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2017 Cubs victories revisited, October 12: Cubs 9, Nationals 8

It was wacky, but the Cubs hung on and advanced to the NLCS.

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Game 4 was postponed for a day, and when the Cubs lost to force Game 5, the teams had to play without benefit of a travel day. It showed; the play was ragged, but in the end the Cubs held on and took the series three games to two.

And here you thought Game 7 of the 2016 World Series was the craziest Cubs game ever.

Thursday night in Washington in a baseball game that at times redefined what we know as “baseball,” Wade Davis got Bryce Harper to swing and miss at a cutter for strike three and the Cubs outlasted the Nationals 9-8 to win their division series and move on to a date with the Dodgers in a rematch of last year’s National League Championship Series, beginning Saturday in Los Angeles.

I’m not sure who’s going to start that game; maybe the Cubs can convince Fergie Jenkins to come out of retirement, because it seemed as if they used just about everyone else in franchise history in nailing down the Game 5 win in Washington, which happened at 12:45 a.m. Eastern time, just two minutes short of matching the time of day (12:47 a.m.) when the World Series drought ended early in the morning of November 3, 2016.

So many plays in this game were significant in leading to the Cubs’ victory, but I’m going to begin by noting one that might not have seemed important at the time. The Cubs took a 1-0 lead in the first inning and then began the process of blowing that lead pretty much right away. Trea Turner singled, stole second and advanced to third on a fly ball. The Cubs pulled the infield in and Bryce Harper grounded right to Javier Baez [VIDEO].

If that run scores, the game ends the ninth inning at the very least tied. The Statcast video shows off Baez’ arm and Turner’s baserunning, but give credit to Willson Contreras for that tag, too.

Then the Nationals started teeing off on Kyle Hendricks, who wasn’t quite as sharp as he had been in Game 1. Daniel Murphy, who homered twice off Hendricks August 4 at Wrigley Field (and also in Game 3 of the 2015 NLCS), did it again and the game was tied.

Two singles later, Michael A. Taylor came to bat, his first plate appearance since his Game 4 grand slam. You kind of figured what was coming, and it did: a three-run homer, and that was after Hendricks had him down 0-2.

So it’s 4-1 Nats, but it’s only the second inning. Plenty of baseball left, right?

This is when things started to get wild, but just a little compared to what was to come. Kris Bryant ended a strikeout streak that had most of us wondering whether he’d ever get another hit in this series with a double. One out later, Willson Contreras and Albert Almora Jr. walked to load the bases. Addison Russell grounded out, scoring a run, and a wild pitch by Gio Gonzalez scored another.

Suddenly it’s 4-3, and we’re still only in the third inning.

Now here’s where things get really, really weird.

In the fifth, the Nationals called on Max Scherzer, who had thrown 98 pitches on Monday in Game 3. Scherzer looked like Scherzer... for two batters. Bryant and Anthony Rizzo were retired on just six pitches.

Contreras singled. Ben Zobrist batted for Almora. Now think about this. We’re only halfway through this game and Joe Maddon has just significantly weakened his outfield defense. Zobrist, though, came through with a pinch single. That brought up Russell [VIDEO].

The look on Scherzer’s face after that — “scared rabbit” doesn’t begin to describe it. The Cubs had a 5-4 lead.

Scherzer ran a 2-0 count on Jason Heyward before Dusty Baker had him intentionally passed.

And now we come to one of the more controversial moments not only of this series, but the entire 2017 season [VIDEO].

On first look, it appears simply that Matt Wieters couldn’t catch the ball on strike three to Baez, who took off for first base. Russell never stopped running on Wieters’ bad throw, and scored to make it 6-4.

But wait!

I don’t know. I read quite a bit of back-and-forth on Twitter Thursday night about this play. The commentary here isn’t very well-written. First it talks about “umpire’s judgment,” then it says “unintentionally hits the catcher.” So exactly what is the umpire supposed to judge here? In any case, it appeared plate umpire Jerry Layne simply never saw whether Baez’ bat hit Wieters. Replays appear to show that it did, and Wieters went right to Layne asking about it. The umpires conferred — this sort of play is not reviewable — and the play stood as called.

You know, this is the way I feel about that. The Cubs spent 108 years not getting breaks. We’ll take it.

The Cubs weren’t done with weird plays in that inning, either. Tommy La Stella was next, batting for Hendricks. On a 1-2 pitch, TLS’ bat touched Wieters’ mitt. Now that one, the umpires saw. Catcher’s interference was called, sending La Stella to first base and loading the bases.

Scherzer, who had to be now wondering why he’d agreed to pitch in this game, hit Jay on a 2-1 pitch, forcing in a run to make it 7-4. Which brought up this thought:

And you know what? He was right:

It’s as if these modern-day Cubs are trying to make up for all 108 years of the drought by themselves. Filling in blanks, as it were.

7-4. A three-run lead. 15 outs to go.

Brian Duensing entered and walked Murphy to lead off the inning. (Hint: This is going to become a trend.) He retired the next two hitters, but Joe wasn’t about to let him face Taylor, so Pedro Strop was summoned. Strop struck out Taylor on three pitches and on we went to the sixth.

The Cubs extended the lead to 8-4 and again, did it after the first two hitters of the inning, Rizzo and Contreras, had been retired. Zobrist, who remained in the game after his pinch single, walked. That brought up Russell again [VIDEO].

That was a really poor defensive play by Werth; if you can’t get to a ball like that, you have to keep it in front of you, but Werth didn’t. Again... we’ll take it. Zobrist scored and it’s 8-4. Russell wound up with a four-RBI night:

Strop retired the first two Nats in the last of the sixth, but being in a good spot was too much, I suppose. Guess what happened next? Of course you know, but if you didn’t, you’d have likely guessed “walk,” and you’d have been right. Mike Montgomery was brought in to pitch to Harper, who hit MiMo’s second pitch for a double, with Werth, who had walked, stopping at third. Then Montgomery threw a wild pitch. Werth scored, Harper went to third, Montgomery completed a walk to Zimmerman, and that brought out Chris Bosio.

Whatever Bos said to Montgomery didn’t work, because Daniel Murphy doubled in Harper and now it’s 8-6. An intentional pass followed in order to pitch to Wieters, and finally, on a fly to Heyward (not an easy play, incidentally), the inning was over.

A two-run lead. 12 outs to go. Easy, right?

Uh... no. With one out in the seventh, pinch-hitter Kyle Schwarber singled, and Jay singled him to third. That brought up Bryant:

That could have been an inning-ending double play, but Bryant has pretty good speed and beat the relay. Dusty Baker challenged the slide by Jay at second base, but you can clearly see it was clean; yes, Murphy was taken out but Jay definitely held the base, which is the way these things are ruled these days.

Can you tell that MLB’s Competition Committee is going to have some things to discuss this offseason?

That ninth run turned out to be very, very important.

Carl Edwards Jr. entered to throw the bottom of the seventh. He appeared in every game of the series, and let’s just say this NLDS was not CJ’s finest hour. He walked the first batter he faced, Taylor, and Joe Maddon wasn’t going to watch any more of that. Jose Quintana, who might still be in line to start Game 1 Saturday, was next.

Q retired Jose Lobaton, who had entered in a double-switch, replacing Wieters. Trea Turner singled and Werth walked, loading the bases for Harper, whose sacrifice fly made it 9-7.

That was it for Q, who threw 12 pitches. Talk is that the Cubs are treating this outing like a “bullpen day,” and Q is still in the mix for starting Saturday. A “bullpen day” is what this entire game felt like. Wade Davis was the next pitcher. He hadn’t thrown in the seventh inning all year. The only pitchers left in Joe’s pen were Justin Wilson and John Lackey, but neither one of those men even warmed up. This was going to be Davis’ game, an outing reminiscent of the one Aroldis Chapman had in Game 5 of the World Series last year, when Chapman got the last eight outs while the Cubs clung to a one-run lead.

This was a two-run lead. A bit more of a cushion. Davis struck out Zimmerman on three pitches.

Six outs to go. And if you’re getting nervous now, you are not alone:

Davis began the eighth by walking Murphy and Anthony Rendon, putting the tying run on base. Pinch-hitter Adam Lind, who hit four home runs as a PH during the season, batted next [VIDEO].

The double play put Murphy on third, but now there are two out.

Taylor, who had an unbelievable series, singled in Murphy to make it 9-8. Lobaton singled following, and then:

The Twitterverse exploded. “That’s not the point of review!” they screamed.

Well... yes, yes it is. This tweet sums things up, I think:

The question people should be asking here isn’t about review, it’s this: Why is Lobaton, a slow-footed catcher who has no career steals and two career caught stealing, wandering far enough from a base that Contreras, who is really good at snap throws to first, can even consider picking him off?

Yet that’s what Willson did, and give a lot of credit to Rizzo for the tag and holding it long enough so the review crew could see what happened.

And so, to the ninth. Sean Doolittle retired the Cubs in order, and back strode Davis to the mound:

Turner hit a routine fly to center. Davis struck out Werth. And then [VIDEO includes Pat Hughes’ radio call]:

Now we know. Wade Davis can actually show emotion! Pumping his fists and embracing Willson Contreras, Davis pitched the Cubs into the NLCS with one of the best relief outings you’ll ever see.

I’ll say here what I said after Game 7 last November. To the Washington Nationals and their fans, thank you. Your team is a tough and worthy opponent, and this was one of the more memorable postseason series not only in Cubs history, but in baseball history. The Nationals’ drought of never winning a playoff series continues, and as I said to Cleveland fans a year ago: Trust me, we know how this feels.

From the Cubs and Nats official Twitter accounts, mutual respect:

I could go to a thesaurus and post some adjectives here to attempt to describe this game and this series, but you share all the same feelings I do, and some of them are impossible to put into words. Instead, try these facts:

Get some rest now, as hopefully the Cubs are today after a long flight from Washington to Los Angeles, because we’re all going to need it after the most draining Cubs game since... well, since last year’s Game 7. That game from a year ago is already considered one of the greatest in major-league history. Soon, perhaps, Game 5 against the Nationals will join it, though of course the impact, winning a first-round playoff series, isn’t quite the same as being the final game of a World Series.

Nevertheless, we will take it. It’s still not certain who will throw Game 1 of the NLCS Saturday evening, though as noted above it could be Quintana. It could be John Lackey. Does it matter right now? The Cubs won in wild, crazy fashion and move on, still defending their World Series championship. And they’ll face Clayton Kershaw ... and you know what happened the last time the Cubs faced Kershaw in a postseason game.

Keep this ride going. Crazy, wild... you wouldn’t have it any other way, would you?