WASHINGTON—The Chicago Cubs win whenever they need to, with whatever it takes.
Even a seven-out save by Wade Davis to preserve a shrinking lead and a “Did that really happen?” four-run inning against Washington's Max Scherzer in a thriller of a Game 5 last night.
That wild, bat-around fifth inning for Chicago included Addison Russell's go-ahead two-run double, a bases-loaded hit by pitch, and a disputed dropped third strike followed by a throwing error.
It all helped the defending World Series champion Cubs come back—and then hold on—to edge the Nationals 9-8.
And for the third year in a row, Chicago has reached the NL Championship Series.
“Give the boys credit," said Cubs' manager Joe Maddon. ”That's one of the most incredible victories I've ever been part of.
“I know a lot of people are probably saying the same thing but under the circumstances, in the other team's ballpark, after a tough loss at home, to come back and do that, give our guys all the credit in the world.”
Russell drove in four runs while Davis, Chicago's seventh pitcher, turned in his longest relief appearance since 2012.
“I've always known he's got a lot of mettle in his soul,” Ben Zobrist, who scored two runs for Chicago, said about Davis.
“The guy just shows up. He's got ice in his veins.”
The same could be said for all of the Cubs.
They trailed 4-1, then led 8-4 and 9-6, in a game that lasted more than four-and-a-half hours and ended after midnight (ET).
“It was 'Bizarro World,' there's no question about it,” Maddon said.
“But it happens. It happens this time of the year.”
Catcher Willson Contreras picked off Jose Lobaton at first base to quash a Washington threat in the eighth and Davis fanned a swinging Bryce Harper for the final out.
“Just trying to stay focused and confident in the end,” Davis said.
Chicago, which surpassed its total of eight runs from the first four games of the NL Division Series, now faces the L.A. Dodgers, who will start ace Clayton Kershaw at home in Game 1 of the NLCS tomorrow night.
For Maddon and the Cubs, this was their fourth-straight victory in a win-or-be-eliminated post-season game.
That includes three-straight to end the 2016 World Series, when Chicago trailed the Cleveland Indians 3-1 before forcing a Game 7 won by the Cubs in 10 innings.
The Nationals, meanwhile, went one-and-done yet again: this is the fourth time in the past six years that the club won the NL East and immediately lost its opening playoff series.
And this is the third time in that span that Washington bowed out with a Game 5 NLDS loss at home; that also happened in 2012 against the St. Louis Cardinals and last year against the Dodgers.
This one was played exactly five years to the day after the decider against the Cardinals, which the Nationals lost 9-7 in Washington.
Just like that night, the Nationals started Gio Gonzalez. Just like that night, Washington raced out to an early lead (6-0 back then).
And just like that night, Gonzalez had control problems and started giving back some of the edge.
“It was a series of bad events,” Nationals' manager Dusty Baker said.
“It really hurts, you know, to lose like that, especially after what we went through all year long, and that was tough.”
Homers by Daniel Murphy and Michael A. Taylor, whose grand slam off Davis backed Stephen Strasburg's 12-strikeout masterpiece in Washington's 5-0 victory in Game 4 at Wrigley Field on Wednesday, gave the hosts a 4-1 lead in the second against Cubs' starter Kyle Hendricks.
But Gonzalez gave back two of those runs, so it was 4-3 as two-time Cy Young Award winner Scherzer entered for the fifth.
He started Game 3 of this series, pushed back because of an injured hamstring, and hadn't come out of the bullpen since 2013 with the Detroit Tigers.
By the time Scherzer's one inning was over, however, the Cubs had taken a 7-4 lead—and Russell had delivered the biggest hit.
Chicago scored two earned runs and two unearned ones on the strength of three hits, one hit by pitch, one intentional walk, a catcher's interference, and one very odd play.
What potentially could have been an inning-ending strikeout turned into a run, as Javier Baez swung and missed but the ball went under catcher Matt Wieters' glove and through his legs.
When Wieters collected the ball, he threw it into right field for an error, then appeared to argue that the play should have been ruled over because Baez's follow-through carried the bat into the catcher's mask.
“This game's cruel sometimes," Scherzer said. "Just the way things can happen.”
The play was not reviewable under the challenge rules.
Russell made it 8-4 in the sixth on an RBI double when left-fielder Jayson Werth tried to make a sliding catch but whiffed.
Werth said he lost the ball in the lights.
“It feels like if it could go wrong, it did,” he noted, summing up the night for Washington.