SLAM­MING IT HOME

Grand slam, Stras­burg pitch­ing gem help even se­ries with Cubs

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY TODD DYBAS

Na­tion­als out­fielder Michael A. Taylor’s eighth-in­ning grand slam fu­eled a 5-0 vic­tory over the Chicago Cubs in Game 4 of the NLDS on Wednesday and set up the de­cid­ing game at Na­tion­als Park on Thursday.

CHICAGO | When he talks, Michael A. Taylor speaks in soft tones. He does not talk just to do so after be­ing raised by a father in the mil­i­tary who taught him to be mea­sured in his be­hav­ior and tone. When he does speak, he is po­lite and co­op­er­a­tive, but it’s si­lence he is most of­ten sur­rounded by.

Wednesday night in Chicago, Taylor pushed one of his defin­ing per­son­al­ity traits onto sold-out Wrigley Field. He hit a 1-1 pitch for an op­po­site-field grand slam in the top of the eighth in­ning off Chicago closer Wade Davis, who was brought to the mound with the count al­ready 1-0, to fi­nally ex­pand Washington’s lead. This small park known for charm and rau­cous fans fell silent by the time Taylor was round­ing sec­ond base.

The grand slam ce­mented a lore-build­ing and nar­ra­tive-chang­ing game for Stephen Stras­burg. It also led to a 5-0 Washington win in Game 4, flip­ping elim­i­na­tion into any­thing be­ing pos­si­ble. Game 5 of the tied National League Di­vi­sion Se­ries be­tween these teams will be Thursday night in Na­tion­als Park. Kyle

Hen­dricks will pitch for the Cubs. The Na­tion­als have not se­lected a starter. Based on the se­ries so far, any­one who claims to have a han­dle on the pos­si­ble out­come is telling a fib.

“This is what play­off base­ball is sup­posed to be like,” Ryan Zim­mer­man said. “It’s sup­posed to be tight games. It’s sup­posed to be big hits.”

The day be­gan with Stras­burg as the fo­cus fol­low­ing 24 hours of ques­tions about why he was ini­tially not named the game’s starter. Once Stras­burg was on the mound, the sto­ry­line about how he pushed back sick­ness to get there be­gan to sub­side.

His first in­ning was a bit slow — he threw al­most as many balls as strikes — but he struck out two to start. A bit of trou­ble brewed in the sec­ond. Ben Zo­brist dou­bled. Ad­di­son Rus­sell’s well­struck fly ball that was un­mer­ci­fully driven down by mist and wind fol­lowed. Jayson Werth caught it on the warn­ing track in left field. Any other day, it’s likely a two-run homer. In­stead, it be­came a deep out ab­sorbed by the poor weather.

“They were say­ing in the dugout that he flushed it,” Werth said. “When he hit, I thought I had it the whole way.”

Each in­ning that ticked by after that seemed to ratchet up Stras­burg’s ef­fec­tive­ness, though he wasn’t sure un­til the morn­ing of the game that he could pitch.

He struck out the side in the third on 12 pitches. He struck out the side again in the fourth, work­ing around his own throw­ing er­ror. Cubs fans en­cased in blue sweat­shirts and gear usu­ally re­served for Bears’ games tried to rat­tle him by chant­ing his name with a sub­ver­sive tone. “Stras-burg, Stras-burg.” He’d just throw an­other strike to mute them.

The sit­u­a­tion that bit Stras­burg in Game 1 when he car­ried a no-hit­ter into the sixth in­ning arose again in the sixth Wednesday. The top of the Cubs’ or­der was com­ing up for the third time. Just like Game 1, Stras­burg had con­trolled the Cubs’ most po­tent hit­ters, Kris Bryant and An­thony Rizzo, to that point in the game. In their first four at-bats, the duo was 0-for-4 with four strike­outs. In Game 1, they broke through the third time around. Wednesday, Bryant struck out and Rizzo walked. Stras­burg ended the in­ning with the next pitch when Will­son Con­tr­eras flew out. There would be no re­peat un­rav­el­ing.

The first cru­cial de­ci­sion of the af­ter­noon came when Stras­burg was due to bat in the top of the sev­enth. He was at 89 pitches and lead­ing off the in­ning. Na­tion­als man­ager Dusty Baker al­lowed Stras­burg to hit for him­self, mean­ing that he would be back on the mound to be­gin the sev­enth. Left-handed Oliver Perez and right-handed Ryan Mad­son be­gan to warm up.

No need for those two yet. Stras­burg struck out the side, in­clud­ing neme­sis Ja­son Hey­ward. The Cubs’ right fielder had en­tered the se­ries hit­ting .405 against Stras­burg in his ca­reer. A fi­nal changeup from Stras­burg led to his 12th and fin­ish­ing strike­out. He threw 106 pitches. Of those, 72 were strikes. He jogged off the mound done for the night know­ing that he asked to be in this game, then dom­i­nated it: seven in­nings pitched, three hits, two walks, no earned runs and 12 strike­outs.

When he was done, the Na­tion­als re­mained in search of a lit­tle in­sur­ance. Cubs pitcher Jon Lester, typ­i­cally a starter, had re­lieved Jake Ar­ri­eta, who lasted just four in­nings in the game and al­lowed an un­earned run. Lester made it to the eighth in­ning. That’s when Chicago man­ager Joe Mad­don be­gan to tinker. With a 1-0 count on Taylor, he brought in Davis, who had a 0.84 ERA in 321⁄3 post­sea­son in­nings. The mid at-bat pitch­ing change prompted Taylor to quickly go view video on Davis. He fouled off the first pitch. The sec­ond he drove into the bas­ket just over the head of right fielder Ian Happ.

“I was kind of numb, just run­ning around the bases,” Taylor said.

The hit was a much-needed dam burst and un­likely. The con­di­tions that snuffed out Rus­sell’s would-be homer in the sec­ond sur­pris­ingly did not stop Taylor’s fly ball.

Taylor crossed the plate to high-five team­mates. He smiled, then calmly walked to the low-slung vis­i­tor’s dugout. After a post­pone­ment Tues­day, a 24-hour pe­riod of bad pub­lic­ity af­ter­ward, and a tense seven in­nings Wednesday, the Na­tion­als are head­ing home for Game 5.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHO­TO­GRAPHS

ABOVE: Washington Na­tion­als out­fielder Michael Taylor hits an op­po­site-field grand slam against the Chicago Cubs in the top of the eighth in­ning of Game 4 of the National League Di­vi­sion Se­ries on Wednesday. BE­LOW LEFT: Chicago Cubs right fielder Ian Happ watches Taylor’s home run ball sail into the out­field bas­ket to seal a 5-0 vic­tory for the Na­tion­als. The se­ries is tied with the de­cid­ing Game 5 to be held on Thursday at Na­tion­als Park.

Washington Na­tion­als out­field­ers Bryce Harper and Howie Ken­drick cel­e­brate after win­ning Game 4 of the NLDS on Wednesday.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Washington Na­tion­als sec­ond base­man Daniel Mur­phy tries to chase off birds in the bot­tom of the first in­ning of Game 4 of the NLDS on Wednesday.

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