WASHINGTON -- The Nationals showed one thing during this three-game series against the Cubs: They will not go down without a fight. On Wednesday evening, the game against the two clubs felt like late October, rather than mid-June.
It went back and forth in the late innings, but Jayson Werth got the final word with a walk-off single with two outs in the 12th as the Nationals won the rubber game, 5-4, in front of a sold-out crowd of 42,000 at Nationals Park.
Said Werth: "They have a good team. We have a good team. It was a battle. It was a good series. We played tough games at their place, too. We got swept, but I felt we played good enough to win a couple of those games."
It just so happened to be Dusty Baker's 67th birthday, and the Nationals gave their manager something to celebrate. The Nats were losing, 4-3, and got off to a bad start in the 12th when Anthony Rendon struck out looking and was ejected. Then Danny Espinosa was hit by a pitch, stole second base and scored when Michael Taylor singled to right-center.
Cubs reliever Trevor Cahill was taken out of the game in favor of right-hander Adam Warren. Two batters later, Werth hit a 1-0 pitch off the fence in right-center to allow Taylor to score. It was Werth's second game-winning hit in four days: He also had a walk-off single against the Phillies on Sunday.
"That was one heck of a ballgame. It was a change of emotion about 10 times," Baker said. "That was one heck of a birthday present, because I think I've lost about 10 years in a row on my birthday. It's not a good record on my birthday. It was one of the best birthdays I've ever had."
The fun started in the eighth inning. The score was tied at 1 when pinch-hitter Stephen Drew homered to right on a 2-0 pitch from Pedro Strop to give Washington the lead. It was his third pinch-hit homer of the season.
Washington's bullpen couldn't get the job done in the ninth, though. Matt Belisle started the inning for the Nats and immediately allowed a double to Kris Bryant. Baker took Belisle out of the game in favor of lefty Oliver Perez, who didn't fare any better. On a 1-1 pitch, Rizzo homered into the right-field bleachers to give the Cubs a one-run lead. But the Nationals tied the game in the bottom half with right-hander Hector Rondon on the mound. Wilson Ramos singled to left to score Bryce Harper, who reached on a leadoff walk, to force extras.
The game started as a pitchers' duel between Stephen Strasburg and Cubs righty Jason Hammel. Both allowed a run in the first inning, but did not figure in the decision. Ben Zobrist led off the game with a home run, then Ben Revere singled and scored on a wild pitch in the bottom half.
"They're the two best teams in baseball going at it, exchanging punches," Hammel said of the series. "It was exciting. We had our chances to do it and they answered back, and that's what you're going to get out of two teams who know how to do something and create something that's not there. We had our chances and they answered late."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Strasburg outstanding: The Nationals righty picked up his fourth no-decision of the season, so his 13-game winning streak dating back to last year remains intact. Strasburg pitched seven innings, allowed six hits and struck out eight.
Headache: Rondon was 11-for-11 in save situations prior to Tuesday's game, when he blew a save but picked up the win as the Cubs rallied in the ninth. The right-hander threw 19 pitches in that outing, and manager Joe Maddon said Rondon was available Wednesday. But the closer was unable to convert for the second straight game, walking Harper and serving up Ramos' RBI single.
"They're not perfect," Maddon said of his relievers. "They're ready to play, they're ready to pitch. I have nothing to bemoan at all. It's tough on the guys because they feel worse than anybody in the room. If we keep doing that kind of stuff, we'll win a lot of baseball games."
You go, we go: Maddon wanted to give Dexter Fowler a breather, so Fowler got the day off and Zobrist moved into the leadoff spot. The veteran second baseman responded with his second career leadoff home run. It was the Cubs' fourth game-opening homer this season (Fowler has the other three). Zobrist is 5-for-15 in four games as the leadoff man.
In the record books: With the Drew homer, the Nationals have nine pinch-hit homers, a club record. Drew is tied for the team lead with Chris Heisey. More >
"I think everyone picks each other up," Drew said. "We are not just one. We are a whole team. The guys that are not playing, we are trying to pick the guys up. It's funny how that works. You pick somebody up and you get a chance to win a game."
"Neither team wants to lose, both teams were totally invested. It was fabulous. Of course, I wanted to win the game. Regardless, I was very happy to be part of that game today. It tells me a lot about our group and why I feel really, really strongly about our group in the future. That had a lot of strong indicators." -- Maddon
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Rizzo's home run in the ninth was his first career go-ahead homer in the ninth or later with his team trailing. It's the second time in as many games that the Cubs scored the go-ahead run in the ninth.
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
In the sixth inning, it appeared Werth reached second base on a double off Hammel with one out. But Maddon challenged the call, and after review, it was overturned.
Ryan Zimmerman went to second base on a wild pitch in the seventh. Maddon challenged that Zimmerman had been tagged, but after review, it was ruled that the call stands.
Rendon received the first ejection of his career in the 12th after arguing balls and strikes with home-plate umpire Bob Davidson.
"Rendon didn't say anything. [The umpire said] it looked like Rendon was going to throw the bat at him, and he said he wasn't going to take that," Baker said. "I said, 'He wasn't going to throw the bat at you.' [Davidson responded by saying], 'It looked like it.' Maybe he is a mind reader."
WHAT'S NEXT Cubs: After an off-day Thursday, Jake Arrieta will open a six-game homestand at Wrigley Field on Friday against the Pirates. Arrieta posted 20 consecutive wins from last July 25 to May 25 of this year, and after losing to the D-backs, he bounced back for a win in his last outing. He's 8-1 with a 1.58 ERA in 11 career starts against the Pirates. First pitch is scheduled for 1:20 p.m. CT.
Nationals: The Nats head to the West Coast to play a four-game series against the Padres starting Thursday at 10:10 p.m. ET. Right-hander Tanner Roark will take the mound. He's coming off one of his sharpest outings of the season, a seven-inning, scoreless gem against the Phillies. That outing lowered his ERA to 2.93.