Cubs pull out gritty Game 5 win, advance to NLCS


(Photo courtesy of ABC7 Chicago) The Cubs have secured their first postseason baseball berth since 2008.

Raymond Kim, Sports Contributor

The Cubs wrapped up their best-of-five series against the nation’s capital in the wee hours of Friday (in Eastern Time) with a wacky whirlwind of a game. With the deciding Game 5 in the hands of the Cubs, Chicago advanced to their third NLDS in as many years. Meanwhile, the Nationals have yet again failed to advance past the first round of the postseason.

Hendricks’ uncharacteristic struggles

Given a 1-0 lead in the second inning, Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks faltered after ceding two home runs in the frame. A leadoff homer off the bat of Daniel Murphy knotted the score at 1-1, and Michael Taylor continued his rampage with a three-run smash that staked the Nationals an early 4-1 lead.

Hendricks toiled through four gritty innings, ending with a line of 9 H, 4 ER, 7 K. Until Maddon’s imminent hook, “The Professor” held Washington scoreless for two additional innings after letting up the four runs, even going on a streak of striking out six batters out of eleven total faced.

With Hendricks being one of the anchors of the postseason bullpen, the Cubs are hopeful that his next start against the Dodgers will be much more successful.

Meltdown at the Capitol

With the feared Max Scherzer on the mound to relieve Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez, things began to go awry in the top of the fifth. A 4-3 lead over the Cubs evaporated into the night when Addison Russell followed two two-out singles (infield dribbler and a bloop hit) with a double, scoring two and handing Chicago their second one-run lead of the night.

Even after the Nationals surrendered their lead, the collapse only had just begun with the next four batters reaching on the following sequence: intentional walk, dropped third strike, catcher’s interference, and a hit-by-pitch.

Jason Heyward was intentionally walked to bring Javier Baez at the plate, who was hitless over over 10 at-bats and whose struggles against power pitchers such as Scherzer are well-documented. As Baez swung and missed at the third strike, however, his bat struck Nationals catcher Matt Wieters in the mask, allowing for Scherzer’s change-up to scoot to the backstop. Wieters’ throw to first sailed into right field, scoring Russell and advancing Heyward to third base. Javier Baez finished his wild journey at second base, and the score was pushed to a 6-4 Cubs lead.

With two men on board, Tommy La Stella pinch hit for starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks. An untimely catcher’s interference, where La Stella’s bat nicked Wieters’ glove, loaded the bases for Jon Jay to deliver in the clutch… by involuntarily taking a pitch to his ankle. The Nationals escaped further troubles on the next at-bat, but the Cubs had suddenly lept to a 7-4 lead and the damage was done. It would be a lead that they would never relinquish.

Not only did the inning define the outcome of Game 5, it also is a statistical anomaly. Baseball Reference cites that any combination of  “intentional walk, dropped third strike, catcher’s interference, hit by pitch” has occurred throughout a game only five times in baseball history. And in 2.7 million total innings played in recorded baseball history, that same combination has never occurred within any half of a frame.

A one-in-2.7-million event ultimately dictated the outcome of an win-or-go-home game.

Wade Davis’ legendary effort

In the seventh inning, the doors of the Cubs bullpen swung open for the third time. Out strode Wade Davis, the Cubs closer tasked with replacing Jose Quintana and escaping a two-runner jam with two outs. Only a day removed from surrendering a game-finalizing grand slam to Michael Taylor, Davis responded by striking out veteran slugger Ryan Zimmerman on a brutal cutter to end the inning.

That was the first out of seven final outs that Davis would eventually record. The score stood at 9-7.

After back-to-back walks in the eighth, Davis coaxed a crucial first-pitch double-play ball from Adam Lind, a dangerous hitter against righties like Davis, to dissipate the threat. Michael Taylor would end his week-long clobbering of the Cubs with another RBI, this time on a line drive single to center. With the Nationals in a one-run deficit, backup catcher Jose Lobaton dumped a base hit into the outfield to station two men on bases. The score was pushed to 9-8, with the Nationals threatening to take a commanding lead.

A costly baserunning blunder from Lobaton, however, would silence the threat. Cubs catcher Willson Contreras executed a perfect snap-throw to first after a 1-1 pitch to Trea Turner and caught Lobaton off-guard. The initial call (Lobaton safely back at first) would be successfully overturned after a challenge by Cubs skipper Joe Maddon to end the inning. Instant replay revealed that Lobaton’s foot had come off the bag for a fraction of a second when first baseman Anthony Rizzo applied the tag, thus he was ruled out.

Davis would finish his steamroll of the Nationals as they went out with a whimper in the 9th. Trea Turner skied a lazy fly ball to record the first out of the inning. Jayson Werth, in his potential final at-bat in a Nationals jersey, whiffed at a whistling fastball for the second.

With Davis sitting at nearly 40 pitches, by far the most he has thrown in a single outing for the Cubs, Bryce Harper represented the potential final out of Washington’s season. And on a full count, Harper swung over a ball-four knuckle curve to complete the narrative.

After bottling his emotions Terminator-style, the victory scene began with Davis leaning over in exasperation. An elongated and energetic scream, followed by three aggressive slaps of his glove and an embrace from Contreras and the rest of the Cubs defenders, marked the end of the five-game series and the ferocious four-and-a-half-hour marathon that capped it all. With the contest finally over, Maddon summarized the emphatic postseason environment.

“It was bizarro world, there’s no question about it. But it happens. It happens this time of the year,” Maddon said.

Somewhat-related interesting fact

If you know a little bit of demographics, you may notice that the four teams remaining in baseball’s postseason correspond to the four biggest cities in the United States.

The ALCS’s Yankees-Astros tilt will symbolize New York City versus Houston, while the Dodgers and the Cubs square off in the battle between Los Angeles and Chicago.

What’s next

With three wins in the bag, the Cubs search for four more against the Dodgers. In their second game since returning to Wrigley, the Cubs look to start recovering from a harrowing 3-0 deficit. Los Angeles will summon southpaw Alex Wood, and Chicago will counter with Jake Arrieta in hopes that they can stave off elimination.