Harper, Zim­mer­man spark Na­tion­als

Wash­ing­ton ral­lies for what has been elu­sive play­off vic­tory

Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend - - SPORTS - BY TIM PEARRELL

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 ASSOCIATED PRESS

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.

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