Baker’s crew loses it in chaotic fashion
As the Chicago Cubs’ lead grew to 8-4 in the sixth inning of Thursday night’s NLDS Game 5, TBS analyst Ron Darling said, “It’s starting to feel like a coronation.”
That’s one way of putting it. “Abomination” was the proper term from Washington’s angle. Leading 4-1 on the majesty of Michael A. Taylor’s three-run homer, the Nationals handed over this game in a preposterous swirl of errors, misjudgments and costly pitches. Some will point to certain moves by manager Dusty Baker, but don’t put this one on him; it was truly a team effort. Baker’s players conspired to lose this game, one blunder after another.
Particularly troubling to the Washington franchise, still without an NLCS appearance since the club moved from Montreal despite four playoff appearances in the past six seasons: The worst developments have taken place at home. In Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS against St. Louis, the Nationals gave Gio Gonzalez a 6-0 lead, but his deer-in-theheadlights performance got St. Louis back in the game 6-3 — Gonzalez was equally disgraceful Thursday night — and Drew Storen gave up four runs in the ninth as the Cardinals won 9-7.
In 2014, it was an 18-inning home loss to the Giants, who won it on a Brandon Belt homer, that left the Nats down 0-2 as they headed to San Francisco. The series ended there. And last year, it once again boiled down to an NLDS Game 5 in Washington. The Dodgers won 4-3 behind Clayton Kershaw’s dramatic work in relief.
As chaotic as this game was, complete with baseball writers lamely ripping both managers every five minutes on Twitter, two moments stand out. With the fleet Taylor on second in the eighth, Cubs catcher Willson Contreras had the guts to make a snap throw to first base, where a lot could go wrong. He nailed Jose Lobaton to end the inning. Then there was reliever Wade Davis throwing a perfect, unhittable 3-and-2 curve to strike out Bryce Harper to end the game. That was trust — and, for Davis’ seventh out of the game, pure adrenaline.
Why the Yankees have a chance against anybody: Unlike the Nationals, who couldn’t bank on any reliever other than Sean Doolittle, the New York bullpen steams into the ALCS having allowed just one run with 28 strikeouts in 172⁄3 innings against Cleveland. Bruce Jenkins is a San Francisco Chronicle columnist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @Bruce_Jenkins1