By HAL McCOY
The Curse On Dusty Baker continues, following him no matter where he manages. And if you watched Game Five of the National League Division Series Thursday night you have to wonder if he is asking, “What did I ever do to anger the baseball gods?”
His Washington Nationals lost the fifth and deciding game of the ALDS to the Chicago Cubs, 9-8, moving the defending World Series champion Cubs to the National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
And Dusty? He gets to go home to his grape patch in Sacramento, having lost his 10th straight postseason elimination game.
None of the unbelievable occurrences against the Nationals Thursday night was Baker’s fault.
The fifth inning, when the Cubs scored four runs, may have been the most unbelievable string of events in playoff history.
With his team leading, 4-3, Baker appeared to push the right button, pull the right string. He brought in his ace, Max Scherzer to protect that lead.
And Scherzer retired the first two Cubs. Then came an infield hit by Willson Contreras and a bloop, flair single to center field by pinch-hitter Ben Zobrist.
Then anything negative that could happen to Baker and the Nats transpired over the next 15 minutes.
An intentional walk. A strikeout, passed ball and throwing error by catcher Matt Wieters on the same play. A catcher’s interference on Wieters. A hit by pitch to force in a run.
And another run scored in the sixth when left fielder Jayson Werth lost a fly ball in the lights and in a one-run game that was big, big, big.
Then in the eighth, Jose Lobaton singled to put runners on second and first with two outs and the Nationals down, 9-8. Cubs catcher Willson Contreras snapped a throw to first on a pickoff attempt and Loboton was called safe. Cubs manager Joe Maddon asked for a review and it was ruled Lobaton lifed his foot off first base while first baseman Anthony Rizzo still had the tag applied. He was called out, ending the inning.
The Nationals would not get another baserunner. Closer Wade Davis pitched a 1-2-3 ninth, striking out Bryce Harper on a 3-and-2 to end it. Davis pitched the final 2 2/3 innings, his first career save of more than an inning.
Both managers used seven pitchers to cover this wild wild game. The Cubs won despite going 1 for 11 with runners in scoring position and stranded nine. The Nationals were 3 for 10 and left 13 on base.
The Cubs took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first against Washington starter Gio Gonzalez, but Daniel Murphy homered to lead off the second and Trey Taylor crushed a three-run later in the inning to take a 4-1 lead.
In two at bats, Taylor had two home runs and seven RBI. In his last at bat in Game 4 in Wrigley Field he hit a grand slam home run in the eighth inning to push a Nationals lead from 1-0 to 5-0.
The Cubs filled the bases with one out in the third and scored two runs, one on a ground ball and another on a Gonzalez wild pitch, cutting the lead to 4-3.
Then came Max Scherzer and the unreal fifth inning and here is how it unfolded with two outs and nobody on:
—Contreras reached on a slow roller to shortstop for an infield hit and Zobrist lobbed his shallow single to center.
—Addison Russell doubled to the left field corner, scoring both runners and the Cubs took a 5-4 lead.
—Jason Heyward was walked intentionally, the one thing Baker probably wishes he didn’t do. But it seemed to work when Javier Baez struck out.
But the ball eluded catcher Wieters for a passed ball. He retrieved it and threw it into right field for an error and a run to make it 6-4.
—Pinch-hitter Tommy LaStella swung at a pitch and ticked the glove of catcher Wieters, a catcher’s interference that put LaStella on first base, filling the bases.
—Jon Jay was hit by a pitch to force in the seventh run.
The Cubs made it 8-4 when relief pitcher Brandon Kintzler walked Ben Zobrist with two outs. Addison Russell, who drove in four runs, line one to left field and Jayson Werth had it all the way — until the last second when he lost the ball in the lights and it skidded off his glove for another run.
The Nationals had chance after chance and did chip away, but they left the basepaths littered.
In the second, when they scored three runs, they also left two on when Ryan Zimmerman struck out
In the fourth they once again had two on and two outs and once against Zimmerman struck out against Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks. Zimmerman is 0 for 15 for his career against Hendricks.
They scored two runs in the sixth on a wild pitch and Daniel Murphy’s double to cut the lead to 8-6. But they left two on base when Wieters flied out on the first pitch to end the inning.
The Cubs retrieved one run in the seventh on a single by Middletown’s Kyle Schwarber, a single by Jon Jay and Kris Bryant’s fielder’s choice.
Washington ct it to 9-7 in the eighth on Bryce Harper’s sacrifice fly with the bases loaded. That’s when Maddon brought in Wade Davis and he struck out Zimmerman to strand two more runners.
And the Nationals crept to within one in the eighth when Davis walked the first two. After pinch-hitter Adam Lind hit into a double play, Michael A. Taylor singled for a run to make it 9-8.
That’s when Lobaton singled to put the potential tying run on second and the go ahead run on first and he got picked off, Washington’s last hurrah.
Baker’s contract is up, unsigned for next year, but after the tough one-run loss, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said, “Dusty Baker is a Hall of Fame manager. He managed his heart out tonight and did a great job all year. I’m a big Dusty Baker fan.”