CHICAGO — Stephen Strasburg shook off an illness and all doubts about his mettle while pitching seven dominant innings, Michael A. Taylor hit a late grand slam and the Washington Nationals beat the Chicago Cubs 5-0 on Wednesday to send their NL Division Series to a decisive Game 5.
The teams packed up at Wrigley Field and headed back to Washington for Game 5 Thursday night. Kyle Hendricks starts for the World Series champion Cubs after throwing seven sharp innings in a 3-0 victory over Strasburg in Game 1. Gio Gonzalez is the likely starter for the Nationals, with Max Scherzer lurking in the bullpen.
Strasburg got sick after his terrific performance in the playoff opener on Friday, and the Nationals had planned to go with Tanner Roark even after a persistent rain washed out Game 4 on Tuesday. That led to a flurry of comments and criticism about whether the ace had the right stuff to pitch in big moments.
But Strasburg felt better when he woke up Wednesday and told manager Dusty Baker he wanted the ball with Washington’s season on the line.
That was all Baker needed to hear.
Standing tall as clouds of mist rolled through the old ballpark, Strasburg struck out 12, allowed three hits and walked two in his first career postseason win. He pitched well enough to win Game 1, too, giving up three hits and fanning 10 in seven innings, but a pair of unearned runs saddled him with the loss.
This time, another costly error for Chicago brought home Washington’s first run, and Taylor broke it open with a grand slam off Wade Davis in the eighth.
Chicago wasted a gutsy performance from Jake Arrieta and solid relief by Game 2 starter Jon Lester in its first home playoff loss since Game 4 of the World Series last year. NL MVP Kris Bryant struck out four times, and the defending champs went 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position.
Arrieta walked five in four innings in his return from a hamstring injury, but limited Washington to an unearned run and two hits. Lester got the Cubs all the way to the eighth, picking off Ryan Zimmerman before departing after Daniel Murphy’s two-out single.
But Chicago’s bullpen faltered from there. Carl Edwards Jr. walked two in a row and threw ball one to Taylor before he was replaced by Davis. Taylor then drove a 1-1 pitch into the basket overhanging the brick wall in right field for his first career homer in the playoffs.
Ryan Madson worked the eighth and Sean Doolittle finished the three-hitter, giving the NL East champions a chance to avenge years of playoff heartache.
Washington also made it to the playoffs in 2012, 2014 and 2016 and fell in the first round each time, including five-game losses to St. Louis in 2012 and Los Angeles last season.
The Nationals jumped in front in the third, taking advantage of a Chicago error for the second straight game. Trea Turner doubled with one out for his first hit of the series and advanced on a wild pitch. Jayson Werth struck out looking before Arrieta walked Bryce Harper, putting runners on the corners.
Ryan Zimmerman, who leads the Nationals with four RBIs, followed with a slow roller to shortstop. Addison Russell charged the ball, but he couldn’t bring it in.
It was Chicago’s sixth error of the series, and reliever Brian Duensing picked up another one on an errant throw in the ninth. Left fielder Kyle Schwarber committed two errors on one play in Game 3, setting up Washington’s only run in a 2-1 loss.