WASHINGTON — In the fifth inning of a heartbreaking playoff loss that will torment tormented Nationals fans until, well, the next inevitable heartbreaking playoff loss — the home team fell, 9-8, to the Cubs in Game 5 of the NLDS — a rather incredible sequence of events transpired.
To be clear, this was a contest full of incredible sequences of events.
For the moment, let’s just look at the fifth inning. And not even the whole fifth inning. Just the top half of the fifth inning. With two runs already in, two outs and Addison Russell on second base, four Cubs reached base safely against Max Scherzer, in this order:
1. Manager Dusty Baker ordered an intentional walk of Jason Heyward, who had a .121 average in 58 at-bats over the past two postseasons as he stepped to the plate.
2. Javier Baez swung and missed at Strike 3, but catcher Matt Wieters missed the ball and it went to the backstop. Baez was going to easily reach first safely, but Wieters threw anyway. Wild. Russell scored, Heyward raced to third and Baez wound up on second base.
3. Tommy La Stella swung and pulled a ball foul down the first-base line. Harmless, right? Wrong. Wieters reached too far out to receive the pitch, and La Stella’s bat made contact. Catcher’s interference, which means La Stella was awarded first base, loading the bases.
4. Scherzer — on in relief of starter Gio Gonzalez — hit Jon Jay in the ankle with a pitch, forcing in Heyward.
That’s … an incredible series of unfortunate events for Scherzer and his Nationals.
POSTSEASON ODDITIES: Another catcher's interference
An intentional walk of an inept hitter, a strikeout/passed ball, a catcher’s interference/E2 and a hit-by-pitch from the guy who will probably be this year’s NL Cy Young winner.
Little league coaches don’t have to write down that combination in their scorebooks, but it happened to the Nationals on Thursday, in a win-or-go-home game in the MLB playoffs. They are going home.
I have an assignment for you. Next time you see a Nationals fan, give that person a hug.
The Nationals have four seasons of 95 or more wins in the past six years, and they still have yet to win a postseason series since the franchise moved from Montreal after the 2004 season.
This loss hurts just as much as any, if not more. They led 4-1 at a point in the game that had been forgotten by the time Jayson Werth completely missed a catchable line drive off Russell’s bat in the sixth inning. That mistake allowed Ben Zobrist to score all the way from first, Chicago’s ninth run of the game.
In the first four games of this series, the Cubs had scored eight runs, total. They eclipsed that number by the sixth inning of one of the most important games in Nationals franchise history.
Which makes this one of the most heartbreaking losses in Nationals history, and that’s saying something.