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Cubs Rally, Survive To Reach NLCS In Bonkers 9-8 Win Over Nats In Game 5

By Stephen Gossett in News on Oct 13, 2017 5:02AM

The Chicago Cubs are heading to their third consecutive National League Championship Series appearance after rallying against the Washington Nationals in a ridiculously tense and truly bonkers Game Five of the Division Series to win 9-8, even as the bullpen was again, um, less than confidence-inspiring. And after yet another gut-punch postseason collapse, the Nats meanwhile will have to wait at least another year to advance beyond the divisional round.

In a game that saw the Cubs benefit from multiple wild pitches, catcher interference, a would-be-out lost in the lights, a controversial third-strike passed ball and a huge overturned call late, Chicago bats delivered often in order to survive elimination and live to defend their championship.

Cubs starters had been stellar through the first four games, but Kyle Hendricks—who entered the game with 1.98 ERA through eight postseason starts—and Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez both struggled on Thursday night.

The Cubs jumped out to an early 1-0 lead when Anthony Rizzo hit a sacrifice grounder to score Jon Jay, who had reached on a leadoff double and advanced to third on a wild pitch. It was Rizzo's sixth RBI of the postseason.

Chicago staved off a potential first-inning counterpunch when Javy Baez gunned out the speedster Trea Turner at the plate with a lightning-quick exchange and throw. But the Nationals bats fired in the second: Murphy tied it with a leadoff solo home rum, then Michael A. Taylor—who delivered the grand-slam dagger in Game Four—launched a three-run homer after Anthony Rendon had singled and Matt Wieters reached on a picture-perfect bunt, to make it 4-1.

The Cubs quickly responded in the third, pulling to within one. Addison Russell's sacrifice grounder scored Kris Bryant, after the slumping MVP broke out with a double and Gonzalez surrendered two walks. Gonzalez then self-inflicted again with another wild pitch, which allowed Albert Almora Jr. to score and make it 4-3.

The Cubs renewed the rally in an absolutely wild and wooly fifth inning against no less than likely NL Cy Young Award repeat winner Max Scherzer. The Nats ace, who threw 98 pitches on Monday, surrendered a two-out single to Wilson Contreras and another to a pinch-hitting Ben Zobrist—both of whom scored on a two-run Addison Russell double to give the Cubs a 5-4 lead.

Then we hit bizarro world as Russell made it home on a third-strike passed ball with Javy Baez batting, on a play that would have otherwise gone down as an inning-ending strikeout.
But Baez probably should have been called out nonetheless, since his backswing appeared to hit the catcher's mask. (Given that the Nats ended up losing by a single run, Washington fans won't likely forget the non-call any time soon.) It got weirder still when a catcher-interference call followed, then a run-scoring hit-by-pitch with Jon Jay at the plate. By the end of the nutty, ecstatic and crowd-silencing fifth the Cubs had taken a 7-4 lead.

The Cubs added another in the sixth when Jayson Werth seemingly lost Addison Russell's double in the lights, allowing Zobrist to score and making it 8-4.

Chicago's relief staff, which struggled so mightily in the second half of the regular season and into the playoffs, again made certain Cubs fans wouldn't keep their fingernails from between their teeth. Werth walked, advanced on a Harper double, then scored on (yep) a wild-pitch walk by Mike Montgomery in the sixth inning; and a Daniel Murphy RBI double made it a tight 8-6.

The Cubs gave themselves some breathing room for a blink of an eye in the seventh when a pitch-hitting Kyle Schwarber literally left a mark when he singled hard to right, then scored, in the seventh.

But the Chicago bullpen woes came to the fore yet again, with Carl Edwards Jr. facing just one batter, who he walked, before getting the hook, and Harper hitting a sac-fly RBI off starter-in-relief Jose Quintana to make it 9-7. Wade Davis coughed up a run in the eighth on a Taylor single (his eighth RBI in two games) after surrendering two no-out walks to make it 9-8. Only after a successful Joe Maddon challenge on a razor-thin pickoff play at first was he able to squeak away from further danger. But he delivered a one-two-three ninth inning to seal the nail-biter victory.

Game One of the NLCS is scheduled for Saturday at 7 p.m., at Dodger Stadium. Game Two is Sunday at 6:30 p.m., again in Los Angeles.

If this was any prelude, it should be fun—if impossibly nerve-wracking.