Well, here we are. Game 5. At home. Win or go home. We’re underway.
Will the Washington Nationals finally get out of the National League Division Series, the round that tripped them up in 2012, 2014 and 2016? Or will the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs not let a second closeout opportunity slip away?
Gio Gonzalez — who allowed three runs over five innings in the Nationals’ Game 2 home win on Saturday — got off to a shaky start, throwing 26 pitches in the first inning. The Cubs’ leadoff batter, Jon Jay, took early advantage, hitting a double then taking third on a wild pitch. Anthony Rizzo drove him home for the game’s first run. Gonzalez settled down in the second inning, going 1-2-3.
Right-hander Kyle Hendricks, Chicago’s starter, also allowed a leadoff baserunner when Trea Turner successfully reached. He stole second and took third on a Jayson Werth flyout. But he was thrown out at home by Javier Baez on a Bryce Harper grounder.
The Nationals offense came alive for four runs in the second. Daniel Murphy took the first pitch of the inning deep to even the game. Michael A. Taylor, the grand-slam hero of Game 4, followed with a three-run shot to push the Nationals ahead 4-1.
The Cubs loaded the bases with one out in the third, as Gonzalez’s struggles returned, and Addison Russell drove in a run. Willson Contreras then scored on a wild pitch to make it 4-3. That was enough to hook Gonzalez for Matt Albers. He went 1-2-3.
Here are the best and worst moments of Game 5 so far:
Best relief: Matt Albers took over for Gio Gonzalez to start the fourth inning and retired the Cubs in order on 16 pitches.
Best gift: The second hitter Albers faced? Cubs pitcher Kyle Hendricks, who Joe Maddon let hit for himself for some baffling reason. Both managers are aware this is a best-of-five, not a best-of-seven series, right?
Joe Maddon is going to let Kyle Hendricks for himself. One way to play it.
— Adam Kilgore (@AdamKilgoreWP) October 13, 2017
Worst leash: With everyone but Stephen Strasburg available to pitch for the Nationals, it’s surprising that Dusty Baker stuck with Gio Gonzalez after he issued consecutive walks in the third inning. That decision cost Washington at least one run.
I would have Gio out of this game now, still 4-2. That’s harsh. But I would.
— Thomas Boswell (@ThomasBoswellWP) October 13, 2017
I hate being right. When Gio gets wild, he can “walk the house” and the folks in the parking lot ,too. WP home a run, 4-3.
— Thomas Boswell (@ThomasBoswellWP) October 13, 2017
Worst shutdown inning: Armed with a three-run lead, Gio Gonzalez came undone again in the third. Kris Bryant led off with a double that bounced just under the glove of a diving Michael A. Taylor. Willson Contreras and Albert Amora Jr. walked to load the bases after Anthony Rizzo struck out looking on a fastball that was clearly outside. Addison Russell’s grounder scored Bryant to trim Washington’s lead to 4-2, and with Matt Albers finally warming in the bullpen, Gonzalez’s wild pitch with Jason Heyward at the plate allowed Chicago’s third run to score.
Best swing: Daniel Murphy, who came into the game with two hits in the series, led off the Nats’ half of the second inning with a no-doubt home run to right field. Like that, the game was tied and Kyle Hendricks had allowed more runs than he did in seven innings in Game 1.
Best small ball: Anthony Rendon followed Murphy’s home run with a bloop single to right-center field. Shortly after TBS flashed a graphic on the screen that showed 85 percent of the Nationals’ runs in the series (10 out of 13) had come via the long ball, Matt Wieters laid down a perfect bunt against the shift that put two runners on with nobody out for Game 4 offensive hero Michael A. Taylor.
That’s the first bunt hit of Matt Wieters’ career!!!
— Andrew Simon (@AndrewSimonMLB) October 13, 2017
Best breakout star: Taylor’s eighth-inning grand slam into the wind on Wednesday at Wrigley Field gave the Nationals some breathing room in their 5-0 win. His three-run shot into the Cubs’ bullpen in left field on Thursday came on an eye-level, 86 mph fastball and gave Washington a 4-1 lead.
You just can’t stop Michael A. Taylor. pic.twitter.com/VrO0vunHQg
— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) October 13, 2017
Best nickname: Michael A. Tater.
Best settling down: After a shaky first, Gio Gonzalez seemed to find his rhythm — and his curveball — in the second. Javier Baez flied out to to lead off the inning before Gonzalez struck out Cubs pitcher Kyle Hendricks and Jon Jay.
Gio Gonzalez, Knee-buckling 75mph Curveball. pic.twitter.com/O4iNYw0Hc8
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 13, 2017
Best spark: Trea Turner had his first hit of the series in Game 4 and stayed hot — that’s a relative term this series — with a single to lead off the bottom of the first. Turner stole second base and tagged up and advanced to third on Jayson Werth’s line drive to center field that Albert Almora Jr. chased down.
Best defense: With Bryce Harper at the plate, the Cubs played in the infield in. After fouling off a couple of two-strike pitches, Harper hit a sharp grounder directly at Javier Baez. The Cubs’ second baseman made a perfect throw home to nail Turner and preserve Chicago’s 1-0 lead.
Worst start: Jon Jay jumped all over Gio Gonzalez’s second pitch of the game, sending it into the right field corner for a leadoff double. The Nationals challenged the call that Jay was safe at second base, but replay review confirmed that Trea Turner’s swipe tag attempt missed Jay’s left hand.
Worst pitch: The fans behind home plate had a better chance of catching Gonzalez’s next offering to Kris Bryant than Nationals catcher Matt Wieters, and the wild pitch allowed Jay to take third base. Gonzalez rebounded to strike out Bryant, but Jay came into score and give the Cubs a 1-0 lead on a groundout by Chicago’s next hitter, Anthony Rizzo.
Worst laboring: With two outs in the first inning, Gio Gonzalez sandwiched walks to Willson Contreras and Addison Russell around an Albert Amora Jr. single to load the bases. Gonzalez avoided further damage by getting Jason Heyward to ground out to first base, but he threw 26 pitches in the frame. The Nationals could be going to their all-hands-on-deck bullpen sooner rather than later.
Best hope: Gonzalez’s 5.62 ERA in the first inning during the regular season was, by far, his worst of any inning. His ERA in the second inning was 1.41.
Worst history: The Nats, Capitals, Wizards and Redskins have gone a combined 68 seasons since one of them reached a conference final round or league championship series. Those teams are also a combined 3-12 in their last 15 chances to advance in a playoff series at home. D.C. sports is (over)due.
Best accessory: Max Scherzer, who will be available to pitch up to two innings out of the bullpen on Thursday, sported the pink backpack normally reserved for Nationals rookie relievers.
Max Scherzer wore the backpack Nats relievers make rookies wear. “Probably filled with candy and bubblegum,” Dusty Baker said.
— Adam Kilgore (@AdamKilgoreWP) October 12, 2017
Worst anniversary: Exactly five years ago, Gio Gonzalez took the mound in a deciding Game 5 at home against the defending World Series champions. Jon Jay was the leadoff hitter for the Cardinals that night, just as he was on Thursday. Gonzalez wasn’t sharp and allowed three runs over five innings while walking four and striking out five. He left with a 6-3 lead in a game the Nationals would lose, 9-7. “I’m sure redemption is on his mind,” Baker said of his decision to start Gonzalez.
Best news: The Nationals have a different closer than they did in 2012.
Best blessing?: The Nationals entered Game 5 hitting .130/.241/.252 as a team. The offense could use an intervention, divine or otherwise.
— F.P. Santangelo (@FightinHydrant) October 12, 2017
Worst home-field advantage: Including the Yankees’ triumph in Cleveland on Wednesday, road teams have won 15 of 21 Game 5s in the division series round since 2002. The Nationals, who are seeking their first playoff series victory, are 0-2 in Game 5s in D.C. during that span.
What home field advantage?
Road teams are now 15-6 in Division Series Game 5s since 2002.
— Andrew Simon (@AndrewSimonMLB) October 12, 2017
Best or worst lineup decision: “Jayson has been a big-game guy for a long time,” Nationals Manager Dusty Baker said when asked before the game if he considered benching struggling outfielder Jayson Werth on Thursday. Werth had one hit and two walks in 16 plate appearances in Games 1-4. Will he snap out of his funk with the season on the line?
We’ve also got a ton of extra Nationals content, including an interactive graphic on how this team was built, some deep thoughts from various Nationals on why this postseason could be extra special, and an oral history of how the Nats fixed baseball’s worst bullpen. Even more is below, so get cracking.
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