WASHINGTON — Breaking down Game 5 of the NL Division Series between the Washington Nationals and Chicago Cubs at Nationals Park:
Cubs 9, Nationals 8: Cubs wins the series, 3-2.
The game: Got a minute?
In an elimination game with knee-buckling twists separated by mere minutes, the Cubs capitalized on the most ignominious inning in Nationals history: A four-run fifth inning that saw reigning Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer record the first two outs without incident, only to see the frame devolve into a barrage of two-strike hits and sheer ineptitude from the Nationals.
The killer: A two-run double by Addison Russell, who ambushed a first-pitch changeup from Scherzer for a ringing shot down the third base line for a 5-4 Cubs lead. It scored Willson Contreras and Ben Zobrist, who both looked buried in two-strike holes against the powerful Scherzer, whose fastball touched 98 mph.
But Contreras managed an infield single to deep short and the pinch hitter Zobrist doubled to left, setting the stage for Russell’s heroics.
Things got sideways from there.
An intentional walk to Jason Heyward preceded a strikeout of Javier Baez – but a passed ball on Matt Wieters kept Baez alive, and then Wieters threw the ball into right field for an error that allowed Russell to score. Scherzer’s demise continued with a catcher’s interference call on Wieters before Mad Max hit Jon Jay with a pitch with the bases loaded.
Finally, the inning ended when 2016 NL MVP Kris Bryant made his second out of the frame. But the game had shifted: From 4-3 Nationals to 7-4 Cubs.
It turned into a sloppy battle of attrition from there, with equal displays of dismal relief pitching and situational execution on both sides. The slog prompted Maddon to summon closer Wade Davis in the seventh inning for a potential seven-out save.
That move turned grim in the eighth, when Davis, nursing a two-run lead, issued walks to the first two Nationals batters. Yet, pinch hitter Adam Lind swung at the first pitch from Davis, grounding into a 4-6-3 double play. Michael A. Taylor’s RBI single made it 9-8 and catcher Jose Lobaton followed with another hit, putting the tying and go-ahead runs on. But Lobaton was caught leaning off first by Contreras, whose bullet throw to first caught him slightly off the base. Originally ruled safe, Lobaton was called out on replay review, and sat stunned on the base after replay gurus in New York ruled the inning was over.
Shortly thereafter, so too was the Nationals’ season.
Man of the moment: Russell. After a third season filled with poor performance, injury and off-field problems, Russell seized the moment in Game 5 with a pair of RBI doubles. The first, off Scherzer, changed the course of the game and stunned the Nationals, seemingly, into their fifth-inning spiral.
His second double, a liner off reliever Brandon Kintzler that Nationals left fielder Jayson Werth blatantly whiffed on, scored a crucial add-on run and allowed manager Joe Maddon significant leeway to employ his relievers.
Needing a mulligan: Wieters. He looked wise one inning, pushing a bunt down the third base line to precede Taylor’s three-run home run that gave Washington a 4-1 lead in the second inning. But he was at the center of the Nationals’ disastrous fifth inning, hitting a rare trifecta: Passed ball to score a run, throwing error to score another and a catcher’s interference call with the light-hitting Tommy La Stella up – although whether La Stella’s bat struck Wieters’ body before his glove is in some dispute.
While there were plenty of actors to take the blame that frame, Wieters’ gaffes loomed all the larger when the Nationals mounted an industrious comeback, but they could not keep pace with the Cubs.
What you missed on TV: A handful of boos for Jayson Werth as he came to the plate in the bottom of the sixth for what might have been his final at-bat after seven years as a National. The inning before, Werth, playing left field, whiffed on a Russell line drive that was generously scored an RBI double.
Nonetheless, it was a rather jarring salutation for a player who helped put the Nationals on the map.
Manager's special: Maddon left himself open to significant second-guessing when he let starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks bat for himself in the top of the fourth, the Cubs trailing 4-3 and Hendricks looking vulnerable on the mound. Hendricks grounded out, but did pitch the fifth without incident, just before the Cubs’ wildly prosperous inning. The inning Hendricks gave Maddon then certainly loomed large later as the Cubs exhausted their pitching inventory.
Baker, meanwhile, made the move every Nationals fan was clamoring for – summoning Scherzer in relief, the Nationals holding a 4-3 lead in the fifth. And, well, that certainly backfired, though Baker will go into this winter knowing he threw his best option out there.