Harper, Zimmerman spark Nationals
Washington rallies for what has been elusive playoff victory
WASHINGTON— Washington Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper tried to downplay the importance of winning Game 2 of the National League Division Series against the Chicago Cubs, saying he’s played in bigger games: Game 5 in the postseason, Team USA against Cuba, as a 10- year- old “playing in front of 15,000 people.”
“I think the biggest thing is trying to not make it such a big game,” he said. “You’re playing against one of the best teams in all of baseball, but you have to understand that we are one of the best teams in all of baseball as well.”
Make no mistake, this was a huge game for the Nats, and Harper did something beyond huge to help the Nats win in a moment they desperately needed on Saturday.
His two- run homer tied the game in the eighth inning, sparking an explosion that culminated in a three- run homer from Ryan Zimmerman as Washington roared back from the dead with a five- run inning to claim a 6- 3 victory over the Cubs that evened the bestof- five series 1- 1.
The victory gave the Nats new life after they were facing an 0- 2 hole. Washington will turn to ace Max Scherzer ( 16- 6, 2.51 ERA) to try to get a leg up in Game 3 on Monday in Chicago. Scherzer, trying to get healthy after injuring his hamstring in his last start, will go against Chicago lefty Jose Quintana ( 11- 11, 4.15).
“Going into Chicago 0- 2 would have been a pretty tough hole to dig ourselves out of,” said Zimmerman, a former
U. Va. standout. “So 1- 1 is obviously a lot more manageable. We’ll enjoy the day off. Some people talk about momentum and things like that. That’s a really good team over there. They have kind of been through everything.”
Washington has been through the frustration of not being able to get past the division series in three of the past five years. The Nats managed only two hits in Game 1, and they had only two hits going into the eighth on Saturday.
“The tension and the frustration builds, and sometimes it takes kind of just one hit for everyone to exhale,” Zimmerman said. “Everyone who has played base- ball has been there before. Baseball is contagious when you’re going well and also when you’re going bad. Obviously a huge hit by ( Harper) to kind of lift the pressure off a little bit.”
Left- handed hitting pinch- hitter Adam Lind, in his first postseason game, started the eighth with an opposite- field single. After Trea Turner struck out, Harper launched a 3- 1 breaking ball from Carl Edwards Jr. into the second tier of seats in right field to tie the game, sending a sellout crowd of 43,860 into pandemonium.
Harper, the 2015 NL MVP, returned for the final week of the regular season after missing 41 games with a hyperextended left knee.
“First pitch was a curveball,” said Harper, who was fooled badly. “Great swing on that pitch. Next three were heaters up in the zone. And then I thought to myself, runner on first, didn’t think he was going to throw a pitch over the plate, to tell you the truth. I thought he was going to throw a curveball back down in the dirt. I thought about taking the whole way. And then I saw a loop in the curveball and said, ‘ Why not swing as hard as you can?’ Got barrel on it, and a pretty good moment.”
Anthony Rendon walked, bringing in reliever Mike Montgomery to face Daniel Murphy. Murphy singled to left, setting the stage for Zimmerman. His drive to left just cleared the wall.
“It couldn’t happen to a finer guy. No. 1,” Nats manager Dusty Baker said. “And he’s a franchise guy here. Bryce is coming on strong. But it’s great to have Zim come through in those situations, because he’s been known to come through for years and years, especially late in the game like that. You could tell he was psyched. The fans were psyched. Everybody was psyched except probably the Chicago people.”
Dramatic moments such as this have passed by the Nats in other postseason games. But Harper has become a clutch performer, along with Chicago’s Anthony Rizzo.
Harper has five homers in 16 postseason games. Rizzo whose two- run homer staked the Cubs to a 3- 1 lead, has a franchise-high six homers and 16 RBIs in 28 playoff games.
“I think the train’s coming,” Harper said. “We’re a great team. We’ve got Max coming in Game 3. I don’t know Game 4 or Game 5, but take it one inning at a time, one at- bat at a time, and do the things we can to get on base and put pressure on them.”
Sean Doolittle ( U. Va.) picked up the save for the Nats with a scoreless ninth.
Notes: Baker said Scherzer had a good bullpen session on Friday. “We’ll see how deep he can go,” Baker said. “That’s the question on anybody that’s kind of semi- injured, you know, when they fatigue, are they strong enough to battle through whatever is bothering them?”
Bryce Harper’s homer set the stage for Ryan Zimmerman’s heroics.
The Nationals’ Ryan Zimmerman celebrates his three-run homer with teammate JaysonWerth. Zimmerman connected off Cubs reliever Mike Montgomery in the eighth inning. Washingtonwon 6-3.