NL wild card: Rockies outlast Cubs in extras; will play Brewers in NLDS

CHICAGO – Despair mutated into euphoria, and euphoria settled into nervousness, and nervousness morphed back into despair, and by the time the emotional madness of the longest win-or-go-home game in baseball history ended, those crammed into Wrigley Field could only feel resignation. The Chicago Cubs’ season was over.

The best team in the National League for most of the 2018 season saw its year end in bitter disappointment with a 2-1 loss to the Colorado Rockies in Tuesday’s wild-card game. Almost right as the clock struck midnight, the Cubs’ finished their conversion into October pumpkin, their 95-win season all for naught. The Rockies advanced to the NL Division Series, where they’ll face the top-seeded Milwaukee Brewers, who avoided the wild-card game by beating the Cubs in a tie-breaking Game 163 on Monday.

Tony Wolters – the Rockies’ third catcher of the night – delivered the go-ahead single in the top of the 13th, an inning deeper than the record 12. It was the 23rd sudden-death postseason game in baseball history to go extra innings and the first since Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, when the Cubs beat the Cleveland Indians in 10 innings. It was the first NL wild card game with free baseball, and Colorado, scoreless for 11 innings after a first-inning run, got all it needed from Wolters and saw Scott Oberg pitch a 1-2-3 13th to secure the victory.

With two outs in the 13th, Rockies shortstop Trevor Story laced a single into left field. Then Gerardo Parra pulled a single into right. Wolters went right back up the middle, punching a 79-mph Kyle Hendricks changeup into center, scoring Story. Hendricks was the third of four expected Cubs starters to pitch in the game, a sign of how invested the Cubs were – and how painful the loss was.

Three batters into the game, the Rockies had their first run. D.J. LeMahieu followed Charlie Blackmon’s leadoff walk with a rocket double that got stuck in the left-center-field ivy, and Nolan Arenado scored Blackmon on a sacrifice fly. Cubs starter Jon Lester wiggled out of the jam with two strikeouts, which portended a brilliant six-inning, four-hit, one-run, one-walk, nine-strikeout start.

Kyle Freeland was even better. Going on three days’ rest for the first time in his professional career, Freeland’s array of late-moving pitches foiled the Cubs for 6 2/3 shutout innings. He threw. They flailed. It resembled September, in which Cubs hitters faltered as they blew the NL Central lead against Milwaukee, which Monday beat them for the division title and forced them into the wild-card game.

For most of it, the number of the day was zero. The scoreboard in high atop Wrigley, at the intersection of Sheffield and Waveland Avenues, bore seven zeroes on the Cubs’ line going into the eighth inning. Reliever Adam Ottavino, who had taken over for Freeland, wore No. 0. After walking Anthony Rizzo and allowing pinch runner Terrance Gore to take second, Ottavino faced Javier Baez with an 0-2 count. In 36 at-bats with that count this year, hitters had zero hits against Ottavino.

He threw a down-and-way slider. It wasn’t down enough, and it wasn’t away enough, and Baez yanked it into left-center field and hustled into second for a double as Gore tied the game and sent the crowd of 40,151 into a frenzy.

From there, the teams were simply in survival mode. Cubs manager Joe Maddon called on reliever Pedro Strop, who hadn’t pitched since Sept. 13 because of a hamstring injury, and got an inning out of him. Rockies manager Joe Maddon rode closer Wade Davis for four outs. Cubs starter Cole Hamels cruised through the 10th before slinking out of a bases-loaded jam in the top of the 11th.

In the end, the Cubs couldn’t fulfill Baez’s bluster from before the game, when he suggested Chicago simply needed to shrug off the words of those who were down on them.

“If we do that, there’s no team that can beat us, and they know that,” Baez said. “So that’s why they run their mouth a lot, because they know we’re the best. Even when we’re struggling, we are the head of everybody.”

Not anymore.

See photos from the dramatic game: 

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NL wild card: Rockies top Cubs in extra innings
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NL wild card: Rockies top Cubs in extra innings
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 02: Jon Lester #34 of the Chicago Cubs stands on the pitcher's mound in the fourth inning against the Colorado Rockies during the National League Wild Card Game at Wrigley Field on October 2, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 02: Colorado Rockies first baseman Ian Desmond (20) reacts after being called out on strikes in the 4th inning against Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jon Lester (34) at Wrigley Field in the NL West Wild Card playoff game October 02, 2018. Chicago Cubs catcher Willson Contreras (40) at home plate during the play. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
Chicago Cubs pitcher Jon Lester works in the first inning against the Colorado Rockies in the National League Wild Card on Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2018, at Wrigley Field in Chicago. (Nuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images)
The Chicago Cubs' Javier Baez strikes out to end the first inning against the Colorado Rockies in the National League Wild Card on Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2018, at Wrigley Field in Chicago. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 02: Jon Lester #34 of the Chicago Cubs reacts after striking out Matt Holliday #7 of the Colorado Rockies (not pictured) for the third out in the sixth inning against the Colorado Rockies during the National League Wild Card Game at Wrigley Field on October 2, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 02: David Dahl #26 of the Colorado Rockies is unable to catch a ball hit by Kris Bryant #17 of the Chicago Cubs (not pictured) in the sixth inning during the National League Wild Card Game at Wrigley Field on October 2, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 2: Albert Almora Jr. #5 # of the Chicago Cubs claps his hands during the seventh inning in the National League Wild Card game against the Colorado Rockies at Wrigley Field on Tuesday, October 2, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 02: Terrance Gore #1 of the Chicago Cubs scores a run in the eighth inning against the Colorado Rockies after a RBI double by Javier Baez #9 (not pictured) during the National League Wild Card Game at Wrigley Field on October 2, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 2: Javier Baez #9 of the Chicago Cubs celebrates after stealing third base during the eighth inning in the National League Wild Card game against the Colorado Rockies at Wrigley Field on Tuesday, October 2, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 02: Wade Davis #71 of the Colorado Rockies pitches in the eighth inning against the Chicago Cubs during the National League Wild Card Game at Wrigley Field on October 2, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 02: Pedro Strop #46 of the Chicago Cubs celebrates with Anthony Rizzo #44 after striking out Ian Desmond #20 of the Colorado Rockies (not pictured) in the ninth inning during the National League Wild Card Game at Wrigley Field on October 2, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 02: Cole Hamels #35 of the Chicago Cubs stands on the pitcher's mound in the tenth inning against the Colorado Rockies during the National League Wild Card Game at Wrigley Field on October 2, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
Chicago Cubs shortstop Javier Baez forces out the Colorado Rockies' Drew Butera (16) at second base in the eighth inning in the National League Wild Card on Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2018, at Wrigley Field in Chicago. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 02: Colorado Rockies relief pitcher Adam Ottavino (0) reacts after giving up a double RBI to Chicago Cubs shortstop Javier Baez (9) in the 8th inning to tie the game 1-1 at Wrigley Field during the NL West Wild Card playoff game October 02, 2018. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 2: DJ LeMahieu #9 of the Colorado Rockies catches a pop-up as Carlos Gonzalez #5 backs up the play during the 12th inning in the National League Wild Card game against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on Tuesday, October 2, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 2: Trevor Story #27 of the Colorado Rockies heads to third base during the 13th inning in the National League Wild Card game against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on Tuesday, October 2, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 02: Trevor Story #27 of the Colorado Rockies celebrates after scoring a run in the thirteenth inning to give the Rockies a 2-1 lead against the Chicago Cubs during the National League Wild Card Game at Wrigley Field on October 2, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 02: Trevor Story #27 of the Colorado Rockies celebrates after scoring a run in the thirteenth inning to give the Rockies a 2-1 lead against the Chicago Cubs during the National League Wild Card Game at Wrigley Field on October 2, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 02: The Colorado Rockies celebrate defeating the Chicago Cubs 2-1 in thirteen innings to win the National League Wild Card Game at Wrigley Field on October 2, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 02: Colorado Rockies third baseman Ryan McMahon (24) and Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado (28) celebrate their 2-1 13 inning victory over the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field during the NL West Wild Card playoff game October 02, 2018. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
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