No Washington, D.C., sports franchise has made it to a championship round since the Capitals played in the Stanley Cup finals in 1998, and that record was left unsullied Thursday night when the Washington Nationals lost to the Chicago Cubs in Game 5 of the National League Division Series. The Cubs' 9-8 win sends them to Los Angeles to face the Dodgers, starting Saturday night, in the National League Championship Series. The Cubs, defending World Series champs, took the lead after a disastrous fifth inning for the Nats.
"In breaking down this particular evening — when the Nationals once held a three-run lead — consider the simplicity of this," writes a despondent Barry Svrluga in The Washington Post: "The Nationals entered the fifth inning with a 4-3 advantage and handed the ball to Max Scherzer, who might well win his third Cy Young Award this year as his league's best pitcher. When Scherzer left the mound at the end of that frame, the Nats trailed 7-4." Scherzer struck out the first two batters, "only to see the frame devolve into a barrage of two-strike hits and sheer ineptitude from the Nationals," USA Today explains. "It turned into a sloppy battle of attrition from there, with equal displays of dismal relief pitching and situational execution on both sides."
In the American League Championship Series, the New York Yankees are facing off against the Houston Astros. Peter Weber
With a nail-biting 10th inning 3-2 win over the Kansas City Royals at Cleveland's Progressive Park, the Cleveland Indians extended their late-season winning streak to 22 games, passing the 1935 Chicago Cubs and moving to within four games of the 1916 New York Giants, whose major league record 26-game winning streak has the asterisk of a game that was ruled a tie due to weather. Cleveland was down to their last pitch in the bottom of the ninth inning when shortstop Francisco Lindor hit in an RBI double to tie the score at 2-2. Jose Ramirez hit to right field off Kansas City pitcher Brandon Mauer (2-2) then slid into second base to kick off the bottom of the 10th, and after a walk to Edwin Encarnacion, Jay Bruce hit an RBI double to score Ramirez and win the game.
— Glenn Moore (@GlennMooreCLE) September 15, 2017
The Boston Red Sox finally won Tuesday night's game at Fenway Park against the Toronto Blue Jays early Wednesday, when Hanley Ramirez batted in Mookie Betts in the bottom of the 19th inning. The final score was 3-2. About 700 fans stayed to watch all six hours of the game, the longest in Major League Baseball since the Cleveland Indians beat the Blue Jays in 19 innings in 2016. It was also the second-longest game at Fenway, which opened in 1912, The Associated Press reports, following only a 20-inning marathon in 1981 that had to be broken into two parts due to American League curfew rules.
Presumably, the Red Sox weren't illicitly stealing the Toronto catcher's pitch signals using an Apple Watch, a practice they reportedly copped to after the New York Yankees caught them in the act two weeks ago. The Red Sox lead in the American League East and will almost certainly make it to the playoffs. Tuesday night's win ended a three-game losing streak. Peter Weber
One of the peculiarities of baseball is that in some of the most memorable games, very little happens. So it was in Pittsburgh on Wednesday night. Dodgers left-hander Rich Hill pitched eight perfect innings, until Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer got on base on an error in the bottom of the ninth. Hill still had a no-hitter when the 0-0 game went into extra innings, and then Josh Harrison stepped up to plate in the bottom of the 10th.
An incredible way to lose a no-hitter for Rich Hill. Josh Harrison, walk it off pic.twitter.com/Fds5GlirhK
— Dugout Nation (@DugoutNation) August 24, 2017
Harrison's leadoff homer ended the game and Hill's (9-5) no-hitter, giving Pittsburgh the win and Hill the loss.
After 8 innings: Perfect game
After 9 innings: No-hitter
After 10 innings: A loss
Life comes at you fast.
— YourSports (@YourSports) August 24, 2017
According to ESPN's statisticians, Hill still walked away with a record of sorts, albeit one he probably didn't want.
Rich Hill is the first pitcher in the last 100 seasons to throw at least 9 innings, allow 1 or fewer hits with no walks, and get a loss.
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) August 24, 2017
The last perfect game — where a pitcher doesn't allow any runner to reach base — in the major leagues was in 2012, when Seattle's Felix Hernandez shut down Tampa Bay. Los Angeles could have retired Hill after nine innings, but according to The Associated Press, "to get official credit for a no-hitter under Major League Baseball rules, a pitcher must complete the game — going nine innings isn't enough if it goes into extras." Still, cold comfort though it may be, Hill isn't alone in coming close and losing it all, AP notes: "Back in 1959, a Pirates pitcher had perhaps the most famous near-miss of all when Harvey Haddix lost his perfect game and the game itself in the 13th at Milwaukee." Peter Weber
In the eighth inning of Monday's game between the Washington Nationals and San Francisco Giants at San Francisco's AT&T Park, Giants pitcher Hunter Strickland slammed a 98-mph fastball into Bryce Harper's hip, in their first matchup since Harper smacked two home runs off of Strickland in the 2014 MLB playoffs. Harper, and almost everyone else watching, viewed the hit as intentional.
"Strickland hit Harper so hard the ball flew into the air and landed halfway up the first base line, so flush that one could not mistake intent, though of course the perpetrators in these cases rarely admit that they had it planned," writes Chelsea Janes at the Nats' hometown paper, The Washington Post. Harper charged Strickland, throwing his helmet and then throwing punches. "In that situation," Harper said after the game, "you see red."
The Bryce Harper vs. Hunter Strickland History pic.twitter.com/2gG9rsFKsM
— EO (@LearnTrainWin) May 29, 2017
And in slow-motion:
Slow motion close up pic.twitter.com/TZGWLWuoAa
— Barno (@DCBarno) May 29, 2017
It isn't clear why Strickland would hold a grudge against Harper for three years, or what perceived injury Harper caused him, especially when the Giants went on to win the 2014 World Series. Strickland denied any retaliatory intent, saying his goal was simply "to go inside." After the punches started flying, "it took four of his own teammates to carry him off the field, one grabbing his leg to render him immobile, removing him from the fray like one might a petulant child," the Post's Janes said. The Nats won the game, 3-0. Peter Weber
On Thursday, the Baseball Writers Association of America named Chicago Cubs slugger Kris Bryant the National League's most valuable player and bestowed MVP honors for the American League on Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels. This was the second MVP award for Trout, whose team did not do well in 2016. He also won the award in 2014, and came in second in 2012, 2013, and 2015. Bryant's team won the World Series, and Bryant — who hit .292 and swatted 39 home runs this season — was a big reason why. He was the first choice of 29 of 30 of the baseball writers who decide on the award; Trout was selected by 19 of the writers. Peter Weber
The Chicago Cubs pulled ahead of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series on Thursday night, 3-2, beating the Dodgers 8-4 in Los Angeles. The Cubs scored in the first inning, notched two more runs in the sixth, then pounded in five in the eighth inning. The Dodgers scored a third and fourth run in the bottom of the ninth off a single by Ross Stripling and a sacrifice fly by Andrew Toles, but Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman held them to two runs, ending the game with a groundout by Justin Turner. The Cubs trounced the Dodgers on Wednesday, 10-2, and have outscored them 18-6 since losing Game 3 earlier in the week. The NLCS returns to Chicago on Saturday, where Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw will try to help force a Game 7. The winner of the series faces the Cleveland Indians in the World Series. Peter Weber
While Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were facing off for their final debate on Wednesday night, the Chicago Cubs were facing down the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series. The Cubs won, 10-2, evening up the NLCS to 2 games apiece. Chicago took the lead with four runs in the 4th inning, capped by a two-run homer from Addison Russell. In the 5th inning, Anthony Rizzo put another three runs on the board with a home run using a bat borrowed from Matt Szczur. "I know Szczur's bat has a lot of hits in it," Rizzo said afterward. The runs in the fourth broke a 21-inning dry spell for the Cubs, and guarantee at least a Game 6 back in Chicago.
Democratic political strategist and Cubs fan David Axelrod found a way to tie the two contests together Wednesday night, complete with a dig at Trump:
— David Axelrod (@davidaxelrod) October 20, 2016
The winner of the NLCS will play the Cleveland Indians, who secured their World Series spot with a win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday. Peter Weber