In the first inning of Game 2 of the NLDS against the Chicago Cubs, Anthony Rendon addressed the Washington Nationals’ biggest issue from Friday’s loss: offense. Rendon cranked a home run off Jon Lester with two outs to put the Nats on the board for the first time in the series and take a 1-0 lead. The good feeling didn’t last long, but in the end, the Nationals’ bats woke up enough to even up the series at one game apiece.
Entering the eighth, Washington trailed 3-1 but Adam Lind, in his first career postseason game, hit a single to rekindle hope. No outs. Trea Turner, who has struggled all series, again struck out in a big moment, but Bryce Harper made the most of his, hitting a massive two-run shot to tie it. Later in the inning, Ryan Zimmerman had his hero moment: a three-run homer to put the Nationals up 6-3. And that would do it, as the Nationals held on to win, 6-3.
After Rendon’s first inning home run, Chicago catcher Willson Contreras almost immediately answered with a solo shot of his own to even things up. Then, in the fourth inning, Kris Bryant doubled before Anthony Rizzo hit a two-run shot to push the Cubs ahead 3-1. Keep in mind: Bryant and Rizzo were the keys behind the Chicago offense Friday, as well.
The Nationals finally loaded the bases in the fifth with two outs, but Lester ended up striking out Trea Turner to deflate Washington’s hopes. Things were starting to look hopeless when the eighth inning arrived but just then, the offense woke up.
Here are the best and worst moments from the Nationals’ 6-3 Game 2 win.
Best description: “That’s the most hanging-banging home run that I’ve ever seen,” MASN analyst Ray Knight said of Bryce Harper’s game-tying blast on the postgame show.
Worst understatements: “Oh man, we’ve been struggling to score some runs,” a smiling Ryan Zimmerman said during his postgame interview with TBS’s Sam Ryan. “Going down 0-2 is no good,” he said later. “Needless to say, this is a big win.” Yep, yep and yep.
Best synergy: Alex Ovechkin’s offensive prowess wasn’t needed on Half Street, after all. Back at Capital One Arena, T.J. Oshie and the fans reacted to a Nationals win.
Nats score shown at Cap One pic.twitter.com/4UG2DJzyDy
— Michael DiVenere (@mikeyd2933) October 8, 2017
Nats score shown as final here in Cap One Arena. Oshie stands up and starts tapping his stick against the boards.
— Isabelle Khurshudyan (@ikhurshudyan) October 8, 2017
Best sign: Any banners bigger than two feet by four feet that were discovered at the gate were confiscated according to the Nationals’ guest conduct policy, but this Nationals fan managed to sneak one in and #FlyTheL after the Cubs’ 6-3 loss.
Best first save as a married man: Elope on Monday, close out Game 2 of the NLDS on Saturday. All in a week’s work for Sean Doolittle. The Nationals’ closer allowed a one-out single to Addison Russell before inducing a 5-4-3 double play by Ben Zobrist to end the game. Series tied 1-1. See you in Chicago.
Best spark: Adam Lind played in 1,344 regular season games over 12 seasons before making his postseason debut as a pinch-hitter to lead off the eighth inning. Lind’s first playoff at-bat resulted in an opposite field single. He was immediately removed for pinch-runner Victor Robles and was all smiles in the Nationals’ dugout.
Best Bryce: Following a Trea Turner strikeout, Bryce Harper crushed a game-tying home run to right field off of Carl Edwards Jr. Harper’s first extra-base hit since returning from the disabled list led to even more smiles in the Nationals’ dugout and gave Washington new life.
BRYCE HARPER UNLOADS AND TIES THE GAME AT 3
— Baseball King™ (@BasebaIlKing) October 8, 2017
Best flip: Tie, between Bryce Harper’s bat flip and hair flip after his mammoth home run, which left his bat at 109 miles per hour and traveled 421 feet.
"Best hair flip in the Major Leagues." Ron Darling on Bryce Harper pic.twitter.com/HiwNSBWPqT
— JohnnyJonathan (@NatitudeProblem) October 8, 2017
Best eruption: Ryan Zimmerman, who hit .167 against the Cubs during the regular season and looked lost while going 1 for 6 to start the series, came to bat with one out, two men on and the game tied 3-3 in the eighth inning. Zimmerman’s fly ball to left field off of Mike Montgomery just cleared the wall, sending the Nationals Park crowd into a tizzy. “Fifteen minutes ago, you didn’t know if anyone was still in this ballpark,” TBS play-by-play man Ernie Johnson said. “Now you can’t hear yourself think.”
Ryan Zimmerman for the lead! pic.twitter.com/NKYaCZz6O9
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) October 8, 2017
Best playoff pitcher: Jon Lester won a pair of World Series with the Red Sox before winning four of his five postseason starts last year to help the Cubs end their 108-year championship drought. He entered Saturday’s game with a 2.63 ERA in 133 ⅔ innings pitched in the playoffs, and his 20th career postseason start was among his best yet. Lester allowed a playoff career-low two hits over six innings while striking out two and walking two.
Tonight was Jon Lester's 20th career postseason start. The 2 hits he allowed tonight were his fewest among them. pic.twitter.com/SdHY0zAbIc
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 8, 2017
Best bullpen: Matt Albers, Sammy Solis, Ryan Madson and Oliver Perez combined to limit the Cubs to a walk and two hits in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings. That kept the Nationals within two runs, which would normally be considered striking distance.
Worst missed opportunity: After his shaky fifth inning, which featured a leadoff single and two walks, Jon Lester needed only 13 pitches to retire Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon and Daniel Murphy in order. It marked the eighth time in 17 innings in the series and fourth time in Game 2 that Washington failed to put a runner aboard.
Best idea: Nationals Park is about a 10-minute drive from Capital One Arena, where the Capitals are hosting the Canadiens in their home opener. Get Alex Ovechkin, who scored his sixth goal of the season in only Washington’s second game on Saturday (yes, back-to-back hat tricks!), a Victor Robles jersey and let him pinch hit in a key spot. (Related and predictable worst response: “It’s the playoffs, so he’ll blow it.”)
Best excuse for the worst energy: The crowd at Nationals Park wasn’t exactly boisterous as Game 2 entered the fifth inning with the Cubs leading 3-1, but the fans wearing red were still louder than Washington’s bats. Nationals fans rose to their feet when Howie Kendrick, pinch-hitting for Gio Gonzalez, came to the plate with runners on the corners and two outs in the bottom of the inning. They grew louder after Jon Lester walked Kendrick on four pitches to load the bases for leadoff man Trea Turner.
In playoffs, Nat fans in packed house really should understand that a 3-1 MLB game in top 5th is CLOSE. Seems not to be universally grasped.
— Thomas Boswell (@ThomasBoswellWP) October 7, 2017
Worst clutch: Turner, still seeking his first postseason hit, struck out on a 2-2 pitch in the fifth to end the Nationals’ best threat of the game and quiet the crowd once again.
Worst sight: One person not lacking for energy? Jon Lester, who was just a little bit pleased with his strikeout of Trea Turner to end the fifth.
Jon Lester is fired up!!! pic.twitter.com/DA9uHTCSws
— Chicago Sports News (@ChiSportUpdates) October 7, 2017
Worst bats: The Nationals went 0 for their next 10 after Anthony Rendon’s first-inning home run, and Jon Lester was through four innings on only 44 pitches. At that point, the Nationals’ No. 2 through No. 5 hitters — Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, Daniel Murphy and Ryan Zimmerman — were a combined 2 for 21 in the series and Washington was an abysmal 3 for 42 as a team.
Best catch: Sean Thompson, the Cubs fan who caught Rizzo’s home run, was booed lustily by the Nationals Park crowd when he was shown on the video board, and TBS’s cameras showed him talking on his phone during the umpires’ replay review. Once you accept that the ball was going to be a home run regardless, you can appreciate the guy’s one-handed catch. Maybe.
Lifelong Cubs fan Sean Thompson of New Kent, Va., said he definitely didn't go over the wall to catch Rizzo homer. pic.twitter.com/WyX0KNNdlZ
— Barry Svrluga (@barrysvrluga) October 7, 2017
— Larry Hawley (@HawleySports) October 7, 2017
Image of large Cub fan, gloating, talking on phone, offering photo ops, may last. Abe give up in Presidents Race as he went under the guy.
— Thomas Boswell (@ThomasBoswellWP) October 7, 2017
Worst nemesis: Anthony Rizzo, who had a pair of two-out RBI in Game 1, gave the Cubs a 3-1 lead with a two-run home run to right field after Kris Bryant led off the the fourth inning with a double. A man in a Bryant jersey caught the home run, which umpires reviewed to make sure there wasn’t any fan interference. “It was not a Jeffrey Maier moment,” TBS’s Ernie Johnson said. He was right.
Anthony Rizzo entered today 2-22 in his career against Gio Gonzalez with 0 extra-base hits.
Rizzo's 6 postseason HR are a Cubs record
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 7, 2017
Worst pain: Nationals catcher Matt Wieters was 0 for 2 with a walk on Friday, grounded out in his first at-bat to end the second inning on Saturday and then took a bat to the back of his head on a backswing by Ian Happ to start the third. Wieters would remain in the game, and he’d probably take five more backswings to his noggin over a foul ball to the groin like the one Gary Sanchez endured last week.
Best groove: Gio Gonzalez cruised in the third, striking out Ian Happ and Jon Lester on seven pitches before getting Albert Almora to fly out to right field to end the inning. Gonzalez headed to the fourth with five strikeouts on 42 pitches, not that far off Stephen Strasburg’s 10-strikeouts on 81-pitches pace in Game 1.
Worst elements: The wind, which was blowing out to left field and featured gusts of up to 20 mph, turned a couple of routine fly balls in the first inning into adventurous outs and helped carry … and carry … and carry … Willson Contreras’s towering shot in the second inning over the fence to tie the game. Contreras’s solo home run was somewhat reminiscent of one Bryce Harper hit at Wrigley Field, which is notorious for its whipping winds, in 2015.
Get this: Out of 6,133 homers hit this year (inc. postseason), Contreras' was only the 11th with a launch angle of 45 degrees or more.
— Dan Kolko (@masnKolko) October 7, 2017
Best atonement: With two outs and nobody on in the bottom of the first inning, Anthony Rendon hit a rare opposite field home run that cleared the 335-foot sign in right field and gave the Nationals an early 1-0 lead. It was Rendon who committed the error that led to two unearned runs in the sixth inning of Game 1.
Rendon may never have hit a homer within 10 feet of RF foul pole. Not any part of his spray chart. But he just did off Lester. 1-0 Nats
— Thomas Boswell (@ThomasBoswellWP) October 7, 2017
Rendon hit 2 of his 25 home runs this season to right-center field and 1 to to straightaway center. Nothing down the line like that.
— Jorge Castillo (@jorgecastillo) October 7, 2017
Best start: Gonzalez retired the Cubs in order in the first inning, which was no small feat. Gonzalez’s 5.62 ERA in the first inning during the regular season was by far his worst of any frame, and his nine home runs allowed in the first inning were one more than he allowed in innings two through five combined. Like Stephen Strasburg in Game 1, Gonzalez struck out Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo in their first at-bats.
Best anthem: DC Washington rocked, as usual. You won’t hear Illinois Chicago sing the national anthem before Game 3 or Game 4. Just saying.
DC Washington got the biggest ovation for an anthem singer I've heard here. Then he nailed it. Per usual.
— Chelsea Janes (@chelsea_janes) October 7, 2017
Worst odds: The Nationals are looking to avoid heading to Chicago facing a 2-0 deficit. In the history of best-of-five series in baseball, 75 teams have trailed two games to none; only nine of them have won three straight games to advance.
Best good luck charm: Rufus the Rally Pigeon, who was chilling behind home plate when the Nationals clubbed back-to-back-to-back-to-back home runs against the Brewers in July, was spotted at Nationals Park before Game 2. After managing only two hits in Friday’s 3-0 loss, the Nationals would happily take back-to-back singles. Perhaps their lucky NL Central-hating bird will work his magic again.
Rally pigeon in the house. pic.twitter.com/5Uh6kqo3mN
— curses arent real (@woldfamousjon) October 7, 2017
We’ve 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, an oral history of how the Nats fixed baseball’s worst bullpen, and Game 1 starter Stephen Strasburg and how he had to learn to stop seeking perfection to get to this October stage. Even more is below, so get cracking.
Read more on the Nationals:
Steinberg: Why do Nats fans love Jayson Werth so much?