FINAL: Nationals top Cubs 5-0 to force deciding Game 5 in NLDS

Right-hander Stephen Strasburg handcuffed the Cubs for a second time in four games, this time pitching seven scoreless innings to earn a most impressive victory, and Michael Taylor hit an opposite field grand slam into the basket in right field in a 5-0 victory Wednesday in Game 4 of the National League Division Series at Wrigley Field.

The result sends the Cubs and Nats into a series-deciding Game 5 Thursday at Nationals Park (7:08 p.m., TBS). Right-hander Kyle Hendricks will start for Cubs in Game 5. The Nats had not yet announced a starter.

On a chilly, damp day, Strasburg, who was not announced as the starter until Wednesday morning because he had been ill this week, held the Cubs to three hits while striking out 12 and walking two. He has not allowed an earned run in 14 innings in the series.

Strasburg fanned 10 Cubs in Game 1 of the series, a 3-0 Cubs victory Friday in Washington.

Right fielder Ian Happ of the Cubs watches a grand slam hit by Michael Taylor land in the right field basket. It gave the Nats a 5-0 lead. (Getty Images)

Taylor’s homer came against Cubs closer Wade Davis in the eighth inning.

NINTH INNING: The Nationals are three outs away from a Game 4 victory, leading the Cubs 5-0.

Lefty closer Sean Doolittle nails it down in the ninth retiring Willson Contreras, Ben Zobrist and Addison Russell.

EIGHTH INNING:  The Cubs are in deep trouble in this one. The good news? Stephen Strasburg is out of the game.

The bad news? They are likely headed to Washington for a deciding Game 5 in the National League Division series.

Right-hander Ryan Madson is pitching for the Nationals in relief of Strasburg, who pitched seven dominating innings of three-hit, scoreless ball. Strasburg struck out 12 and walked two.

Someone said he wasn’t feeling well. You might have read that he wasn’t going to pitch today. Well, he did, and did he ever.

The Cubs weren’t feeling well after Michael Taylor’s grand slam into the basket in right field against closer Wade Davis. That sent a chill through Wrigley Field on an already cold, damp day and gave the Nats a 5-0 lead.

With the Cubs trailing 1-0, Davis entered to face Taylor with two outs after Carl Edwards walked two to load the bases.

Michael Taylor hits a grand slam against the Cubs’ Wad Davis in the eighth inning. (AP)

Edwards, who has been both good and bad in his key eighth-inning role in this series, had entered in relief of Jon Lester and walked Anthony Rendon and Matt Wieters.

Lester was a stud. He worked into his fourth scoreless inning of relief work trying to keep the Cubs within 1-0, and grabbed a headline by picking off a runner.

Lester, who generally can’t throw to first base, picks off Ryan Zimmerman at first base after walking him with one out, and the Wrigley Field crowd goes crazy. Lester has two pickoffs this season (Tommy Pham in June).

It took a huge, daring leadoff and replay challenge to get it done, but put that one in the books. And a good thing, too, for the Cubs, as Daniel Murphy singled after the pickoff. That was it for Lester (55 pitches), who sparked a crowd that has had nothing to cheer about and gets a huge ovation as he walks off.

But Edwards threw a wild pitch and walked two as the rain picked up, prompting manager Joe Maddon to bring in Davis after Edwards threw ball one to Taylor. Knowing Strasburg was probably finished at 106 pitches, Maddon was doing everything to keep the Cubs within one.

SEVENTH INNING: The Nationals are six outs away from sending this series to a deciding Game 5, and Stephen Strasburg is the story. Featuring an unhittable changeup, the right-hander has held the Cubs to three hits while posting 12 strikeouts and walking two.

He strikes out Ben Zobrist, Addison Russell and Jason Heyward in a perfect inning.

At 106 pitches (72 strikes) and battling illness this week, the Cubs, who trail 1-0,  have to be hoping his work is about done and that manager Dusty Baker goes to the bullpen. Strasburg’s pitching line in the series: 14 IP, 6 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 22 K.

Whoa.

Lester has done his part to keep the Cubs close by pitching his third consecutive perfect inning in relief of Jake Arrieta. Lester has struck out two.

SIXTH INNING: Strasburg shows few signs of weakening and continues to deal with a scoreless inning, including his third strikeout of Kris Bryant in as many at-bats. Strasburg has allowed no runs on three hits and two walks with nine strikeouts.

In 13 innings in the NLDS, Strasburg has not allowed an earned run and has struck out 19 Cubs.

Left-hander Jon Lester has pitched two perfect innings in relief, trying to hold the Nats’ lead at 1-0. The Cubs are up against it because Strasburg, who wasn’t even supposed to pitch today because he’s been feeling ill, is dealing like a champion.

Stephen Strasburg deals. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

FIFTH  INNING: Jon Lester enters the game to open the inning in relief of Jake Arrieta, who trailed 1-0 but walked five batters and was at 90 pitches coming off a hamstring injury. Was that the last we’ve seen of Arrieta in a Cubs uniform?

If the Cubs win today or tomorrow to advance to the NLCS, likely not. But Stephen Strasburg is dealing, and threatening to send the best of five series to Washington even at two games apiece.

Lester, the starter in Game 2 Saturday pitching on three days rest, is on in relief for the first time since  Game 7 of the 2016 World Series. Fans were surprised to see him then, too.

He does what Arrieta couldn’t — retire the Nats (Harper, Zimmerman, Murphy) in order.

Jason Heyward singled leading off the Cubs fifth against Strasburg but Javy Baez quickly rapped into a double play, and Lester grounded out. Hey, no Ks for Strasburg that inning, though (#brightside)

FOURTH INNING: Strasburg goes to work quickly protecting a 1-0 lead by striking out Anthony Rizzo leading off the inning. That’s his fourth K in a row.

But Strasburg picks up Willson Contreras’ swinging bunt and bounces it over the tarp and into the stands, allowing Contreras to reach second. But Strasburg does what he does best, striking out Ben Zobrist and Addison Russell to protect Washington’s lead at 1-0. That’s six K’s in a row.

Strasburg’s line through four: Eight strikeouts, one walk, two hits. He had 10 Ks in Game 1, when he did not allow an earned run. His health seems fine, and his changeup is downright sick.

Strasburg has thrown 23 changeups, getting swings and misses on a whopping 10 of them. Remarkable.

Kris Bryant walks to the dugout after striking out. (Getty Images)

The Nationals, leading 1-0 and hoping to tie the series, threatened to give Strasburg a nice cushion in the top of the inning but left the bases in business loaded. Arrieta, working behind in counts as his pitch count passes 80, gave up a leadoff double to Anthony Rendon and issued his fourth and fifth walks to load bases with two outs for Jayson Werth.

But Werth took a called third strike to end the inning.

Arrieta’s line: 4 innings, 1 run, 0 ER, 2 hits, 5 Ks, 4 BBs.

THIRD INNING: Right-hander Stephen Strasburg did what a pitcher is supposed to do: Shut down the opposition after your  team gives you the lead, and shut down he did, striking out Jake Arrieta, Jon Jay and Kris Bryant in order. Uh-oh, Strasburg (five strikeouts, one walk, one hit allowed) looks sharp again after a shaky second inning. He only needed 12 pitches to rack up those Ks and is at 49 for the game.

Shortstop Addison Russell’s two-out error on Ryan Zimmerman’s ground ball allowed the Nationals to put the first run on the board against Jake Arrieta.

Zimmerman looked to be a lucky man having had that swing after he checked his swing on an 0-2 pitch but appeared on TV  replay to cross the plate but first base umpire Jerry Layne flattened his palms.

Cubs fans who saw the replay on screens below the upper deck gave Layne the thumbs down.

“Use your good eye!” one said, reportedly.

Leadoff man Trea Turner scored from third as Zimmerman’s grounder, in and to Russell’s left, skipped off the shortstop’s glove. Turner had collected his first hit of the series, a one-out double in front of the warning track near the left field corner. Sounded like a broken bat, but he’ll take it. He advanced to third on a breaking ball that slips through catcher Willson Contreras — it’s scored a wild pitch.

With the infield in, Arrieta threw a perfect 3-2 slider over the outside corner for a called third strike on Jayson Werth, who flips his bat in disbelief — perhaps at the excellence of the pitch. After Bryce Harper walked, Zimmerman stepped up.

SECOND INNING:  After looking downright nasty in the first inning, Stephen Strasburg leaves a breaking ball up to Ben Zobrist, who yanks it into right field corner for one-out double. Addison Russell gets almost all of one — exit velocity 96 mph — and brings the Wrigley crowd to its feet, but a stiff wind blowing in knocks it down and left fielder Jayson Werth catches it on the warning track. Zobrist, at least, gets to third on a tag up.

Ben Zobrist doubles, but does not score. (AP)

Knowing Strasburg caught a break from the wind, the Wrigley faithful chant, “Straaasburg, Straaasburg!” Why not? Maybe it will rattle him. But after Jason Heyward walks, Javy Baez has a decent at-bat but ends the inning with a weak dribble in front of the mound.

Jake Arrieta puts his second scoreless inning in the books. Third baseman Kris Bryant leaps to his left to snap Dan Murphy’s liner headed toward left, a key first out for the Cubs right-hander who looks to have a tough matchup against Stephen Strasburg today.

Arrieta walked Matt Wieters on four pitches with two outs, then struck out Michael Taylor on a full count. That means Strasburg leads off the third.

FIRST INNING: Nats leadoff man Trea Turner, who is 0-for-13 in the series, breaks his bat and pops out to second to open Game 4 of the NLDS against Arrieta. The Nats need their leadoff man to get going, like now. Jayson Werth flies to left, and with the fans on their feet, Arrieta walks Bryce Harper. But he gets Ryan Zimmerman on a liner to right fielder Jason Heyward.

Per Statcast, Arrieta threw 17 sinkers, 10 for strikes, in the first. A better first than his last first inning, when he gave up three runs.

Jake Arrieta pitches in the first inning during Game 4. (Getty Images)

It’s chilly and dreary and drizzle is in the air with the wind blowing but Arrieta is in short sleeves.

So is Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg, who gets off to an even better start than Arrieta, retiring leadoff man Jon Jay on a fly to center and striking out Cubs big guns Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo on changeups down and dirty. That’s 12 Ks in the series for Strasburg, who had 10 in Game 1. He hops off the mound with a clenched fist.

PREVIEW: We’ve waited nearly 48 hours, sat through a rain delay, a Tuesday rainout and overflowing speculation about Stephen Strasburg’s health, desire and willingness to man up and pitch in Game 4 of the National League Division Series.

Grab your germ masks — Nationals manager Dusty Baker told us Chicago molds are bad this time of year — and don’t forget a warm jacket if you’re headed to Wrigley Field to see if the Cubs can eliminate Baker’s Nats and move on to the NLCS.

At last, we’re about to begin, now that Baker and Nats GM Mike Rizzo have cleared up, ahem, why they said yesterday that Strasburg wouldn’t pitch on full rest today and why it all changed today.

Stephen Strasburg makes way to bullpen to warm up. (Getty Images)

A stiff wind was blowing in off the lake and a light mist was in the air, unfriendly hitter’s conditions more favorable to right-handers Strasburg and the Cubs’ Jake Arrieta, both of whom will be watched closely. Strasburg has been ill since he dominated the Cubs over seven innings in the Cubs’ 3-0 win in Game 1 Friday and Arrieta has been nursing a right hamstring injury.

“Theoretically, everybody’s under the weather,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said.

There was plenty of cool, blowing, damp air swirling above Wrigley Field to prove it. And none of it would seem to agree with either pitcher’s condition.

Gametime is 3:08 p.m. (TBS, 670-AM, 1000-AM). Here are the lineups as the Cubs, leading the best of five series 2-1, try to hang a fourth NLDS setback on the Nats since 2012:

Cubs lineup:
Jon Jay CF
Kris Bryant 3B
Anthony Rizzo 1B
Willson Contreras C
Ben Zobrist LF
Addison Russell SS
Jason Heyward RF
Javy Baez 2B
Jake Arrieta P

Nationals lineup: 
Trea Turner SS
Jayson Werth LF
Bryce Harper RF
Ryan Zimmerman 1B
Daniel Murphy 2B
Anthony Rendon 3B
Matt Wieters C
Michael Taylor CF
Stephen Strasburg P

Eddie Vedder and Rick Sutcliffe meet for a ceremonial first pitch. “The Baron” chucked it (up and in), and the Pearl Jammer caught it. (Getty Images)