WASHINGTON — The Cubs got what they were calling perhaps their biggest victory of the season Thursday.
But it came at the cost of losing their closer.
They beat the Nationals 4-3 in 10 innings, but Pedro Strop suffered a hamstring injury as he tried to beat the relay on a double play in the 10th. Already pushing through and trying to make do without right-hander Brandon Morrow, Strop’s loss — he will have an MRI exam 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,” Strop said after the Cubs increased their lead over the hard-charging Brewers in the National League Central to 1½ games with 16 games left.
Javy Baez, continuing to build a strong case for MVP honors, drove in three runs with a home run, a double and a bunt past first baseman Ryan Zimmerman that scored Kris Bryant (three hits, including a double, and two runs) with the go-ahead run against Nationals closer Sean Doolittle.
Strop, one of nine pitchers used by Maddon, had already pitched 1„ innings (21 pitches), but with most of his bullpen emptied, he 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 he had to replace him with left-hander Randy Rosario, who got his first save with a perfect 10th, including a strikeout of Zimmerman to end it.
Strop extended himself with extra effort to beat the throw to 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 Willson Contreras and Ben Zobrist with the bases loaded, and in the ninth, when Albert Almora Jr. got doubled off first on Terrance 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 Strop back. It’s getting close to October.’’
Baez broke a 2-2 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 and came in the middle of a six-game homestand for the Cubs.
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 allowed 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 a day off.
“We’re happy to get out of here with a much-needed win. But [Strop has] been so big for this team. It sucks to see that happen. It’s unfortunate.’’