Capitol Thrill: Cubs continue success facing elimination under Joe Maddon

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 13: The Chicago Cubs celebrate defeating the Washington Nationals in game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park on October 13, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON D.C. – Really? No, really?

There is no way that anything could have topped the excitement, drama, ups, down, and relative insanity that was the seventh game of the 2016 World Series. Leading off with a homer, grabbing a five run lead, losing said lead, regroup in a rain delay, then go to extra innings and win by a run?

Oh, and the Cubs won the title for the first time since the Teddy Roosevelt days. Surely nothing could beat that game, right?

Not necessarily. Some might say that statement is wrong – and somehow they’ve would have an argument.

Eleven months and ten days later, Joe Maddon’s Cubs team put on yet another mind scrambling display of baseball over four hours that once again tested the nerve of their rooters.

“It was bizarro world, there’s no question about it,” is how Maddon described the Cubs’ Game 5 win over the Nationals in Washington on Thursday night. “But it happens; it happens this time of the year. You have to be, again, all hands on deck. You have to be prepared to do things you normally don’t do.”

Yet the Cubs did two things that have become staples of this era: The made things interesting , even if a little too much, and they’ve won when the pressure was on.

Thursday represented the sixth time the Cubs have faced elimination from a playoff series in the Maddon era and now they’ve won five of them. That included the 2015 one-game NL Wild Card win over the Pirates along with Games 5, 6, & 7 of the World Series in 2016, with the only loss coming in Game 4 of the 2015 NLCS to the Mets.

In the division era prior, the Cubs were 1-5 in elimination game with their only win, oddly enough, coming in a Game 5 triumph over Atlanta in the 2003 NLDS. But that win that night was easy – which is hardly the staple for this Cubs team.

“I would say that this is the most fun I’ve had playing in a baseball game, and it ranks right up there with winning the World Series; being down 3-1 in the World Series,” said Russell – and it’s not a stretch.

After taking a lead in the first inning, they watch Kyle Hendricks uncharacteristically cough it up on a pair of second-inning homers that made it 4-1. Yet the Cubs would then rip off seven unanswered runs – five of those coming off Max Scherzer who was unhittable three days earlier and every one of those with two outs.

The Nationals got two runs back but the  Cubs added one in the 7th, which was started off by a Kyle Schwarber single that was hit so hard it impaled the wall. He would score on a ground out from Kris Bryant, one of two Cubs’ RBIs on the night that came on a fielder’s choice. On this night, a run was scored on a wild pitch and a dropped third strike, too.

Five Cubs pitchers were needed to complete 2 2/3 innings between Hendricks’ exit after four and the early entry of Wade Davis into the game. He struggled in the 8th but was bailed out by a double play and a Willson Contreras pickoff of Jose Lobaton.

Breathe. Then comes the ninth.

Davis, facing the heart of the order, got Trea Turned to fly to left and Jason Werth to strikeout, leaving a one-on-one showdown with Bryce Harper. After six pitches, the Cubs closer ended the epic with a swinging strikeout that kicked off yet another celebration for the north siders.

“Getting through that lineup, it just has such a good feeling to it,” said Davis calmly of that last strikeout as the chaos of a champagne, beer-soaked celebration celebration continued around him.

Recent history would show that entertaining Cubs games packed with heartache are common place. This series was particularly tight, with the winning team taking the lead in the eighth inning twice. Representative of a World Series hungover 2017 regular season, the Cubs were resilient when it counted even if not as dominant as last season.

“It was just another game to us,” said third baseman Kris Bryant. “No one said anything different, nobody tried anything different. It was just a matter of playing our game and that’s the way to do it.”

As long as they keep winning – and the heart keeps beating – that will work just fine.