CHICAGO - To beat the Cubs right now, you have to play perfect baseball. The Nationals played very good baseball this afternoon, but they were far from perfect. And so they remain winless against baseball's best team so far in 2016.
The Cubs battled their way to score three times in the sixth and then twice more in the seventh, taking advantage of some near-misses by the Nationals defense to emerge with a 8-5 victory on a long day at Wrigley Field.
Addison Russell's bases-loaded two-run double down the right field line in the bottom of the seventh proved, the difference, turning a tie game into a two-run lead when Bryce Harper couldn't make a difficult running catch a few feet from the wall.
The Nationals challenged the call, believing the ball landed barely foul, but officials in New York confirmed the initial ruling, giving Russell a key extra-base hit at a critical point in a game that featured plenty of twists and turns.
The Cubs had taken a 5-4 lead one inning earlier on Ryan Kalish's soft liner just past a lunging Danny Espinosa at shortstop, another near-miss that brought home two of the five runs that wound up getting charged to starter Gio Gonzalez.
Gonzalez didn't help his cause at the plate, either, getting down a poor squeeze bunt in the top of the sixth and then getting thrown out trying to make it all the way to second base after the Cubs tagged out Stephen Drew in a rundown.
Those little miscues added up to a frustrating loss at day's end, the Nationals' third straight here this weekend. They'll need to somehow beat reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta in Sunday's series finale to avoid a four-game sweep and a 5-5 record on a road trip that began with four straight wins in St. Louis and Kansas City.
On a cold afternoon with the wind blowing in, both teams figured they'd need to manufacture some offense early. The Nationals' first three runs came with assistance from two sacrifice bunts, a sacrifice fly and a pair of two-out RBI singles.
The Cubs, though, managed to thump their way to a couple of runs, getting an RBI triple from Dexter Fowler and a solo homer from Kris Bryant that cut straight through the wind and landed in the left field bleachers.
Kalish's soft liner past Espinosa gave Chicago the lead in the bottom of the sixth, but the Nationals bounced back in the top of the seventh to tie it when Ryan Zimmerman legged out a potential 5-4-3 double play, allowing Ben Revere to score and make it a 5-5 game.
The Nationals couldn't finish the job after that, though, and now are in danger of seeing a once uplifting road trip end in particularly disappointing fashion.
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