They have fun, they play hard and they play smart. As the Wrigley Field crowd roared, the cameras zoomed in on his face.
And when the normally stoic Ryan Zimmerman clobbered a three-run homer in the same inning, securing a 6-3 victory over the Chicago Cubs in Game 2 of their National League division series, he screamed and waved his arms.
Now the Cubs try to close out the series Tuesday with Jake Arrieta on the mound. He was 16-6 with a 2.51 ERA in 31 starts this season. With two outs in the sixth inning, Quintana had kept the Nats off the board and the Cubs were almost into the seventh inning with the game mercifully still tied.
Their best player, Kris Bryant, is 25 years old, makes $1.05 million a year (peanuts in MLB) and won't be a free agent until 2022. Rizzo promptly got his fifth RBI of the series but caught rounding first when he slipped. That may have cut into Ray's effectiveness in Game 2, when Ray allowed four runs in four and a third.
"Anthony, we've never seen him do that", manager Dusty Baker said.
Should have stuck with Scherzer. By the time he took the mound in the sixth, he had already established a new playoff single-game franchise record for strikeouts (eight of his 10). That's not luck or coincidence, even if their Game 3 win seemed to have that kind of flavor. One mistake can lead to a loss. Addison Russell flied to rightcenter.
There is nothing more frustrating on earth than watching a lineup featuring Trea Turner, Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, Daniel Murphy, and Ryan Zimmerman get completely blanked by a guy who throws an 87 miles per hour fastball.
Then the Cubs would strike in the eighth. He isn't the type to shuffle lineups for the sake of it, and there's no hot bat to move up in the order anyway.
The Cubs zeroed in when Rendon gloved a routine bouncer down the third-base line in the sixth. In the end, the right decisions sometimes don't come off and the wrong ones come up trumps (Ned Yost has a World Series ring, for God's sake). And while the bullpen will be emptied at the first sign of trouble, don't expect the conservative Baker to start throwing out starters in the middle innings-perhaps Game 2 starter Gio Gonzalez in an emergency, but that's it.
Scherzer hasn't pitched since September 30 when he left his final regular-season start with what he referred to at the time as a "small tweak" in his right hamstring.
If Monday's battle for momentum in the best-of-five series wasn't tantalizing enough, there were also lingering questions about Scherzer's readiness and how Cubs left-hander Jose Quintana - who came over from the cross-town White Sox in mid-July - would handle his first appearance in the playoff spotlight. Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer each pitched gems, but received no run support.
But for all the maneuvering, it was chance that sent the Cubs to a 2-1 victory that shoved the Nationals to the verge of another first-round exit from the postseason. Scherzer is battling a hamstring issue, which is why he is starting game three and did not start game one. That doesn't even factor in the cost of potentially rushing Scherzer back instead of giving him a couple of extra days to heal his hammy.
Rizzo made it 2-0 when he lined another single to right field past Harper's diving attempt.
Scherzer struck out, Turner popped out.
"He deserved to win", Nats right fielder Bryce Harper said.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon arrived to the clubhouse wearing a vintage '68 Joe Namath jersey, but says it's too early to make predictions. For the series, Daniel Murphy, Anthony Rendon and Jayson Werth all are hitting.100 or less.
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