CHICAGO - A game removed from taking the blame for not catching the Cubs’ game-winning bloop hit, Michael A. Taylor stepped to the plate in the eighth inning Wednesday night with rain falling, wind blowing and the bases loaded.
With the elements stifling fly balls at Wrigley Field, the only run of the game was the Nats’ unearned run in the third inning. After Daniel Murphy’s single off Jon Lester, who was pitching in relief, Cubs manager Joe Maddon opted to bring in Carl Edwards Jr., who issued back-to-back walks to Anthony Rendon and Matt Wieters.
After Edwards threw a ball to Taylor, Maddon decided he had seen enough and opted to bring in closer Wade Davis.
“After they brought in Davis, I tried to just start the at-bat over,” Taylor said. “Just go up there like I’m starting against Davis. Go through my routine, things like that.”
Taylor fouled off a pitch from Davis before getting his pitch to hit, a 92-mph fastball that he absolutely crushed, nullifying the wind and getting just enough to for a grand slam that landed in the basket in right field.
“I didn’t think you could hit a ball to right field as a right-handed hitter and get it out,” left fielder Jayson Werth said. “Mikey proved me wrong. That was awesome, that was a big hit for Mikey, and couldn’t happen to a better guy.”
Taylor’s homer was the first postseason grand slam in franchise history, but success with runners in scoring position is nothing unusual for the 26-year old center fielder. Over the 2017 season, with the sacks full, Taylor is slashing .375/.444/.750 with a home run. However, the magnitude of this grand slam in a win-or-go-home game in the postseason was a different breed.
“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.”
The grand slam gave the Nationals a 5-0 lead that would hold, forcing a decisive National League Division Series Game 5 in D.C. on Thursday night.
“He’s a great kid and works hard,” Werth said of Taylor. “Those are the types of things you like to see for everybody, especially for Mikey. ... To leave the way he did, it just shows you how hard and how far he hit that ball.
“On a different day, with a different wind, I would have liked to see how far that ball really would have went.”
With the rainy, cold conditions during game, fly balls were dying in the outfield. Earlier, in the second inning, Cubs second baseman Addison Russell tagged a ball that was hauled in on the warning track in left field, which Nats manager Dusty Baker admitted was “the best ball hit tonight.”
“The elements are on our side tonight. ... I think the stadium takes away more homers than it gives.” Baker said. “And tonight, it gave us one.”
Added Cubs skipper Joe Maddon: “Taylor, that ball had to be absolutely crushed. That’s into a gale, high, opposite field, all those factors are involved. Give him - that surprised all of us, obviously. ... But give Taylor credit because you have to scald that ball to get it out.”
With one swing of the bat, Taylor provided the crucial insurance runs needed to bring the series back to D.C. Despite the momentum swing, the Nats will still be looking for more offense in the win-or-go-home game. They have scored runs in just five innings (including an unearned run tonight) over the first four games, with all but two runs coming via the longball.
On an day in which all eyes were on starter Stephen Strasburg, who battled flu-like symptoms to twirl a gem against the Cubs, it was Taylor who provided the great moment that silenced the crowd at Wrigley Field.
“Pretty cool, great moment for us,” Werth said, “and we get to go back home and play more baseball.”