Cubs defeat Nationals, take series lead


Really, this series would have been over already if Ryan Zimmerman and Bryce Harper hadn't delivered late homers in Game 2. But Ben Zobrist ripped a one-out double that one-hopped the ivy. It never stopped. There was an urgency to erase the heartbreak of 2003, nearly too much of one, and then it would collapse and the Cubs would start over again with Lou and the whole cycle repeated itself until Theo arrived and put an end to it and stopped the clock for a few years. Anthony Rendon provided the offense in the first inning with a solo home run off left-hander Jon Lester that carried through the thick air to the Nationals' bullpen beyond the wall in right field. That would be the deciding run.

Quintana didn't look great in his last start, and he's allowed seven runs in his last 10.1 innings at home overall.

Gonzalez flummoxed Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo in the first inning, striking the Cubs' two best hitters back-to-back for a rousing conclusion to the top of the frame.

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That, plus elimination staring them in the face, prompted Washington manager Dusty Baker to make changes to his lineup ahead of Tuesday's Game 4 in a breezy and cool Wrigley Field. He threw five and two thirds innings, allowing only two hits, one walk, and one unearned run, along with seven strikeouts. That set the stage for Harper, who by his own admission hadn't been as ready for the spotlight as he would have liked since coming off the disabled list.

Scherzer was dominant in his return from a right hamstring injury, carrying a no-hitter into the seventh. Scherzer's scowl and competitive rage are the stuff of legendary internet memes.

If this victory was about respect for Rizzo, for others it offered redemption - and, in Kyle Schwarber's case, relief. Although it wasn't necessarily a lazy can-of-corn type of flyball, it was extremely routine. In the sixth, with two out, Daniel Murphy sent a fly down the left-field line. Not only did Schwarber not catch it, he kicked it in the process of attempting to pick it up. And once more the guns have gone silent in October, with Washington blowing pitching gems by Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer by scoring zero and one run, respectively, in the losses.

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"The tension and the frustration builds", said Zimmerman, "and sometimes it takes kind of just one hit for everyone to exhale".

Nationals starter Max Scherzer came into the game having dealt with a hamstring issue for the last two weeks, but you wouldn't know it by how he performed. He was even better after the All-Star Break, going 6-3 with a 2.28 ERA and 1.09 WHIP.

Yes, for a second time in three NLDS game against Washington, the Cubs haven't gotten a hit in the first half of the game. But he had no business getting up in the box against Scherzer in the bottom of the third. Quintana and Zobrist also committed an error, but Russell made a spectacular diving stop on Michael A. Taylor's grounder to shortstop in the seventh and Zobrist robbed Trea Turner of a hit with a solid play at second in the eighth.

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Harper was injured at home August 12 when he slipped on a wet first base while running out a grounder. Washington needs more out if its dynamic shortstop. The mound meeting ended with catcher Matt Wieters advocating for hard-throwing lefty Sammy Solis and Baker agreed. "He likes to go out there and extend those legs", Pedro Martinez said during the pregame show on TBS. The Cubs are 5-1 in potential series-clinching games since 2015, compared to 1-8 in such games over the previous 100 years.