With one out and pinch-runner Victor Robles on first base in the eighth inning, the Nationals’ Bryce Harper was at the plate against Cubs right-hander Carl Edwards Jr. Never mind that lefty Mike Montgomery was ready in the Cubs bullpen.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon played the percentages. He left the lefty in the bullpen.
Maddon wanted Edwards to face Harper, a left-handed batter, even though a lefty reliever would be a more traditional approach, but this is why Maddon liked the matchup:
Edwards limits left-handed batters to a .119 average, Montgomery .230.
So what happened?
Harper hit a second-deck home run to right field on a 3-1 pitch, tying the game, getting the Nationals going on a five-run eighth inning and giving them a 6-3 win in Game 2 of their National League Division Series at Nationals Park.
“That was the right option,” Maddon said of Edwards. “He was the right man for the job. His numbers against lefties are among the best in baseball. I have all the confidence in the world in him. If that happens again, you are going to see him back out there. He made a bad pitch and the guy (Harper) didn’t miss it.”
The series is tied with Game 3 on Monday in Chicago.
In the Cubs clubhouse after the game, Edwards, face toward his locker, slowly packed his equipment, zipped up the bag and then turned around to answer questions from reporters.
“It was the right pitch, wrong location,” Edwards said. “I didn’t get it down enough. I knew that as soon as it left my hand, that it wasn’t going to go down enough. I was trying to throw a curveball in the dirt.”
The eighth inning also included a three-run home run by Ryan Zimmerman on a 0-1 pitch, completing a five-run rally. The home run came against Montgomery.
“When he hit it, I didn’t know if it was gone or not, but I knew the ball was carrying,’’ Montgomery said.
For seven innings, it looked as if the Cubs were going home with a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series. Starter Jon Lester, making his 20th postseason start, was in control. Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo delivered big hits, just as they did in the Cubs’ first-game win, to give the Cubs a 3-1 lead.
The Nationals had two hits through the first six innings and went down 1-2-3 in the seventh against reliever Pedro Strop.
Anthony Rendon made a critical error in Game 1, but he made up for it in the first inning against the lefty Lester. Rendon hit a home run to right field to give the Nationals a 1-0 lead in the first inning - their first run and lead of the series.
After that, Lester retired 10 consecutive batters until he ran into trouble in the fifth inning.
The Nationals’ fifth started with Zimmerman’s single to center. Then, after two flyouts, Lester walked Michael A. Taylor and pinch-hitter Howie Kendrick to load the bases and electrify Nationals Park.
But Lester struck out Trea Turner on a 3-2 pitch to end the rally.
The Cubs tried to find the silver lining in losing a chance to be up 2-0.
“We know we can lose a game,’’ Bryant said. “We know we can come back. We came back from being 5 1/2 down in the division. We aren’t going to pout or get down. We all have a good head on our shoulders.”
Maddon said: “There’s an upside and a downside. We played well for two days. You are happy leaving 1-1 before the series began, but you’d like to be leaving 2-0 leading in the eighth inning. However, that’s not reality.”
The Cubs learned reality the hard way.