Cubs squash Nats to cre­ate NLCS rematch with Dodgers

Chicago Sun-Times - - FRONT PAGE - RICK MOR­RIS­SEY

WASH­ING­TON — So this is what pre­pos­ter­ous looks like. I had seen bad be­fore with the Cubs, lots of it, decades of the stuff. And then I had watched a World Se­ries ar­rive in 2016, a stun­ning, beau­ti­ful thing. And, re­ally, what was left?

I can tell you in un­equiv­o­cal terms that there was plenty of room left for crazy. And silly. And, es­pe­cially, the afore­men­tioned pre­pos­ter­ous.

One in­ning, one ridicu­lous in­ning, helped push the Cubs into the Na­tional League Cham­pi­onship Se­ries and the Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als into heavy duty coun­sel­ing. But it was only one shove.

The rest of the in­nings were a ride on a wind­ing moun­tain road in­side a bus with no brakes. Fi­nally, af­ter four hours, 37 min­utes, a fever dream of a baseball game was over. The Cubs beat the Na­tion­als 9- 8 in Game 5 of their first- round se­ries Thurs­day night for rea­sons that aren’t en­tirely clear at this mo­ment. Be­cause. Just be­cause.

A four- run fifth in­ning, pow­ered by a passed ball, an er­ror, a catcher’s in­ter­fer­ence call and a hit bat­ter, all of it with Na­tion­als ace Max Scherzer stand­ing on the mound as a re­liever, pretty much summed up the evening. It’s ex­actly how Pi­casso would have drawn it up.

It’s a big rea­son why two hours later, the Cubs play­ers were cel­e­brat­ing like chil­dren late Thurs­day night, first on the grass at Na­tion­als Park and then in their cham­pagne- soaked club­house.

“We’re not done yet, ei­ther,” said Jake Ar­ri­eta.

That fifth in­ning. That ab­surd in­ning. It was a scorer’s night­mare, a weird, happy lark for the Cubs and a re­minder that one of the best pitch­ers around isn’t a guar­an­tee of any­thing in post­sea­son baseball.

His team lead­ing 4- 2, Scherzer got through the first two hit- ters in the in­ning, and Na­tion­als Park was a happy place. Will­son Con­teras got an in­field sin­gle, but what was that to the likes of Scherzer? A dust par­ti­cle. Pinch hitter Ben Zo­brist fol­lowed with a bloop sin­gle to left. Again, a pa­per cut for Scherzer.

That’s where it went all very right for the Cubs and all very wrong for the Na­tion­als. Ad­di­son Russell dou­bled down the left- field line, scor­ing two. An in­ten­tional walk of Ja­son Hey­ward ( odd), was fol­lowed by a passed ball on a strike­out of Javy Baez ( strange), which also in­cluded an er­ror by Wash­ing­ton catcher Matt Wi­eters on the throw to first ( are you kid­ding?), scor­ing Russell, send­ing Hey­ward to third and Baez to


A catcher’s in­ter­fer­ence call sent Tommy La Stella to first and loaded the bases. Scherzer hit Jon Jay, bring­ing in Hey­ward.

Ten bat­ters, three measly hits, four runs.

Who would have con­ceived of such a thing? No­body in his or her right mind.

The fifth in­ning was only the most ob­vi­ous man­i­fes­ta­tion of the in­san­ity. There was more — ac­tu­ally too much more. There was the sev­enth in­ning, when the Cubs brought in starter Jose Quin­tana with one out, and he pro­ceeded to give up a sin­gle to Trea Turner and a walk to Jayson Werth. Bryce Harper’s sac­ri­fice fly scored a run, mak­ing it 9- 7. Out came Quin­tana, in came closer Wade Davis to face Ryan Zim­mer­man. To re­peat: This was the sev­enth in­ning, and the closer was in. Davis struck out Zim­mer­man to end the in­ning.

At that point, the only pitch- ers left in the Cubs bullpen who hadn’t seen re­cent ac­tion were John Lackey and Justin Wil­son. There was desperation in ev­ery thing each team did. It was fas­ci­nat­ing. It was tor­tur­ous.

In the eighth, with two men on and no out for the Na­tion­als, Davis got Adam Lind to hit into a dou­ble play. But Michael Tay­lor, the Cubs slayer, knocked in Daniel Mur­phy to cut the lead to 9- 8.

And then, seem­ingly out of nowhere, Con­teras fired a pick­off at­tempt to first base, but um­pire Will Lit­tle called Jose Lo­ba­ton safe. Not so fast. Re­play showed Lo­ba­ton’s foot had come off the bag dur­ing Rizzo’s tag. Cubs man­ager Joe Mad­don chal­lenged the call, and in the mad spirit of the night, won. Soc­cer has its Hand of God goal. The Cubs have their Foot of God pick­off.

Nei­ther team budged. Even in the face of ev­i­dence that they might want to pack it in, they kept at it, re­fus­ing to give in.

In the ninth, with the crowd on its feet, Davis got Turner to fly out to cen­ter, then struck out Werth. And here came Harper, one of the best play­ers of his era. A game down to its last drop, Davis vs. Harper, as it should be. On his 44th pitch of the night, Davis struck out Harper swing­ing.

Mostly quiet here. Bed­lam surely in Chicago.

The Cubs have done crazy be­fore and done it well. They won two play­off se­ries last sea­son that could have gone the other way. They came back in dra­matic fash­ion to win World Se­ries Game 7.

But this was more up and down. More twisty, more turny.

The Cubs have trav­eled far and wide in their long his­tory, mostly across the Land of Bad, a vast ter­ri­tory of deserts and val­leys. But fi­nally, at long last, they ar­rived at the Promised Land in 2016.

On Thurs­day, they ven­tured into the pre­pos­ter­ous. A strange, won­der­ful, nerve- wrack­ing place in­deed.

Fol­low me on Twit­ter @ Mor­ris­seyCST.


The Cubs cel­e­brate af­ter beat­ing the Na­tion­als in a 4- hour, 37- minute fifth game of the NLDS.

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