Nats bullpen finishes off Cubs in Game 2 with masterful four innings

It takes the offense, pitching and defense to win a playoff game. In Game 1 of the National League Division Series, the Nationals got the starting pitching they needed, but the offense and defense didn’t have a great game in a 3-0 loss to the Cubs.

In Game 2, Nats starter Gio Gonzalez allowed three runs in five innings of work. In order for the club to have a chance to come back, they needed the bullpen to step up. Five hurlers did just that, never allowing the Cubs a chance to add on runs.

Home runs by Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman keyed the comeback, and the Nats won 6-3 to even the NLDS at a game apiece. The series shifts to Chicago for Game 3 on Monday and Game 4 on Tuesday.

The Nationals bullpen weaved four scoreless innings, allowing three hits, one walk and striking out two.

Shortstop Trea Turner said the bullpen, which was retooled in late July with the additions of Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle, has had a major impact on the Nationals’ success.

“Yeah, it’s huge. They’ve been doing that for awhile now,” Turner said. “I think that’s what plays in the postseason is those bullpens. You’ve seen it the last two or three years. Bullpens come in and shut it down and keep the game where it’s at. I think that’s huge. Those guys have been lights out for us.”

The Nationals have had bullpen suffer awful fates late in deciding postseason games from 2012, 2014 and 2016. Doolittle, who secured the save in Game 2 with a scoreless ninth, never likes to compare this team with Nats playoff clubs that couldn’t finish off games in the past.

“I can’t speak to what’s gone on before I got here in July, years ago or the beginning of this season,” Doolittle explained. “All I know is this group for everything they’ve been through we came together as a unit at the right time and then came into the playoffs feeling really good about how we were throwing the ball as a group, about how we were able to pick each other up.

“How if somebody gets into a little bit of mess, you have Oliver (Pérez), you have Matt (Albers) who can come in and get some big outs. It really gives you confidence when you know that you got so many guys with so much experience that can help you get the job done.”

matt-albers-white-celebrate.jpgSpeaking of Pérez and Albers, both played key roles in the Game 2 victory.

Albers notched four outs after Gonzalez had finished five frames.

“Just trying to get outs right there,” Albers said. “Trying to hopefully get a quick inning. I was able to get a couple of quick outs and then a walk and a third out. Trying to get us back in there. I was like, all right, man, if we can get us back in the dugout, just quickly get out of it, don’t give up any more runs, that’s really going to help our offense.”

Pérez came through in the eighth. With a man on and one away, he had to take on Anthony Rizzo, who had hit a two-run homer earlier in the game that gave the Cubs a 3-1 lead.

Pérez induced a 6-3 double play that ended the eighth and the sellout crowd of 43,860 roared its approval.

“I know what kind of hitter Rizzo is,” Pérez said. “He’s been doing great in these two games. Normally, you have to be careful in thinking about every pitch because one mistake, he can change the game. That’s why we have to think about pitch by pitch and try to leave the ball down because he got a lot of pop. You have to be careful and don’t hang it.”

But what Pérez didn’t talk about was how much work he put in during Game 1 and never was called to the mound. But Doolittle and Albers noticed.

“I think what people might not be aware of is (Pérez) warmed up three times last night and got fully ready to go and didn’t end up getting into the game and he got fully warmed up at least one time before he came into the game today,” Doolittle said. “So having to be kind of on-call at all times and then the times you are coming in are pretty high-leverage situations. You got guys on base, you’re facing Rizzo, one of their best hitters.

“It’s incredibly impressive. But after all the adjustments and everything he’s been through in his career, he’s an unbelievable teammate, so it’s awesome to see him get it done.”

“That was huge,” Albers said. “Yesterday, he warmed up three different times and today he’s warming up. It’s a tough spot. I kind of been a little bit of that matchup, not like he has. You got to stay sharp. You want to get ready. When you go in you got to get big outs. Oliver’s a pro. He’s done that for a long time in his career. So we have a lot of faith in him coming in and getting the big outs.”

Sammy Solís got two outs to end the seventh.

“You kind of see Sammy kind of pitching like the pitcher he is the last month and a half of the season - lefty throwing 96 mph, tough,” Albers noted.

Madson came in for the eighth and recorded one out and then allowed a single to Kris Bryant. That paved the way for Pérez’s double play to send it to the ninth.

In the final inning, after the Nats had taken a 6-3 lead with five runs in the eighth, Doolittle struck out Willson Contreras. He allowed a single to Addison Russell, but finished off the Cubs with a 5-4-3 double play. The crowd rose to a standing ovation with thunderous applause. Doolittle savored the moment on the mound as the Nats evened the series.

“It was awesome,” Doolittle said. “The crowd here tonight has been unbelievable. The atmosphere was absolutely electric. The ‘Doo’ chant, man, that gets me fired up every time I come running out of that bullpen. To hear the roar of the crowd after getting the third out it was really special, it was awesome.”

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