CHICAGO - There is no ballpark in America for which changes in weather have a more dramatic effect on the game than Wrigley Field. On cold nights when the wind blows in off Lake Michigan, the Friendly Confines seemingly expand into national park dimensions. But when the temperature heats up and the wind blows out, this becomes a home run hitter's haven.
So when John Lackey threw his first pitch of today's game under mostly sunny skies, 73-degree temperature readings and a nice breeze blowing straight out of the park, you had a hunch what was in store.
Sure enough, the Nationals and Cubs already are engaged into a slugfest, with four combined homers in the first three innings and each starting pitcher working extra hard just to record outs.
Anthony Rendon got things started for the Nats with a solo shot to left in the top of the first, making up for Ben Revere's leadoff strikeout in his first plate appearance since straining his oblique muscle on opening day.
Max Scherzer later helped his own cause with a two-out, RBI single to right that expanded the Nationals' lead to 2-0 and raised the pitcher's batting average to .357 (5-for-14).
But Scherzer's biggest bugaboo from late last season and early this season has come back to haunt him again: The long ball. The Cubs already have homered three times off him through three innings, with Tommy La Stella, Anthony Rizzo and Ben Zobrist each going deep on this warm afternoon.
Rizzo's solo shot in the bottom of the third did include some controversy. First base umpire Clint Fagan immediately ruled the moonshot down the right field line a home run, but Ryan Zimmerman, Daniel Murphy and pretty much the entire Nats dugout immediately argued it was a foul ball.
Turns out the ball hit one of the flags honoring Cubs retired numbers that are attached to the upper edges of the foul pole. Even though it appeared the ball struck the flag on the foul side, umpires in New York couldn't find conclusive video evidence to overturn the initial call, so the homer stood.
Moments later, Zobrist also went deep, this time in conventional fashion, dealing yet another blow to Scherzer. The ace right-hander has now surrendered eight homers in 41 innings this season.
Update: This is getting ugly. Scherzer has now surrendered four homers today, the latest a three-run shot by (who else?) Zobrist, who has two today and three in the last 24 hours. It's 7-2 Cubs after five innings, and all the positive steps Scherzer seemed to take last time out in St. Louis are vanishing into thin air.
Update II: Scherzer is done after five innings. The seven runs allowed are his most since signing with the Nationals. His four home runs surrendered match a career high. Blake Treinen entered for the sixth and proceeded to give up a run of his own, so now the Nats trail 8-2 after six.
Update III: Hold the phone, it's not quite over yet. The Nats scored four runs in the top of the eighth thanks to Jayson Werth's two-run double and Wilson Ramos' two-run homer. They still trail 8-6 and are down to their final three outs, but they've at least given themselves a chance.
Update IV: Game over. Nats lose 8-6. They've dropped the opening two games of this series and now must win tomorrow and Sunday to salvage a four-game split.
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