Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press
The World Series champions are still alive.
The Chicago Cubs overcame an early 4-1 deficit and held on for dear life at the end to oust the Washington Nationals in Game 5 of the National League Division Series on Thursday with a 9-8 victory at Nationals Park. The Cubs offense exploded for seven straight runs to take the lead and then relied on closer Wade Davis to finish the game with a seven-out save.
According to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, it was the first seven-out save of his career.
MLB GIFS @MLBGIFs
#FlyTheW and celebrate. #CLINCHED https://t.co/kgho2g2qrI
While Davis allowed a run, two hits and two walks, he worked a 1-2-3 ninth inning against the top of the Nationals lineup to preserve the save. His strikeout of Bryce Harper propelled the Cubs to their second straight National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The final few innings featured a replay overturn, starting pitchers in relief and Davis doing something he’s never done, but the drama truly escalated in the bottom of the seventh.
Jose Quintana, who is normally a Chicago starter, induced a bases-loaded sacrifice fly from Harper to trim the Cubs’ lead to 9-7 and turned the ball over to Davis. The closer promptly struck out Ryan Zimmerman with two runners on, but he allowed a run in the eighth on Michael A. Taylor’s RBI single.
It was Davis’ catcher, Willson Contreras, who snuffed out Washington’s rally in the penultimate inning by picking off Jose Lobaton at first base on a play that replay overturned.
Breaks like that are representative of the overall struggles in the nation’s capital, as ESPN Stats & Info noted:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
Over the last 12 seasons, Washington pro sports teams are 3-13 in winner-take-all playoff games, including losing 9 of their last 10.
Neither starter—Chicago’s Kyle Hendricks nor Washington’s Gio Gonzalez—was effective.
Washington turned to ace Max Scherzer on short rest in the fifth, only to watch him allow Chicago’s biggest inning. All four runs came with two outs when Addison Russell drilled a two-run double and scored when catcher Matt Wieters threw a passed ball, which was strike three, into the outfield.
.@Addison_Russell turned that clutch factor all the way up. #NLDS https://t.co/Nj2iQp6VQI
What’s more, Scherzer hit Jon Jay with the bases loaded, and Ryan Fagan of Sporting News captured the craziness of the frame:
Ryan Fagan @ryanfagan
Scherzer’s inning … – out – out – infield 1B – bloop 1B – double – int. BB – strikeout/passed ball – catcher’s int – hit-by-pitch – out
It should be noted Javier Baez hit Wieters on his backswing before the throwing error, and Joe Posnanski of MLB.com indicated the umpires made a mistake by letting the play continue:
Joe Posnanski @JPosnanski
Looked it up. Yep. Sure looks like umps blew call. https://t.co/2Rofu2YEqB
It wasn’t the only unfortunate break for a Nationals franchise that hasn’t won a playoff series since it moved to Washington. Jayson Werth lost a Russell line drive in the lights that went into the box score as an RBI double, bringing the Cubs shortstop’s RBI total to four and giving his team an 8-4 lead in the sixth.
All of it could have been avoided for the NL East winners had Gonzalez thrown a solid game. He allowed three earned runs, three hits and four walks in just three innings. The runs came on RBI groundouts from Russell and Anthony Rizzo and a wild pitch, but things would have been worse for the southpaw had it not been for his ability to retire Jason Heyward twice in big spots with runners in scoring position.
His counterpart lasted four innings and allowed four earned runs and nine hits while fanning seven. It was far from the Hendricks who posted a 1.42 ERA in five playoff games last year and outdueled Clayton Kershaw in Game 6 of the NLCS.
Daniel Murphy and Taylor—who drilled a grand slam in Washington’s Game 4 win—each homered off Hendricks within a four-batter span in the second, scoring all four runs off him.
Don’t pitch to @Taylor_Michael3 either. #NLDS https://t.co/NmwrhQAQTW
Murphy also added an RBI double to make it 8-6 in the sixth inning, and Kris Bryant’s RBI on a fielder’s choice in the seventh set the stage for the dramatic conclusion.
Now Chicago turns its attention toward the Dodgers and their MLB-best 104-58 record in the NLCS. It will be a rematch of last year’s showdown, which the Cubs won in six games on their way to a World Series title.
The Cubs will have to deal with Kershaw and Yu Darvish this time around instead of just the former and will need some of the offensive fireworks on display Thursday.