The Cubs didn’t have a hit through six innings this early evening and made four errors, one of which led to the first run of the game. It just didn’t matter. Thanks to late clutch hitting, strong defense (other than the errors) and a terrific performance by the maligned Cubs bullpen, the Cubs beat the Nationals 2-1 to take a two games to one lead in the best-of-five series.
The big question coming into this game was whether or not Max Scherzer would be able to pitch like the Cy Young Award-winner that he is. For three innings, he did, retiring the Cubs lineup once in order, striking out four through three innings, allowing no baserunners.
But Scherzer was matched by Jose Quintana, who showed no butterflies as he kept the Nationals off the board as well. Unlike Scherzer, Quintana did allow baserunners, but the only real threat came in the second inning when a single, a throwing error by Quintana and an error by Ben Zobrist put runners on first and third with two outs for Anthony Rendon. But while Rendon gave the ball a ride to right field, Jason Heyward tracked it down for the third out.
Scherzer seemed to lose his command of the strike zone in the fourth. He didn’t allow a hit over the next three innings, but he did hit one batter and he walked three.
The Nationals finally broke through in the top of the sixth inning when Kyle Schwarber saw a fly ball by Daniel Murphy down the left field line clank off his glove. Then he had trouble picking it up and Murphy ended up on third base. That was it for Quintana, as manager Joe Maddon went to to the right-hander Pedro Strop to face the right-handed Ryan Zimmerman. Zimmerman lined a double into the right-center gap and the Nationals had a 1-0 lead.
The final line on Quintana was 5.2 innings, allowing one unearned run on two hits. He walked one and struck out seven. That’s terrific. It wasn’t good enough for the win, however.
Bill and Joel Murray sang “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” for the seventh inning stretch. Poor Brian Doyle-Murray wasn’t invited, apparently.
Ben Zobrist finally broke up Scherzer’s no-hitter with one out in the bottom of the seventh. With that, Scherzer’s day ended and Dusty Baker called upon left-hander Sammy Solis and Maddon countered by pinch-hitting Albert Almora Jr. for Schwarber. Almora lined an RBI single into left-center field. Tie ballgame. Michael Taylor made a great catch on an Addison Russell line drive to center field for a double play to end the seventh inning.
By the way, this is where I had to go to a Parent-Teacher conference. I had to see the eighth inning on Gameday on my lap as I spoke to my daughter’s principal.
Whereas the Cubs bullpen blew game two, the script was flipped in game three as it was the Cubs bullpen that shut down the Nationals and the Nats bullpen that gave up the lead. After Carl Edwards Jr. retired the side in the top of the eighth (Trea Turner, Bryce Harper and Rendon), Tommy La Stella pinch hit for Edwards to lead off the bottom of the eighth. The guy who could roll out of bed at 3 am and get a hit? He walked. Just as good as a hit.
Jon Jay bunted pinch-runner Leonys Martin over to second base and then after Kris Bryant struck out, Dusty Baker went to the bullpen to call on the left-hander Oliver Perez to face Anthony Rizzo. Rizzo blooped the first pitch into no-man’s land between center fielder Taylor, left fielder Jayson Werth and shortstop Turner. Martin scored, the Cubs had a 2-1 lead and Wrigley went wild.
The Nationals came up to face Wade Davis in the ninth but just like every time but one this season, it was futile. When Werth popped out to Rizzo to end the game, the Cubs had a 2 games to 1 lead in the best-of-five series.
Credit goes out to Almora, Rizzo and Zobrist for winning this game, especially after I disrespected Zobrist on Twitter earlier in the game. Zobrist had been looking as bad as Trea Turner (and boy, is Turner having a terrible series) in this series, but he not only broke up the no-hitter with a double, scored the tying run and made a terrific defensive play on Turner in the eighth inning.
Also credit goes out to the Cubs pitching. They only allowed the one unearned run the whole game against the powerful Nats lineup.
The Cubs made four errors in this game and had four hits. It’s not often that you win a playoff game when your team makes as many errors as they have hits, but the Cubs managed to do it anyway.
Tomorrow’s game is at 4:30 Central time (unless the Dodgers win tonight, in which case it would be at 7 p.m. Central) and Jake Arrieta will take on Tanner Roark as the Cubs try to close out the series and go to the National League Championship Series for the third-straight time.
Fly the W. The magic doesn’t end yet.