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Cubs seek October rematch after losing series to Nats on walkoff

It's no coincidence the Nationals celebrated Wednesday's victory over the Cubs like it was a playoff game.

WASHINGTON – It was 12 innings in June on a pre-summer day featuring two teams that aren’t even scheduled to play again this year.

But as soon as the media reached the Cubs’ clubhouse after the Nationals’ walk-off 5-4 victory over the Cubs, this game – this series – was all about big-game hype and October buzz.

And for once, the media couldn’t be blamed for the hype.

“I don’t want to – I guess I will say it,” said Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo. “It kind of had that playoff feel.

“It was a fun game. It was a crazy game, and the type of game you see in October.”

Sure, it’s only mid-June. But it was the seventh and final matchup of the regular season between the teams with the top two records in baseball.

And when a 1-1 game through seven innings turned into a late-inning free-for-all – eventually finished by Jayson Werth’s drive off wall in the 12th – it was hard to see it any other way.

“I don’t know, maybe an October preview,” said Cubs’ starter Jason Hammel, who dueled Washington’s undefeated Stephen Strasburg for seven strong innings.

More than a month after the Cubs finished a four-game sweep of the Nationals at Wrigley Field with a 13th-inning walkoff homer by Javy Baez, the Nationals made their own three-game statement in a tight, hotly played series.

Nats ace Max Scherzer stifled the Cubs Monday after getting clubbed at Wrigley. And after the Cubs survived Tuesday to win a one-run game in the ninth, the teams traded leads three times from the eighth inning through the game-winner Wednesday.

Stephen Drew came off the bench for a go-ahead homer off Pedro Strop in the eighth. Rizzo put the Cubs ahead a half-inning later with a two-run shot off left-hander Oliver Perez. The Nats tied it in the ninth when Bryce Harper – who took two close “balls” for a leadoff walk – scored on Wilson Ramos’ two-out single off Hector Rondon.

The Cubs took the lead again in the 12th when rookie Albert Almora Jr. led off with a single and eventually scored from second on Addison Russell’s one-out single. Then a hit batter, stolen base and run-scoring single tied it before Werth lined the game-winner high off the right-center wall against Adam Warren.

“It was the two best teams in baseball going at it, exchanging punches,” Hammel said. “And it was exciting.”

The Cubs won five of the seven in the season series – none of the seven decided by more than three runs.

If they see each other again, it will be October, with Dusty Baker’s team standing in the way of another curse-busting quest. The bullpens, at least, could have a few new wrinkles. And Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester figure to at least have a say after missing this series.

“It’s good for us to get that [experience] mentally, especially against those guys,” said Rondon, who, along with his manager, shrugged off his second blown save in as many nights. “Hopefully, we’ll see those guys next time in the playoffs.”