WASHINGTON — The Cubs got what they were calling perhaps their biggest win of the season Thursday.
But it came at the cost of losing their closer.
The Cubs beat the Nationals 4-3 in 10 innings Thursday, but Pedro Strop suffered a hamstring injury trying to beat out a double play in the top of the 10th. Already pushing through and trying to make do without right-hander Brandon Morrow, Strop’s loss – he will have an MRI to determine the extent of the injury – took the “exultation” out of an exhilarating win for the team and manager Joe Maddon.
“It’s going to take two weeks at least for me to get back,” said Strop after the Cubs expanded their lead over the hard-charging Brewers in the National League Central to 1 ½ games with 16 left in a little more than two weeks to play.
Javier Baez, continuing to build a strong case for MVP honors, drove in three runs with a homer, RBI double and a bunt past first baseman Ryan Zimmerman scoring Kris Bryant (three hits including a double, two runs) with the go-ahead run against Nationals closer Sean Doolittle.
Strop, one of nine pitchers used by Maddon, had already pitched 1 1/3 innings (21 pitches), but with most of his bullpen emptied was set to go with his best guy if the Cubs took the lead. Maddon was going to pull Strop had the Cubs not scored, but instead had to replace him in favor of lefty Randy Rosario – who got his first save with a perfect 10th including a strikeout of Zimmerman to end it – because Strop extended himself with extra effort to beat a throw at first.
“Trying to reach the bag, that was the one that got me,’’ he said.
“That’s so unfortunate, oh my God,” Maddon said. “He tried to beat it out. You can never fault an athlete for competing.
“It’s exhilarating to win that game, how hard we fought to win that game, exhilarating. But losing him at that point probably for a bit takes the exultation out of it. It was tough.’’
In a tussle neither side wanted to play, the Cubs at times looked as though they didn’t want to win it, especially in the eighth when Nats righty Greg Holland struck out pinch hitters Wilson Contreras and Ben Zobrist with the bases loaded and in the ninth when Albert Almora got doubled off first on Terrence Gore’s popped-up bunt.
Baez’s bunt – his call, not Maddon’s — was on point, though.
“Just being smart about it,” Baez said, “to get the run in. That was the best play under [the circumstances].
“Really big win, I think it got us back on track. But we need Stropy back. It’s getting close to October.’’
Baez broke a 2-all tie with an opposite field solo homer, his 31st, in the sixth inning against right-hander Jimmy Cordero. The Nationals tied it in the seventh on Trea Turner’s double off the left field wall on the 11th pitch of an at-bat against Carl Edwards Jr.
Anthony Rizzo lightened the mood by wearing his uniform on the team’s unwanted flight to Washington the night before and wore it home, too. The game was a makeup of a Sunday rainout here and came in the middle of a six-game, seven-day homestand for the Cubs, and despite the win, the Cubs would need cheering up heading back to Chicago.
“No one really wanted to be here playing this game,’’ said Cubs starter Mike Montgomery, who gave up two runs in four-plus innings.
“We can all agree this game shouldn’t have happened. Our closer should have been sitting on a boat somewhere enjoying an off day.
“We’re happy to get out of here with a much needed win. But he’s been so big for this team. It sucks to see that happen. It’s unfortunate.’’