PLAYOFF BLUES GET WORSE
Another dismal finish for Nationals as Cubs move on to face L. A.
WASHINGTON — Say this for the Nationals. They did it up big and tall, failing in the postseason yet again in Washington — monumental fashion with another cave for their tarnished history books.
“We didn’t play a very good game,’’ Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. “We still battled to the end.’’
It all became unhinged in the four- run fifth inning of the Cubs’ decisive 9- 8 Game 5 victory Thursday in the NLDS.
“That was one of the weirdest innings I’ve ever seen,’’ Baker said. “We gave away at least three or four runs. We had a lot of opportunities. It was a series of bad events.’’
With everything seemingly in good hands with a 4- 3 lead and twotime Cy Young winner Max Scherzer trotting in from the bullpen to bridge the middle innings to the Nats’ seventh-, eighth- and ninthinning relievers, flight schedules for Los Angeles where the NLCS begins Saturday at Dodger Stadium were getting checked in and around D. C.
Especially after Scherzer, the Nationals Park crowd roaring with every strike, retired Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo to open the fifth.
“I’ve never seen Max have an inning like that,’’ Baker said.
But then, Willson Contreras reached on an infield single and pinch- hitter Ben Zobrist hit a bloop single to left, and Addison Russell drove them both in with a double to put the Cubs in front 5- 4.
That’s when things began to turn Halloween- season spooky for the home team. When Scherzer fell behind 2- 0 to Jason Heyward, Baker put him on with an intentional walk. Scherzer struck out Javy Baez, but catcher Matt Wieters — who had an eventful inning he won’t forget soon — couldn’t block Scherzer’s slider, and Baez was safe on a dropped third strike. What’s more, Wieters’ throw to first went into right field, allowing Russell to score.
Wieters took the end of Baez’s bat off his mask on Baez’s backswing, lobbied for interference but lost that argument. Then Wieters reached in and committed catcher’s interference on pinch hitter Tommy La Stella to load the bases, and Scherzer hit Jon Jay on the foot, scoring a run and giving the Cubs a 7- 4 lead.
That all added to four runs ( two earned) on three hits, a walk and a lot more junk.
In the sixth, left fielder Jayson Werth misplayed a Russell liner into an RBI double, adding to the Nats’ folly and the Cubs’ run total.
And just after they chipped away at an 8- 4 Cubs lead by scoring in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings — getting to within a run on Jose Lobaton’s RBI single against Wade Davis — Lobaton got picked off first by Cubs catcher Contreras to end the inning with the tying run on second. It took a replay challenge and a snap throw by Contreras and aggressive tag by first baseman Anthony Rizzo to get him, but still. Not there, not then. Those misplays only dropped and dragged the Nationals’ trou- bled postseason past throughout the stadium, where fans held hope that this 97- win team, built to break the old, bad habits, would get it done.
The Nationals lost Game 5 of the NLDS on their home field to the Dodgers last season. In 2014, the Giants won an 18- inning marathon in Game 2 and went on to a World Series title. In 2012, they blew a 2- 0 series lead against the Cardinals, giving up four runs in the ninth inning of Game 5.
And on Thursday, they were in deep danger of seeing a visiting team celebrate on their field for the second year in a row.
“It hurts after what we’ve been through this season,’’ Baker said.
Nationals ace Max Scherzer is disappointed after giving up a two- run double to Addison Russell in the fifth inning. | PATRICK SMITH/ AP