Another crushing — and sloppy — ending for Nationals
WASHINGTON — Say this for the Nationals. They blew this one in grand fashion, failing in the postseason once again in Washington-monumental style with one more cave-in to chronicle in their tarnished playoff history.
This was the fourth lost NLDS since 2012 and the second in a row for the Nationals on their home field.
This one stung and a lot of the hurt was self-inflicted.
“This game’s cruel sometimes,” right-hander Max Scherzer said. “It’s the way things can happen. What a series.”
“We didn’t play a very good game,” Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. “But we battled to the end.’’
That they did, but the decisive Game 5 that sent the Cubs to the NLCS and the Nationals to the offseason was was pretty much decided in a whacky four-run fifth inning.
“That was one of the weirdest innings I’ve ever seen,” Baker said. “We gave away at least three or four runs. It was a series of bad events.”
Bad, bad, bad. And when everyting was seemingly in good hands with a 4-3 lead and two-time Cy Young winner Scherzer pitching in relief to bridge the middle innings to the Nats’ seventh-, eighth- and ninth-inning relievers.
The Nats were in good shape. Especially after Scherzer, the Nationals Park crowd roaring with every strike, retired Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo to open the inning.
“I’ve never seen Max have an inning like that,’’ Baker said.
There were other culprits, catcher Matt Wieters first and foremost.
“Most of the mistakes were me,’’ Wieters said. “It was a bad night to have one of the worst defensive nights of my career.’’
Willson Contreras got things rolling downhill for the Nationals when he reached on an infield single. Pinch-hitter Ben Zobrist hit a bloop single to left, and Addison Russell drove them both in with a double to put the Cubs in front 5-4.
Now reeling, that’s when things began to turn Halloween-season spooky for the home team. When Scherzer fell behind 2-0 to Jason Heyward, Baker put him on with an intentional walk. Scherzer struck out Javier Baez but Wieters couldn’t block Scherzer’s slider and Baez was safe on a dropped third strike. What’s more, Wieters’ throw to first bounced into right field allowing Russell to score.
Wieters was hit on the mask by Baez’ bat on his backswing, lobbied for interference but lost the argument. Then he reached in and committed catcher’s interference on pinch hitter Tommy La Stella to load the bases before Scherzer hit Jon Jay on the foot with the bases loaded to score a run and give the Cubs a 7-4 lead.
There was more. In the sixth, left fielder Jayson Werth, likely playing his last game for the Nationals, misplayed a Russell liner into an RBI double, adding to the Nats folly and the Cubs run total. And just after they chipped away at an 8-4 Cubs lead by scoring in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings – getting to within a run on Jose Lobaton’s RBI single against Wade Davis – Lobaton got picked off first by Cubs catcher Contreras to end the inning with the tying run on second. It took a replay challenge and a snap throw by Contreras and aggressive tag by first baseman Anthony Rizzo to get him, but still.
Not there, not then.
“I was ready for the throw,’’ Lobaton said. “I thought I was safe, for sure. Until I saw the replay.’’
“I thought he was out — I thought his foot came off the bag,” said Nats superstar Bryce Harper, who struck out against Wade Davis to end the game. “Snap throw from Contreras, got to be aware.”
Those misplays only dropped and dragged the Nationals troubled postseason past throughout the stadium, where fans held hope that this 97-win team, built to break the old, bad habits, would get it done. Add this one to 2012, 2014 and 2016.
And another for Baker, who has lost 10 straight closeout games as a manager of four teams
“It hurts after what we’ve been through this season,’’ said Baker, who gave lots of hugs in the clubhouse, his status for next season uncertain.
“I can’t believe we lost this game,” Werth said.
“It’s kind of a shock because we had the feeling all year this was a team that was going to go,’’ Wieters said. “It’s a tough pill to swallow.’’