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Cubs 3, Nationals 2: Walkathon

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That was... different.

Jim Young-USA TODAY Sports

The Cubs didn’t have any hits into the sixth inning Friday afternoon off Jeremy Hellickson, who absolutely wasn’t going to be the next guy to throw a no-hitter against them. But, Hellickson retired 17 straight Cubs after he walked Anthony Rizzo to lead off the game, and then fell completely apart, and eventually the Cubs won the game 3-2 after some very odd things happened.

But here, I’m getting way ahead of myself, so let’s go back to the beginning.

Kyle Hendricks had a shaky first inning, allowing two hits and a hit batter that eventually resulted in a 1-0 Nats lead. It might have been more if not for this fantastic grab [VIDEO] by David Bote.

David Bote, man. If he’s not hitting, he’s fielding. This guy is a keeper.

Hendricks struggled in the second as well, allowing two more hits and a run, and at that point had thrown 38 pitches, which isn’t optimal. And he was throwing strikes, it’s not that long counts were ruining his day, but the Nats were fouling off a lot of pitches.

And Hellickson kept retiring Cubs, even after he walked Rizzo leading off the game on four pitches and then went to a 3-2 count on Javier Baez before striking him out. As noted above, 17 Cubs went down in order after Rizzo.

Meanwhile, Hendricks settled down and wound up throwing six solid innings. He allowed eight hits, all singles except for a bloop double in the fifth by Daniel Murphy that probably should have been caught. He didn’t walk anyone and struck out five, a strong outing in my view. And he might have gone longer, but he was scheduled to lead off the sixth and so Tommy La Stella batted for him, the right call at the time.

TLS flied to left and Addison Russell popped to third and seriously Jeremy Hellickson is not going to throw a no-hitter here, right?

Right. Rizzo was next, and worked a 13-pitch at-bat into a walk, an outstanding plate appearance for Rizzo. That looked like it unnerved Hellickson, because he did not hit the strike zone with any of his remaining pitches, walking Baez on four straight (and that’s really, really hard to do!) and the same with Ben Zobrist, loading the bases.

Dave Martinez had seen enough, and brought on Sammy Solis to face Jason Heyward.

Solis couldn’t find the zone with his first two pitches, either, and then laid a fastball across the plate for J-Hey [VIDEO].

I told you Hellickson wasn’t going to throw a no-no. Not only did Heyward’s hit break that up, it tied the game 2-2. David Bote struck out to end the inning, but the Cubs made Nats pitchers throw 41 pitches in the inning and so it went to the seventh tied 2-2. More on Hellickson:

Here’s the Clement game they’re referring to: September 10, 2003 against the Expos, a game played in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The bullpen blew that game and the Cubs eventually lost 8-3. This one had a better ending.

Justin Wilson allowed a bunt single with one out in the seventh, so Joe Maddon called on Steve Cishek, and Cishek struck out Trea Turner and Anthony Rendon to end the inning, nice work by the sidearmer.

Then we had a bit of controversy in the bottom of the seventh. Kyle Schwarber led off with a single, and that brought up Willson Contreras, who bunted down the third-base line [VIDEO].

I think Joe Maddon is probably correct here; he appears to be demonstrating, toward the end of that clip, where a runner has to be in order to be called out for obstruction. Joe got tossed, and plays like that are not reviewable. Maybe they should be.

In any case, instead of having Schwarber on third and Contreras on second and nobody out, Schwarber had to go back to first, and with one out.

The Cubs, though, rose to the occasion. Ian Happ batted for Cishek and singled, and Addison Russell followed with another single, again loading the bases.

And that brought up Rizzo again, and with a loud full house on its feet, he worked an RBI walk on a couple of very close pitches [VIDEO].

So the Cubs scored all three of their runs in this game after two out, the first two after two out and no one on base. They made the most of just four hits, and of course the six walks they drew were key in all three runs.

It wasn’t over, of course, and with a 3-2 lead the Cubs turned to former National Brandon Kintzler, who promptly walked the first two of his ex-teammates he faced, Bryce Harper and Juan Soto. That brought Carl Edwards Jr. into the game to face pinch-hitter Mark Reynolds. Before CJ could retire Reynolds, Contreras picked Soto off [VIDEO].

What a terrific veteran play that was. Rizzo was playing behind Soto, not holding him on base at all, and Contreras led Rizzo toward the bag with his throw, catching the 19-year-old rookie a step away. It was the second time Soto was picked off in this game; Hendricks did it as well after Soto led off the sixth with a single.

CJ finished off the eighth with no further trouble, and the Cubs didn’t score in the last of the inning.

That brought in temporary closer Pedro Strop, and you know it’s just a temporary assignment because he hasn’t had an intro video made for him. He retired the first two hitters on fly balls — the first causing a bit of consternation after Heyward turned the wrong way, but made the play anyway.

Then a slow roller to Rizzo should have ended the game, but Strop dropped Rizzo’s throw and Adam Eaton was safe, representing the tying run.

But Strop bore down and struck out Turner to end it, giving the Cubs their 3-2 win in a very hard-fought battle. It was the ninth save of the year for Pedro — that’s now exactly half of his career total of 18 saves.

The win again puts the Cubs at their season high of 19 games over .500 at 67-48, and if the Braves can defeat the Brewers in their night game, the Cubs’ lead in the N.L. Central will be three games.

All in all, a tense but satisfying win in front of a full house on a pleasant, partly cloudy summer afternoon with low humidity and the wind blowing gently off Lake Michigan. Really, you can’t ask for much more from a day at the ballpark.

The Cubs will go for two in a row over the Nats Saturday afternoon at 3:05 p.m. CT. Jon Lester will be on the mound for the Cubs, Tanner Roark for the Nationals. TV coverage Saturday will be on ABC7 Chicago, with a national broadcast on FS1 (no blackouts).