Maybe the Cubs’ hitters are allergic to mold. Maybe Stephen Strasburg and the Nationals are tougher than anyone knew.
And just maybe the Cubs will get it figured out in time to survive Game 5 in Washington on Thursday, because that’s where this rain-delayed Division Series took them when nothing seemed to go right on a cold, misty day at Wrigley Field.
Seven dominant innings from a Nationals starting pitcher who was said the night before to be too sick for duty? A third-inning error by Addison Russell producing the go-ahead run? Wade Davis allowing a two-out grand slam in the eighth and never getting to the ninth?
It all tail-spun the Cubs to a 5-0 loss to the Nationals on Wednesday at Wrigley Field, forcing the third Game 5 in the franchise’s eight best-of-five postseason series — first since they beat the Braves on the road in 2003.
“Same objective. We’ve got to win tomorrow to keep going and doing what we want to do,” said Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo, whose 0-for-3 game was emblematic of a team that in the last two games at Wrigley Field had almost as many errors (six) as hits (seven).
“So all hands on deck,” he added.
Strasburg, who was said Tuesday to be ailing — because of Chicago “mold” and possibly “air conditioning” — was suddenly available by Wednesday morning and responded with a franchise postseason-record 12 strikeouts.
“We assumed he would go today anyway,” said Ben Zobrist, whose second-inning double was the first of just three hits off Strasburg, who featured a changeup that on this day was unhittable.
The Cubs’ starting pitching still has allowed only one earned run through four games of this series.
But Jake Arrieta, making his first start since Sept. 26 — and third since a Sept. 4 hamstring injury — lasted just four innings in a labored, 90-pitch, five-walk effort Wednesday.
The short start prompted manager Joe Maddon to go to his ace in the hole, starter Jon Lester, to start the fifth with superstar Bryce Harper leading off — Maddon managing as though it were Game 7 of the World Series (which happened to be Lester’s last relief appearance).
“Nobody thought that it was going to be a three-and-done-type series,” said Lester, who retired 10 straight — including Harper on a fly to left and a strikeout — before allowing a one-out walk to Ryan Zimmerman in the eighth.
“It’s two heavyweights going at it, and we’re going to the last round, and we’re going to figure it out,” Lester said. “Should be exciting TV. And should be exciting in our clubhouse and their clubhouse, and they get to go home. Hopefully, we play a good baseball game and come out on top.”
After the walk to Zimmerman, Lester picked off the dancing, throw-tempting Nats first baseman with a lob diving runner’s leg. That’s not a typo: “picked off.” And it took a replay challenge to overturn the original safe call.
When Daniel Murphy followed with a soft single to center, Maddon went to Carl Edwards Jr. in the bullpen, and the game went quickly south for the Cubs. Two walks and a first-pitch ball later, closer Wade Davis took over.
And No. 8 hitter Michael Taylor drove a 1-1 pitch just high and far enough the opposite way to land in the basket in right.
Wade Davis’ first career postseason grand slam allowed made it 5-0 and made Thursday the biggest day of starter Kyle Hendricks’ career since, well, Game 7 of the World Series on Nov. 2.
Maddon said Game 3 starter Jose Quintana is on tap for Lester duty in Game 5 behind Hendricks.
Left-hander Gio Gonzalez, who pitched five innings in the Nats’ Game 2 victory, is expected to start for the Nationals, with ace Max Scherzer available for relief work if necessary.
Second baseman Javy Baez said the Cubs are confident, and loose, heading into Thursday.
“We came in and were playing music, and everybody was going, `We’ve got tomorrow,’ “ he said. “Everybody’s ready for it.”
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