Stellar pitching and clutch seventh innings propel the Miami Marlins past the Chicago Cubs in NL Wild Card Series.
A five-run seventh inning was all the scoring the No. 6 Marlins needed to defeat the No. 3 Cubs to take a 1-0 series lead.
Cubs SP Kyle Hendricks and Marlins SP Sandy Alcantara both held the opposition silent during the early innings as they relied on inducing soft contact to prevent any scoring.
The Cubs opened up the scoring in the bottom of the fifth when their regular-season home run leader, OF Ian Happ, launched a 97 MPH heater from Alcantara into the left field bleachers to put the Cubs up 1-0.
After stifling excellent scoring opportunities for the Marlins in the fourth, fifth, and sixth, Hendricks allowed a go-ahead three-run homer to OF Corey Dickerson in the seventh to put the Marlins up 3-1 and forcing manager David Ross to bring in RHP Jeremy Jeffress. Two batters later, DH Jesus Aguilar hit an opposite-field two-run homer to give the Marlins pitching staff more breathing room for the final three innings.
The Cubs offense struggled to mount any opportunities for a comeback, as only two men reached base during the last three innings, largly in part due to stellar bullpen performances from late inning relievers Yimi Garcia and Brandon Kintzler, who held the score at 5-1.
Heading into the second game of the series, the biggest storyline was the pitching matchup between the Cubs NL CY Young candidate Yu Darvish and the Marlins 22-year old flamethrower Sixto Sanchez.
The first time through the order, both offenses struggled to put men on base as Sanchez’s heater overwhelmed Cubs batters while Darvish’s breaking pitches baffled the Marlins.
In the bottom of the fourth, the Cubs had two runners on with one out when OF Jason Heyward hit a broken-bat single to right field. DH Willson Contreras got a late start from second base allowing RF Matt Joyce to throw out a sliding Contreras at home.
The following inning, the Cubs threatened with the bases loaded, but Sanchez escaped another jam by getting OF Kyle Schwarber to fly out to left field.
Darvish was in total cruise control until two outs in the seventh inning when 1B Garrett Cooper put the Marlins up 1-0 with a towering home run to left field. Joyce followed with a double and OF Magneuris Sierra singled home pinch-runner Lewis Brinson to extend the lead to 2-0.
In the bottom of the ninth, Heyward led the inning off with a double off of Kintzler providing the Cubs with an opportunity to keep their series hopes alive. However, Kintzler struck out the final three Cubs sending the Marlins to the NLDS to face the Atlanta Braves at Minute Maid Park in Houston.