CUBS MAKE A DATE IN L.A.
They beat Nationals in riveting Game 5 to set up NLCS rematch with the Dodgers.
WASHINGTON — Maxwell M. Scherzer would deliver. He would strangle the enemy, slay the curse, vanquish the evil spirits of Octobers past.
The bullpen gate swung open, and the conqueror ran onto the field at Nationals Park, serenaded by a joyous ovation. If the mighty Scherzer could not pitch the Washington Nationals out of the first round of the playoffs for once in the life of this franchise, who could? Maybe no one. The Nationals deployed the presumptive National League Cy Young Award winner in relief, and seldom has a move backfired in such an utterly bizarre fashion. On an evening packed with the weird and the dubious, Scherzer pitched an inning so crazy it was unprecedented in major league history.
The Chicago Cubs put up four runs on him, the runs that put them ahead for good, in a 9-8 victory over the Nationals in the fifth and final game of the National League division series.
The Cubs scored more runs in Game 5 than they had in the first four games, combined. They also survived their manager’s miscalculations, then sweated out the Nationals getting the go-ahead run to the plate in three of the final four in-
Bring on the rematch. For the second consecutive year, the Dodgers will play the Cubs in the National League Championship Series, with the winner advancing to the World Series.
“They’ve been the best team since Day 1,” Cubs pitcher Jon Lester said of the Dodgers. “The roles are reversed. We were that team last year. We moved on. They’re that team this year. Hopefully, our result is the same.”
This is the third time the Dodgers have faced the same NLCS opponent in consecutive seasons. They beat the Philadelphia Phillies in 1977 and 1978 and lost to them in 2008 and 2009.
When the series opens Saturday at Dodger Stadium, the Dodgers will start the pitcher commonly tagged as the best on the planet, Clayton Kershaw. The Cubs, well, who knows?
The Cubs used their top four starters to close out the NLDS: Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester on Wednesday, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana on Thursday. It is possible that Lackey, who did not appear in the NLDS, could get the Game 1 start in the NLCS.
Quintana could too, for he made only 12 pitches on Thursday. But Cubs manager Joe Maddon misused Quintana, apparently trying to hold him back for Game 1 and then having to rush him into the game in the middle of the seventh inning, after the Cubs had used three middle relievers and the Nationals had scored on each one.
The Nationals got Bryce Harper to bat with the bases loaded and one out in the seventh, with a sellout crowd dreaming of a grand slam that would have put the home team ahead.
Harper delivered a fly ball off Quintana, deep but not so deep as to clear a fence. The sacrifice fly made the score 9-7, after which closer Wade Davis replaced Quintana and unsteadily carried the Cubs to the finish line with a sevenout save.
Davis struck out Ryan Zimmerman to end the seventh. But he walked the first two batters in the eighth inning, after which pinchhitter Adam Lind rescued Davis by swinging at the first pitch and grounding into a double play.
Michael A. Taylor singled home one run, cutting the Cubs’ lead to 9-8. Then Jose Lobaton rescued Davis by getting picked off first base.
The last time Davis got seven outs? Four years ago, against the Nationals, as a starter for the Kansas City Royals.
For another year, at least, the Nationals will have to hear all about 1924. No Washington team has won a postseason series since then. Of greater relevance, the Nationals have been eliminated in the first round four times in the last seven years — three times in a full five-game series, including this year by the Cubs and last year by the Dodgers.
“Just a gut punch,” Scherzer said. “Again.”
The Nationals had Scherzer, their $210-million ace, available for two innings on Thursday. They got one inning, an inning that will be replayed and rued as long as October remains such a fickle month in Washington baseball.
The inning was the fifth. The Nationals had a 4-3 lead. If they could get two clean innings from Scherzer, they could hand the lead to their late-inning relievers.
Scherzer retired the first two batters. Then came an infield single — on a fastball at 98.2 mph, the hardest Scherzer had thrown a pitch this season. Then came a bloop single. Two flukes, no real worries.
Addison Russell doubled sharply down the third-base line, scoring both runners, and the Cubs had a 5-4 lead.
What happened with the next four batters was a sequence that never had happened in any of the 2.7 million half-innings in major league history, according to Baseball Reference: intentional walk, strikeout/passed ball, hit by pitch, catcher’s interference.
The Cubs scored one on the strikeout when catcher Matt Wieters failed to catch strike three and then threw the ball into right field, and they scored another on the hit batter, because the bases were loaded.
The Cubs thus led 7-4, and Scherzer had given up four runs in the inning. Seven batters had reached base against him.
In Game 3, five batters reached base against him — in 61⁄3 innings.
The Nationals gave away another run — left fielder Jayson Werth, in what probably was his final game in a Washington uniform, misplayed a line drive into a double — and the Cubs led, 8-4.
“We only had one clean hit to drive in a run,” said Theo Epstein, the Cubs’ president. “We scored nine. We had to find a way to get 27 outs without throwing strikes.”
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CUBS CATCHER Willson Contreras rejoices after Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper strikes out for the final out of Game 5.
JOSE LOBATON of the Nationals is tagged out at first by Anthony Rizzo of the Cubs on a pickoff play to end the eighth inning.