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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, October 08, 2017 1:00 am

Washington 6 Chicago 3

Nationals come back in 8th to even up Cubs

HOWARD FENDRICH | Associated Press

NLDS

Washington vs. Chicago

What: Game 3

When: 4:08 or 5:38 p.m. Monday

Where: Wrigley Field, Chicago

Series: 1-1

TV: TBS

WASHINGTON – Things were looking bleak for Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman and the rest of the Washington Nationals. They had accumulated one run and four hits through the first 16 innings of their NL Division Series against the Chicago Cubs.

The situation was hardly ideal. Neither was the mood.

“You do your best to keep your spirits up. You get frustrated,” Zimmerman acknowledged. “I don't want to say 'pressure,' but, yeah, I mean, the tension builds a little bit, I'll be honest with you. ... Pouting is not going to help you the next time you come up.”

Power, though, will. Harper delivered a no-doubt-about-it, tying two-run homer in the eighth, and Zimmerman tacked on a three-run shot that barely made it over the wall moments later, lifting the Nationals to a 6-3 comeback victory over the defending World Series champions on Saturday, evening their NLDS at a game apiece.

“Sometimes,” Zimmerman said, “it takes kind of just one hit for everyone to exhale.”

The Nationals were in serious danger of falling behind 2-0 in the series, entering the eighth trailing 3-1 after being shut out in Game 1. But the NL East champions broke out with five runs and four hits, thanks to two big swings from Harper – only recently back from a left knee injury that sidelined him for 42 games – and longtime face of the franchise Zimmerman.

“I was kind of bewildered, because it's not too many teams or pitchers that have held us in check like that for a couple days,” Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. “I just knew in the bottom of my heart that we were going to explode for some numbers, which we've done all year.”

Indeed, his team reached franchise highs for runs and homers this season, and the Nationals were the only club in the majors with four players – including Harper and Zimmerman – who each topped 20 homers and 85 RBI.

The NLDS moves to Wrigley Field for Game 3 on Monday. The Cubs will have July acquisition Jose Quintana on the mound, while the Nationals finally send out two-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, who was pushed back in the rotation because of an injured right hamstring.

“The train's coming,” Harper said. “We're a great team. We've got Max coming.”

Yes, this matchup is suddenly a contest, and not a moment too soon for Washington, which has won four division titles in the past six years but never won a playoff series.

Jon Lester held Washington to a run and two hits through six innings in Game 2, but Cubs manager Joe Maddon turned to his bullpen and everything changed.

Pinch hitter Adam Lind led off the eighth with a single. Carl Edwards Jr. then went to a 3-1 count against Harper and hung a curveball.

“I thought about taking the whole way,” Harper said. “And then I saw the loop in the curveball and said, 'Why not swing as hard as you can?' Got barrel on it. Pretty good moment.”

Maddon defended his decision to have the righty-throwing Edwards pitch to the lefty-batting Harper.

“He made a bad pitch and the guy didn't miss it, and that's it. Sometimes that happens. Bryce is good. C.J. is good,” Maddon said. “Bryce got him.”

It was the first extra-base hit for Harper since returning from the disabled list during the last week of September after missing 42 games with an injured left knee.