LOS ANGELES — Joe Maddon went to his bullpen, and two pitches later, it all began to implode for the Chicago Cubs.
Jose Quintana gave Chicago five strong innings, but relievers Hector Rondon and Mike Montgomery couldn't make it count in a 5-2 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the opener of the NL Championship Series on Saturday night.
Quintana dominated early a day after his wife, Michel, was taken off the team plane during an emergency stop with a medical ailment. Los Angeles got to him for two runs in the fifth, though, and Maddon called on Rondon to start the sixth in a 2-2 game.
That's when it began to fall apart.
Chris Taylor homered on Rondon's 1-0 pitch to lead off the sixth, and Rondon faced only one more batter before handing off to Montgomery. The left-hander got out of the sixth unscathed, but then allowed a leadoff homer to Yasiel Puig in the seventh, followed by a double to Charlie Culberson and an infield single to Taylor.
Maddon then called for starter John Lackey — his last decision before being sent home early by the umpires.
Justin Turner singled off Lackey, and Culberson was initially called out at the plate trying to score. That call was overturned after a video review because of the way catcher Willson Contreras blocked home plate.
Contreras extended his left leg as he caught left fielder Kyle Schwarber's throw, preventing Culberson from touching home as he slid past. Major League Baseball instituted a rule prior to the 2014 season banning catchers from blocking home plate until they have possession of the ball.
After the replay, Maddon stormed out of the dugout and began to argue. Crew chief Mike Winters let him make a brief case before ejecting him.
"I could not disagree more with the interpretation of that rule," Maddon said, adding "that was a beautifully done major league play all the way around."
It capped yet another disappointing day for Chicago's relievers. Carl Edwards Jr. blew a save in Game 2 of the Cubs' NL Division Series against Washington — a game in which Montgomery also let in two runs in ⅔ of an inning. Edwards and closer Wade Davis also had a tough time in a Game 4 loss to the Nationals, and the bullpen also gave up four runs over five innings in a 9-8 Game 5 win to advance.
This was Rondon's first appearance this postseason — he was added to the roster earlier Saturday, while left-handed reliever Justin Wilson was removed.
It was just the latest letdown for Montgomery, who has allowed five runs over two innings in these playoffs.
Puig added the homer and an RBI double to his dynamite postseason, helping Dodgers overcame a short start by Clayton Kershaw.
"Feels great," said Culberson, who was added to the roster to replace injured All-Star shortstop Corey Seager for the resourceful Dodgers, who improved to 4-0 in this postseason. "Awesome to get that first win out of the way."
With another collective offensive effort and four innings of perfect relief pitching, Los Angeles calmly overcame its early two-run deficit and took the first game of this rematch of the 2016 NLCS, won in six games by the Cubs on the way to their first World Series championship in 108 years.
Game 2 is Sunday, with Rich Hill starting at home against Chicago's Jon Lester.
Kershaw pitched five innings of four-hit ball, but the Los Angeles ace fell behind 2-0 before getting pulled for a pinch-hitter during the Dodgers' tying rally.
After winning 104 games in the regular season and sweeping Arizona in the Division Series, the Dodgers have a lineup and bullpen equipped to handle almost anything. They made Kershaw's latest laborious postseason start virtually irrelevant, just as they did after he gave up four homers in his 2017 playoff opener against the Diamondbacks last week.
Albert Almora Jr. hit a two-run homer in the fourth, but the final 18 batters failed to reach base for the weary Cubs, still bouncing back from a 10-hour cross-country flight after finishing off Washington late Thursday night.
Kenta Maeda got three outs and the victory in his latest standout relief effort, and Kenley Jansen struck out all four batters he faced for his third save this postseason.
Puig added another huge offensive game to his recent surge with his first career postseason homer — though in a postgame interview on TBS, he was convinced he had hit one before. The Cuban slugger also included his usual array of bat flips and portentous pauses at the plate.
He drove a double deep into the left-center gap in the fifth inning to score Los Angeles' first run, and his sky-high homer off Mike Montgomery in the sixth barely got over the fence in left. Puig is 7 for 15 with six RBIs in the Dodgers' first four playoff games.
Almora scored the winning extra-inning run in Game 7 of last year's World Series against Cleveland, but his homer off Kershaw was his first career extra-base postseason hit. He had just eight homers in the regular season, but made no mistake when Kershaw left a full-count slider over the plate.
Kershaw's inability to match his sublime regular-season performances in the playoffs is a central theme of his career. The three-time NL Cy Young Award winner won the NLDS series opener last week despite giving up four homers at Dodger Stadium, and Almora's shot made him the first Dodgers pitcher to yield five homers in a single postseason.
And despite pitching for the third time in six days after a start and a relief appearance against Washington, Quintana was outstanding from the beginning at Dodger Stadium, retiring 12 of Los Angeles' first 13 batters.
Los Angeles finally got rolling in the fifth when Logan Forsythe and Austin Barnes drew one-out walks. Puig hammered a double to left-center, but the ebullient Cuban slugger headed to second only after flipping his bat and spreading his arms wide at the plate.
Culberson then came through with a sacrifice fly that easily scored Barnes.