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Nationals 5, Cubs 0: The eighth inning strikes again

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The Nationals have scored 12 runs in this series. Nine of them have come in the eighth inning.

Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

The Cubs’ 5-0 loss to the Nationals in Game 4 of the division series is a game where I was very, very glad I have Josh writing the Rapid Recap after every postseason game.

Because I’m not sure I could have put all this together in an evening full of jumbled emotions and thoughts about this loss, which forces a deciding Game 5 to be played in Washington Thursday evening.

I suppose the bottom line is this: Regardless of the Cubs’ eighth-inning bullpen failure, the second such failure in this series, the Cubs probably weren’t going to win this game anyway because of the dominance of Stephen Strasburg. Forget all the nonsensical stuff about “mold” and all that — whatever allegedly ailed Strasburg to the point where he had originally begged off pitching Game 4 was clearly not there Wednesday afternoon and evening. The three-hit, 12-strikeout performance was a postseason outing that few living had ever seen:

There’s one other thing that hasn’t been mentioned much in other places I’ve seen about this game. Cubs pitchers issued nine walks, none intentional. Teams issuing that many walks in a postseason game are 16-45 all-time (including this game). You simply can’t give the other team that many baserunners and expect to win, especially when the opposing starter is dealing.

Jake Arrieta’s velocity was fine and he showed few ill effects from either his hamstring injury or the 15-day layoff between starts. The only bad thing, really, was his lack of command and control. Jake issued five walks and threw 90 pitches in four innings, and could have departed in a scoreless tie if not for this [VIDEO].

Ryan Zimmerman’s ground ball could have and should have been played by Addison Russell. As Josh mentioned in his recap, Zimmerman is not a fast runner and Russell appeared to rush the throw.

Still, it’s only 1-0. The Cubs did have RISP in the second (Ben Zobrist doubled and went to third on a fly ball) and fourth (Willson Contreras on an infield hit and throwing error that put him on second base), but could not score off Strasburg.

Joe Maddon then made a gutsy call that paid off. Jon Lester entered to begin the fifth inning, and he was absolutely dealing. Lester retired the first 10 hitters he faced, three by strikeout, before walking Zimmerman with one out in the eighth. And then:

I give Lester a great deal of credit. When he came to the Cubs, he was said to be terrible at: bunting, hitting in general, fielding his position and pickoffs. He’s worked hard and improved in all four areas, and this pickoff put him within one out of getting out of the eighth inning.

And then.

Cubs nemesis Daniel Murphy lined a single to center field, the first hit off Lester. Here’s how good Lester had been:

Now, here’s where you can second-guess Joe Maddon. Should he have left Lester in the game? He was throwing nearly as well as Strasburg had been. He was at 55 pitches; having gone that long, he’s likely out until NLCS Game 3, if the Cubs get that far. Why not one more hitter?

Matchups, I suppose. The next hitter, Anthony Rendon, hit .337/.448/.683 against lefthanders this year, .292/.392/.495 against righthanders. Thus a righthander was called in.

It was Carl Edwards Jr. CJ has, at times, had trouble with command, and unfortunately, this was one of those nights. He walked Rendon. Switch-hitter Matt Wieters was next. Wieters also hits lefthanders a bit better than righthanders, so while Joe had Brian Duensing ready, he elected to stick with CJ.

Edwards walked Wieters, so now the bases are loaded with two out and Wade Davis is in the game — after CJ threw ball one to Michael A. Taylor.

Wade Davis. Who had allowed exactly one home run in 25 previous postseason appearances, and that was way back in 2010 when he was pitching for Joe Maddon’s Rays. Nelson Cruz, then with the Rangers, homered off Davis — then a starter — in a game the Rays won anyway.

Taylor fouled off a 95 mile per hour offering from Davis. And then [VIDEO]...

If you watched the game, you certainly saw the awful weather conditions this one was played in. It was worse out there than it looked, a perfectly miserable day to play baseball. The wind was blowing in from Lake Michigan, over that right-field wall. There was a light drizzle falling for the first two innings, then it stopped, then misty drizzle kicked up again around the bottom of the sixth and never ceased the rest of the late afternoon/evening. The ball landed in the basket in right-center, though even if the basket hadn’t been there, that ball would have hit high off the wall, out of Ian Happ’s reach. (It also would have likely been out of Jason Heyward’s reach; Heyward had been removed on a double-switch when Davis entered the game.) Thus runs would have scored on that hit, basket or no basket.

But in the basket it was, and that sent a lot of people who had hoped to see a series-clincher out of Wrigley Field into the gloomy night. I’d say close to half of the 42,264 in the seats — and there were very few empty seats despite the last-minute rescheduling of this game — departed before the game was over. For those of us who stayed, this was tweeted around the time the ninth inning began:

Well, I was one of those, hoping for a miracle comeback. Those do sometimes happen, but it was not to be for the Cubs on this gloomy evening. They did get a pair of runners on in the eighth on a walk to Happ, followed by Jon Jay being hit by a pitch, but Kris Bryant struck out for the fourth time in this game and ninth time in the series, and any time KB would like to step up that’d be fine with me. Anthony Rizzo grounded out and the inning was over.

In the ninth, we finally did see Duensing, who retired Bryce Harper on a line drive to Rizzo. Duensing then made a throwing error to allow Zimmerman to reach base, after which we finally saw the matchup we should have seen in Game 2: Justin Wilson vs. Daniel Murphy. Wilson retired Murphy on a line drive to Russell and got Rendon to fly to center, giving the Cubs one final shot at redemption.

Sean Doolittle shut the door on that with a 1-2-3 ninth, striking out Russell to end it and sending the game back to Washington.

I had intended to go to D.C. for a possible Game 5, but airfares were so high I had planned an off-day drive. The rainout killed the off day and thus my plans to go to Washington, so I’ll be watching this one from home, hoping the Cubs have a comeback in them. Before Wednesday only three games had been won in this year’s division series by a visiting team (Cubs, Game 1 in Washington; Astros, Game 4 in Boston; Dodgers, Game 3 in Phoenix). And then Wednesday, both visiting teams won, the Nats at Wrigley and the Yankees in Cleveland, and the latter eliminated the defending American League champions, who won 102 games this year.

Think about that for a moment if you’re feeling down this morning. Imagine waking up this morning and being a Cleveland Indians fan, thinking your team had a chance to avenge last year’s World Series loss to the Cubs.

Those fans have to wait another year for redemption. As Cubs fans, our team still has another chance to move on to the next round, and this division series with the Nationals has been quite evenly matched, I think. The Cubs have won two close games; the Nats have scored lots of runs in the eighth inning and won the other two.

And thus it is up to Kyle Hendricks, the guy whose expression never changes:

He’ll face Gio Gonzalez, and the Cubs scored three runs off Gio in five innings in Game 2. Game time is 7 p.m. CT.

#LetsGo