up 5-2. Jorge Soler, who has reached based in his first nine plate appearances, hit a two-run shot in the sixth to expand the lead to 7-4. Dexter Fowler capped the power show with a solo shot in the eighth.
Arrieta wasn't bad, just not up to the ridiculous standards he had established during his 22-7, 1.77 masterpiece of a season with 21 consecutive quality starts and a mind-boggling 0.75 ERA since the All-Star break.
He gave up four actual earned runs — matching the total of his previous 13 starts — by walking two (both scored) and allowing five hits (including a two-run homer by Jason Heyward) while lasting only 52/3 innings, his shortest outing since June 16.
"It's not going to be an oil painting every night," Maddon said. "You cannot be perfect."
Respectful of how tough it can be to close out a series, Maddon nonetheless likes what he has seen from his 100-win team that beat the Pirates in the wild-card game and is up 2-1 over the Central-winning Cardinals.
"Once you win (the wild-card game), it permits you to exhale a little bit," Maddon said. "That's really the most intense moment outside of a Game 7 maybe of the World Series. I just think that our guys have handled this properly."