Cubs erase Nats, reach NLCS

Hawaii Tribune Herald - - SPORTS -

WASH­ING­TON — The Chicago Cubs win when­ever they need to, with what­ever it takes, even a seven-out save by Wade Davis to pre­serve a shrink­ing lead and a “Did that re­ally hap­pen?” four-run in­ning against Wash­ing­ton’s Max Scherzer in a thriller of a Game 5.

That wild, bat-around fifth in­ning Thurs­day night for Chicago in­cluded Ad­di­son Russell’s go-ahead, tworun dou­ble, a bases-loaded hit by pitch, and a dis­puted dropped third strike fol­lowed by a throw­ing er­ror, help­ing the defending World Se­ries cham­pion Cubs come back — and then hold on — to edge the Na­tion­als 9-8.

And for the third year in a row, Chicago reached the NL Cham­pi­onship Se­ries.

“Give the boys credit,” Cubs man­ager Joe Mad­don said. “That’s one of the most in­cred­i­ble vic­to­ries I’ve ever been part of. I know a lot of peo­ple are prob­a­bly say­ing the same thing, but un­der the cir­cum­stances, in the other team’s ball­park, af­ter a tough loss at home, to come back and do that, give our guys all the credit in the world.”

Russell drove in four runs and Davis, Chicago’s sev­enth pitcher, turned in his long­est ap­pear­ance since 2012.

“I’ve al­ways known he’s got a lot of met­tle in his soul,” Ben Zo­brist, who scored two runs for Chicago, said about Davis. “The guy just shows up. He’s got ice in his veins.”

The same could be said for all of the Cubs.

They trailed 4-1, then led 8-4 and 9-6, in a game that lasted more than 4½ hours and ended af­ter mid­night on Fri­day.

“It was ‘Bizarro World,’ there’s no ques­tion about it,” Mad­don said. “But it hap­pens. It hap­pens this time of the year.”

Catcher Will­son Con­tr­eras picked off Jose Lo­ba­ton at first base to quash a Wash­ing­ton threat in the eighth and Davis fanned a swing­ing Bryce Harper for the fi­nal out.

“Just try­ing to stay fo­cused and con­fi­dent in the end,” Davis said.

Chicago, which sur­passed its to­tal of eight runs from the first four games of the NL Di­vi­sion Se­ries, ad­vanced to face the Los An­ge­les Dodgers, who will start ace Clayton Ker­shaw at home in Game 1 of the NLCS on Satur­day night.

For Mad­don and the Cubs, this was their fourth con­sec­u­tive vic­tory in a win-or-be-elim­i­nated post­sea­son game. That in­cludes three straight to end the 2016 World Se­ries, when Chicago trailed the Cleve­land In­di­ans 3-1 be­fore forc­ing a Game 7 won by the Cubs in 10 in­nings.

The Na­tion­als, mean­while, went one-and-done yet again: This is the fourth time in the past six years that the club won the NL East and im­me­di­ately lost its open­ing play­off se­ries. And this is the third time in that span that Wash­ing­ton bowed out with a Game 5 NLDS loss at home; that also hap­pened in 2012 against the St. Louis Car­di­nals and last year against the Dodgers.

This one was played ex­actly five years to the day af­ter the de­cider against the Car­di­nals, which the Na­tion­als lost 9-7 in Wash­ing­ton. Just like that night, the Na­tion­als started Gio Gon­za­lez. Just like that night, Wash­ing­ton raced out to an early lead (6-0 back then). And just like that night, Gon­za­lez had con­trol problems and started giv­ing back some of the edge.

“It was a se­ries of bad events,” Na­tion­als man­ager Dusty Baker said.

Homers by Daniel Mur­phy and Michael A. Tay­lor — whose grand slam off Davis backed Stephen Stras­burg’s 12-strike­out mas­ter­piece in Wash­ing­ton’s 5-0 vic­tory in Game 4 at Wrigley Field on Wed­nes­day — gave the hosts a 4-1 lead in the sec­ond against Cubs starter Kyle Hen­dricks.

But Gon­za­lez gave back two of those runs, so it was 4-3 as two-time Cy Young Award win­ner Scherzer en­tered for the fifth.

He started Game 3 of this se­ries, pushed back be­cause of an in­jured right ham­string, and hadn’t come out of the bullpen since 2013 with the Detroit Tigers.

“Huge. You look out there and you see Scherzer up there and you think, ‘One of the best, if not the best, pitcher out there on the mound,” Russell said. “You kind of have to change your game plan, your ap­proach.”

By the time Scherzer’s one in­ning was over, the Cubs had taken a 7-4 lead, and Russell had de­liv­ered the big­gest hit. Chicago scored two earned runs and two un­earned runs, on the strength of three hits, one hit by pitch, one in­ten­tional walk, a catcher’s in­ter­fer­ence, and one very odd play.

What could have been a po­ten­tially in­ning-end­ing strike­out turned into a run, as Javier Baez swung and missed, but the ball went un­der catcher Matt Wi­eters’ glove and through his legs. When Wi­eters col­lected the ball, he threw it into right field for an er­ror, then ap­peared to ar­gue that the play should have been ruled over be­cause Baez’s fol­low-through car­ried the bat into the catcher’s mask.

As­so­ci­ated Press

Cubs catcher Will­son Con­tr­eras cel­e­brates af­ter the Na­tion­als’ Bryce Harper struck out swing­ing to end Thurs­day’s Game 5.

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