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updated: 10/12/2017 6:01 AM

Rozner: Strasburg saves the Nationals, Dusty Baker

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  • Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant strikes out for the 4th time during Game 4 of the National League division series at Wrigley Field in Chicago Wednesday, October 11, 2017.

    Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant strikes out for the 4th time during Game 4 of the National League division series at Wrigley Field in Chicago Wednesday, October 11, 2017.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Steve Lundy/slundy@dailyherald.comChicago Cubs shortstop Addison Russell reacts after striking out ion the 7th inning during Game 4 of the National League division series at Wrigley Field in Chicago Wednesday, October 11, 2017.

    Steve Lundy/slundy@dailyherald.comChicago Cubs shortstop Addison Russell reacts after striking out ion the 7th inning during Game 4 of the National League division series at Wrigley Field in Chicago Wednesday, October 11, 2017.

 
 

It is common practice in baseball to question the heart and guts of the Washington Nationals.

They have, after all, given the game so much ammunition the last six years.

But you have to hand it to them for fighting to stay alive Wednesday and forcing a Game 5 with the Chicago Cubs in the NLDS, considering what was against them Wednesday in Chicago.

It's never easy overcoming the Dusty Baker factor, the consistent and magnificent mismanagement within a given game, and the unnecessary drama outside the lines.

And never has he better butchered a situation than he did with the entire Stephen Strasburg debacle, tossing his hurler under the bus Tuesday before getting him to the mound Wednesday with an illness in the wind and rain of the Frigid Confines.

And for the love of Drew Storen and all that's holy, did Strasburg ever save everyone involved in this nightmare and put in place all those who questioned his toughness -- which was pretty much the entire human race.

"Yeah, pretty crazy 24 hours," said Nats closer Sean Doolittle, who set the Cubs down in order in the ninth on 12 pitches to finish the 5-0 victory and tie the series at 2-2. "I guess this morning when we got here and he started going through his routine, it was like, 'OK, business as usual.'

"You couldn't tell that he was at all under the weather. He was just super focused and going about his business."

The business at hand is now a fifth and deciding Game 5, so instead of Kyle Hendricks lined up for Game 1 of the NLCS, he'll be working in D.C. while the Dodgers hang by the pool, relaxing and waiting for the defending champs to advance or go home.

If the Cubs win Thursday, Jose Quintana would likely go in Game 1 Saturday in Los Angeles -- unless Quintana pitches Thursday in relief.

Lester would probably have to return on three days' rest Sunday, after throwing 55 spectacular pitches Wednesday on three days' rest after tossing 86 pitches in Game 2.

Or might it be John Lackey in Game 1?

The Cubs have to win a Game 5 first, something the Nationals have failed to do twice before in their three first-round defeats in the last five years.

"It's what you play for," said Washington first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. "Everyone would like to go 11-0 in the playoffs. Anyone who says anything else is lying, but that never happens.

"This is what playoff baseball is all about. Unfortunately, in the past we haven't been able to come through, but that's in the past."

There's been so much conversation about the Washington history, but it's not exactly 108 years.

"Yeah, such a long history we have," laughed Zimmerman, who has been through them all as a 13-year member of the team. "I really think you just go out and play baseball.

"Obviously, it's a narrative and people write about it and it can be used as a positive or a negative. You can spin it as many ways as you want.

"But not once tomorrow -- I can tell you with confidence -- will I ever think about another Game 5 when we're out there.

"You're so locked into the game. It's such a great atmosphere. It's what you hope for. It's a lot of fun."

When you add it all up, it really feels like the Cubs' series, with the Nationals barely scraping by and unable to get a big hit.

The bombs by Zimmerman and Bryce Harper in Game 2 and the ridiculous grand slam through the wind by Michael Taylor on Wednesday have been their only offensive moments.

Of course, the three starts by Strasburg and Max Scherzer should have been enough to win the series already, but there's always the Baker influence on a series, and that looms large in Game 5.

"We've given ourselves an opportunity," said Daniel Murphy, whose single in the eighth was only his second hit of the series. "We got to Game 5. We'll take it."

So it's all on the line Thursday for the chance to face the Dodgers, and no one needs to remind these teams of what's at stake.

The Cubs are 5-2 in their last seven chances to clinch a series and have their best pitcher on the mound, while Baker is 4-8 in his career as a manager when facing elimination.

Let the mind games begin.


• Hear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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