Nationals Send Series to Game 5; Yankees Dethrone Indians

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Published on October 12 2017 6:13 am
Last Updated on October 12 2017 6:13 am

By ESPN

Stephen Strasburg gave Washington everything he had, and it was more than enough.

So much for all those questions about heart and character.

Strasburg shook off an illness and pitched seven dominant innings, Michael A. Taylor hit a late grand slam and the Nationals beat the Chicago Cubs 5-0 on Wednesday to send their NL Division Series to a decisive Game 5.

"I just focused on one pitch at a time and going as long as I could," Strasburg said.

Moments after Sean Doolittle closed out Strasburg's first career playoff win, the focus shifted to the final game of the series in Washington on 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.

Washington manager Dusty Baker was non-committal when asked about his starter, with Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark the most likely candidates.

"You know, whoever it is, I hope they pitch like Stras did today," Baker said.

No kidding.

Strasburg got sick after his terrific performance in the playoff opener on Friday, and the Nationals had planned to go with 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 Baker he wanted the ball. That was all Baker needed to hear.

"I could see the focus and determination in his eyes, you know what I mean, when he came in the office and we talked to him," the manager said. "You know, he's a man of few words, but the words he said, you know, gave us every indication that he was ready."

Standing tall as clouds of mist rolled through Wrigley Field, Strasburg struck out 12 , allowed three hits and walked two. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 draft has 22 Ks in 14 innings in the series, allowing only a pair of unearned runs in the sixth in the opener.

"I like to think that any game that I pitch is the most important game," Strasburg said. "That's just how I tried to go into Game 4, and now we get a chance for a Game 5."

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.

"We just have to be offensively a little bit better tomorrow," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "They have been really good. We have been really good. Listen, they got a grand slam. Otherwise, it's kind of like the same game both sides."

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 Wade 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.

"I was kind of numb, just running around the bases," Taylor said. "Honestly, I didn't think it was going to get out the way the wind was blowing in."

Ryan Madson worked the eighth and 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.

"Once you get out there, that stuff doesn't really matter," Taylor said. "What we did last year doesn't help or hurt us once we're in between the lines. We'll just go out there and play our game."

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.

Zimmerman 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.

"It's two heavyweights going at it," Lester said. "We're going to the last round. We're going to figure it out. We've got Game 5 so it should be exciting TV. It should be exciting in our clubhouse."

 

Yankees 2, Indians 0

These young Yankees were unshaken, resilient and as tough as the city they represent.

The baby Bronx Bombers have grown up fast.

Didi Gregorius, following in the October footprints left by Derek Jeter, homered twice off Corey Kluber as New York beat the Cleveland Indians 5-2 in Game 5 on Wednesday night to complete its comeback from a 2-0 deficit in the Division Series and dethrone the AL champions.

The bend-but-don't-break Yankees, way ahead of schedule, staved off elimination for the fourth time in this postseason and advanced to play the Houston Astros in the AL Championship Series starting Friday night at Minute Maid Park.

With a blend of young stars and older veterans coming up big, the Yankees rocked Cleveland and bailed out manager Joe Girardi, who failed to challenge a key call in a Game 2 loss that threatened to sabotage New York's season.

"These guys had my back and they fought and fought," Girardi said. "They beat a really good team. What those guys did for me, I'll never forget it. "

The Yankees went 2-5 against the AL West champion Astros, led by 5-foot-6 dynamo and MVP candidate Jose Altuve. But none of that matters now to this group of New Yorkers.

After winning twice at home, and after Girardi said he "screwed up" and felt horrible about it, the Yankees -- with little offensive help from rookie star Aaron Judge -- came into Progressive Field and finished off the Indians, who won 102 games during the regular season, ripped off a historic 22-game winning streak and were favored to get back to the World Series after losing in seven games a year ago to the Chicago Cubs.

Cleveland's Series drought turns 70 next year -- baseball's longest dry spell.

"Nobody wanted the season to be over," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "It doesn't wind down, it comes to a crashing halt. It's disappointing. We felt good about ourselves. We made it harder to win, especially in the last two games."

The Indians closed to 3-2 in the fifth against starter CC Sabathia before David Robertson pitched 2 2/3 hitless innings for the win. Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman, who faced Cleveland in last year's spine-tingling World Series and signed an $86 million free agent contract in December, worked two innings for the save.

Chapman went to the mound with a three-run lead in the ninth after Brett Gardner battled Cody Allen for 12 pitches before hitting an RBI single, with New York's fifth run scoring when Todd Frazier raced home on right fielder Jay Bruce's throwing error.

Gardner's gritty at-bat was symbolic of these Yankees. They wouldn't give in.

"We can win a lot of different ways," Gardner said.

When Austin Jackson was called out on strikes to end it, the Yankees rushed to the mound to celebrate with a wide-eyed Chapman. An elated Girardi hugged his coaches.

On Friday, Girardi was crestfallen, afraid he had wrecked the season.

"After Game 2, Joe came up to me in this same spot (outside the manager's office) and said, `Hey, man. I'm sorry," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. "I told him, `We just have to keep battling. Nothing is over yet.' No one on the plane home thought it was over at all."

The Yankees became the 10th team to overcome a 2-0 deficit to win a best-of-five playoff series. New York also did it in 2001, rallying to beat Oakland -- a series remembered for Jeter's backhand flip to home plate.

Gregorius, who took over at shortstop following Jeter's retirement after the 2014 season, hit a solo homer in the first off Kluber and added a two-run shot in the third off Cleveland's ace, who didn't look like himself during either start in this series.

One win shy of a Series title last year, the Indians had only one goal in mind in 2017.

They came up short again, and have now lost six consecutive games with a chance to clinch a postseason series. The skid dates to last year's World Series, when they squandered a 3-1 lead to the Cubs.

Cleveland is the first team in history to blow a two-game series lead in consecutive postseasons.

Everything was set up for the Indians: Kluber on the mound, Game 5 at home, sensational setup man Andrew Miller rested.

The Yankees, though, wouldn't be denied. They battled back from a 3-0 deficit in the first inning of their wild-card game against Minnesota and then had to overcome a crushing loss in Game 2, when Girardi's decisions led to him being booed at Yankee Stadium.

But these Yankees displayed pinstriped pride and pulled Girardi off the hook.

"I had a hole in my heart for about five or six days," he said.

It's healed now.


Thursday, October 12

Chicago Cubs at Washington, 7:08 p.m.

NLDS -- Game 5


Friday, October 13

No games scheduled