Cubs can laugh at their good fortune: On to the NLCS after absurd 9-8 win over Nationals


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SportsPulse: From Nationals Park, Trysta Krick and Steve Gardner break down the Cubs’ dramatic win, the Nationals’ continued heartbreak and how the league championship series shape up.
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WASHINGTON — It was 2 in the morning, and the Chicago Cubs were sitting half-dressed, drenched in champagne, eating cake, washing it down with beer, and looking at one another in sheer disbelief.

They kept trying to piecemeal what exactly happened in one of the zaniest postseason games anyone has ever witnessed, with the Cubs somehow outlasting the Washington Nationals for a 9-8 victory.

It was game that started Thursday evening, ended the morning of Friday the 13th, and vaulted the Cubs into the National League Championship Series for a rematch against the Los Angeles Dodgers beginning Saturday at Dodger Stadium.

“It was bizarro world,’’ Cubs manager Joe Maddon said, “there’s no question about it. That’s one of the most incredible victories I’ve ever been part of.’’

Just don’t try to have the Cubs explain it, because to be honest, even though they just lived it, they still have no idea what happened.

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“I’m going to have to go back and watch it again, I think,’’ said Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks, who lasted four innings, gave up nine hits and four runs, and was a hero. “I blacked out for most of it. I can’t remember half of the game already. It was so crazy.’’

The game lasted 4 hours, 37 minutes, ending at 12:45 in the morning, and the way Hendricks figures it, they will need the entire offseason to dissect everything that happened in one of the craziest, maddening, infuriating, engaging games the Cubs have ever been a part of in their long history.

All they know is that they somehow survived this best-of-five NL Division Series, winning 3-2, setting up a rematch of a year ago when the Cubs knocked off the Dodgers in six games en route to their first World Series championship in 108 years, culminating with their 10-inning Game 7 victory over the Cleveland Indians.

“I would say that this is the most fun I’ve had playing in a baseball game,’’ said Russell, who drove in four runs, “and it ranks right up there with winning the World Series.

“Just to see like the energy, you know, flow within the dugout was just, I get chills just talking about it. It was awesome.’’

It was also crazy, bizarre, torturous, and glorious, all at the same time.

How can you explain a night that Cubs closer Wade Davis, who gave up the first grand slam of his career as a reliever in Game 4, comes back and produces the first seven-out save of his career, throwing a season-high 44 pitches?

“I knew I had to,’’ Davis said, “because I looked down to the bullpen a couple of times, and nobody was warming up.’’

How is it possible that they scored four runs in the fifth inning on two errors by Nats catcher Matt Wieters, a passed ball, a catcher’s interference call, and a run-scoring hit-by-pitch?

“It was the worst game I’ve ever played,’’ Wieters said, “behind the plate.’’

It was the first time in baseball history, according to Baseball-Reference.com, that all of those occurrences happened in a single inning.

“That was probably one of the weirdest innings,’’ Nats manager Dusty Baker said, “I’ve ever seen.’’

How can 38 players used in a game, including 14 pitchers, and the game to come down to Bryce Harper striking out to end the series?

“It doesn’t matter how pretty or how bad it looked,’’ Cubs veteran starter Jon Lester said. “At the end of the day, all that matters is that we won the game.’’

 How can the Nats go down in order only once the entire game, drawing three leadoff walks, producing 23 baserunners, and not win a game?

“I thought we were going to win,’’ said Nats left fielder Jayson Werth, who likely played his final game in a Nats’ uniform. It’s crazy to think we didn’t win that game. This one’s tough.’’

How can Max Scherzer, one of the greatest pitchers on the planet, get smacked around like a pinball machine, giving up three hits and four runs in an inning?

“I don’t know if I’ll ever be a part of a game like that again,” says Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman.

“Crazy series. Crazy game.’’

It was so outrageous that, well, the Cubs actually felt bad for the Nats, saying over and over how badly they played, and how they tried to gift-wrap a victory to the Nats, and they simply wouldn’t take it.

Really.

The Nats have won the NL East title four times in the last six years, and three times have played Game 5 in the NL Division Series.

And lost them all.

They have never won a postseason series in franchise history, and this may have been the most gut-wrenching, considering this is perhaps the most talented team they’ve ever assembled.

It was the 10th time in the last 11 games that a Washington, D.C. sports team has played an elimination game, and lost.

The Nats, who blew a 6-0 lead to St. Louis in Game 5 exactly five years ago, actually had a 4-1 lead in this one. It turned to 4-3, but when Scherzer jogged in from the bullpen in the fifth inning to a thunderous roar from the sellout crowd, normalcy seemed just around the corner.

Instead, Wieters had what he admitted was the worst inning of his career, a passed ball lengthening it after Javier Baez struck out, and the Cubs reversed the game’s trajectory.

“The strikeout, wild pitch is a huge part of our offense,’’ Cubs president Theo Epstein said, laughing after the game. “We practice that.’’

The inning mercifully ended when Bryant popped up to shortstop Trea Turner, turning a 4-3 Nats’ lead to a 7-4 Cubs’ advantage.

Yes, so Bryant, the defending NL MVP, makes two outs in a single inning that happens to be the miraculous inning that sends the Cubs to the NLCS.

“It was the craziest inning I’ve ever been part of,’’ Bryant said. “I mean, I made two outs in one inning, and guys were congratulating me.”

It was so bizarre that Nats shortstop Trea Turner said that the veteran umpiring crew was even stopping players to tell them they’ve never quite seen anything like it.

A game the Cubs will treasure forever, and one that just adds to the torturous history of the Nats. Not as extended or tortured as the Cubs’ demons. But getting there.

“You can’t draw these things up,’’ Rizzo said. “You got to roll with them. We did. They didn’t.’’

Rizzo looked around, saw the haze that filled the clubhouse from cigar smoke, a Cubs’ employee fully immersed in a huge bucket of ice, and enough beer to supply a frat party.

And couldn’t stop laughing.

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