WASHINGTON -- The 42,000 fans at Nationals Park on Wednesday got a preview of October baseball in June, and the Cubs took notes in case they meet the pesky Nationals again.
Jayson Werth delivered a walk-off single with two outs in the 12th to lift the Nationals to a 5-4 victory over the Cubs, who won the season series, 5-2. This was a seesaw game, with the Cubs taking a 3-2 lead in the ninth on Anthony Rizzo's two-run homer, and then jumping ahead, 4-3, in the 12th on Addison Russell's one-out RBI single.
"That's the type of game you see in October," Rizzo said.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon agreed.
"Neither team wants to lose, both teams are totally invested -- it was fabulous," Maddon said. "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."
Besides Rizzo and Russell, starter Jason Hammel was solid, giving up one run over seven innings.
"That might be the best I've seen him," Maddon said. "I keep talking about fastball command, and he had it."
But Pedro Strop left a fastball up to pinch-hitter Stephen Drew in the eighth, and he launched a solo homer to go ahead, 2-1. Hector Rondon blew his second save opportunity in as many games when he hung a slider to Wilson Ramos in the ninth, resulting in a game-tying RBI single.
"They're not perfect," Maddon said of the 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."
Rondon was more upset about walking Bryce Harper to lead off the ninth. The Cubs' closer didn't quite agree with some of home-plate umpire Bob Davidson's calls, especially a 2-2 fastball that Rondon thought was a strike.
"I tried to make really good pitches, and I think I did with Harper," Rondon said. "I know we're human, but I know the umpire, he missed that call."
Maddon couldn't tell from his vantage point in the dugout. What he did see was the young Cubs taking huge strides in prepping for the postseason. Another plus was that they kept Harper in check. He finished 2-for-15 with no home runs and one RBI in the seven games.
"It was a hard-played series on both sides -- maybe an October preview," Hammel said. "They're the two best teams in baseball going at it, exchanging punches. It was exciting."
Maybe they'll meet again?
"It felt like a playoff game," Rondon said. "It's good for us to get that mentality, especially against those guys. We know later in the season, when we're there, we have to figure out how to win against those guys. ... Next time we see those guys in the playoffs, we'll try to beat those guys."
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.