After suffering a momentum-killing loss in game two, blowing a late lead that allowed the Nationals to tie the series 1-1, the Cubs had the unenviable task of facing Max Scherzer in game three, countering him with playoff newbie Jose Quintana. Even though the Cubs captured home field advantage by splitting the series in Washington, finding a way to take advantage seemed to be, at best, a long shot.
Of course, this game turned out to be another pitcher’s duel. Jose Quintana and Max Scherzer declared, with absolute authority, that they were in control of their team’s fate. Quintana was brilliant, putting together 5 2/3 innings of 2-hit ball, surrendering just 1 walk, 1 run (0 ER) and 7 K’s. Scherzer, for his part, carried a no-hitter into the 7th, ultimately leaving with a line of: 6 1/3 IP, 1 H, 1 ER, 7 K’s.
Both managers made inexcusably bad pitching decisions: Maddon pulling Quintana after a 2-out error by Kyle Schwarber that changed an inning ending fly-out to a runner on third. (Let’s not dwell on this too much. Kyle’s defense is the elephant that’s long been in the room and it was highlighted impossibly bright today.)
On the one hand it’s understandable to bring in Pedro Strop to face Ryan Zimmerman with a runner in scoring position and two outs. On the other? Pulling your starter who, in his first career postseason start, put together a masterful performance, pulling him only after your suspect left fielder shit the bed? It’s entirely inexcusable to not allow Quintana a chance to get out of the inning.
Speaking of bad managerial moves, Dusty Baker pulled Scherzer after a double by Ben Zobrist in the 7th, breaking up a no-hit bid (sound familiar?) It’s honestly unfathomable to take out one of the game’s elite pitchers, this late in the game, protecting a one run lead, with Schwarber coming up – undoubtedly looking to make up for his atrocious error by hitting the ball a country mile.
Baker pulled him anyway, Maddon countered the lefty Sammy Solis with Albert Almora, and a clutch single later the game was tied at 1. In response, Scherzer roamed the visiting dugout looking for someone to murder as all the momentum had shifted to the Cubs. Jason Heyward subsequently singled, and unfortunately, was doubled off at first after some terrible baserunning on a line drive to right center, a gaffe that’s entirely foreign to his skillset.
Late game heroics
The top of the 8th inning featured a spectacular defensive play by Zobrist to get the first out of the inning, and then Carl Edwards got revenge on Bryce Harper, striking him out with a tough cutter inside. The Cubs managed to escape any damage in the 8th, leaving the game tied with the hopes of some random heroics to ensue.
And ensue, the heroics did. The bottom of the 8th featured Tommy La Stella doing what he does best, pinch hitting and reaching base via a walk (with Leonys Martin coming in to pinch run). Then, Jon Jay bunted him over, leaving the fate of the Cubs in the hands of Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo.
After Bryant struck out (on a foul tip that Matt Wieters miraculously caught) Rizzo came up huge, blooping a single into left center that left Michael Taylor, Trea Turner, and Jayson Werth perplexed, scoring Martin from second. I don’t know how that ball fell, but I don’t f-wording care. Despite Rizzo getting silly and trying to advance to second (and getting tagged out on the way), the Cubs took a 2-1 lead heading into the 9th.
The top of the 9th was entirely uneventful, if not stressful. Wade Davis took care of business, retiring the Nationals in order – including striking out Cubs killer Daniel Murphy to lead off the inning. Despite facing perhaps the best pitcher on the planet (with all due respect to the great Clayton Kershaw), with our starter making his playoff debut, the Cubs managed to win a game they had to win. Now we sit up two games to one, with Jake Arrieta set to go tomorrow against Tanner Roark, whom I’m confident the Cubs will tee up.
Let’s go Cubs. The NLCS is just a breath away.