WASHINGTON -- The Chicago Cubs spent the 2015 season on the ascent.
They reached the top of the mountain in 2016.
It can be just as hard, if not harder to stay at the top, as the Cubs found out all during a start-and-stop 2017 season.
They spent most of a wild Thursday night trying -- clawing with their fingernails -- to stay there.
Until further notice they're still there.
During a wild, stomach-churning, 4-hour, 37-minute thrill ride that wasn't always pretty, the Cubs somehow prevailed Thursday night in Game 5 of the National League division series, beating the star-crossed Washington Nationals 9-8.
With the victory, the Cubs advance to their third straight NL championship series. They'll take on the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium in Game 1 on Saturday night.
In yet another champagne-soaked celebration, Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer summed up this evening and early Friday morning best.
"Every game in the series was amazing and I'm glad we came out on top, but that was a mess out there tonight," he said.
Oh, but what happy, crazy, mess for the defending world champions.
The Cubs will have one day off to prepare for the Dodgers, and they'll need it after emptying the tank to beat the Nats.
In Thursday's game, starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks lasted only 4 innings, but that was 1 more than the Nationals' Gio Gonzalez. However, the Cubs again used one of their starting pitchers -- possible Game 1 starter Jose Quintana -- for two-thirds of an inning. It's still possible Quintana could come back to start Game 1, but the Cubs may have to turn to veteran John Lackey to go up against Clayton Kershaw.
"Right now we just … champagne after this, a long flight to L.A. which Im really pleased about," manager Joe Maddon said. "We haven't even talked about that yet. He (Lackey) is definitely in the mix, no question."
The real heroics were turned in by closer Wade Davis, who worked 2⅓ innings, throwing 44 pitches.
Davis ended the game by striking out the dangerous Bryce Harper.
"I looked down there a couple times; nobody's warming up," Davis said. "These guys fought so hard all season long. They fought hard in this game. The offense and the defense, everybody's been battling. Energy level? It's bad now, but it was good."
The Cubs looked to be in trouble earlier as the Nats scored 4 runs in the second, on a solo homer by Daniel Murphy and a 3-run shot by Michael Taylor. That erased a 1-0 lead the Cubs took in the first.
But the Cubs put up 2 in the third and 4 more in the fifth and held before holding on the rest of the way. They sent 10 men to the plate in the fifth and took advantage of 2 errors and a passed ball charged to Matt Wieters.
Addison Russell had yet another big playoff performance, going 2-for-4 with 2 doubles and 4 RBI.
"I would say this is the most fun I've had playing a baseball game," he said, "and it ranks right up there with winning the World Series, being down 3-1 in the World Series. Just to see the energy, you know, the flow withing the dugout was just … I get chills just talking about it. It was awesome."
For Nats manager and former Cubs skipper Dusty Baker, it was yet another crushing postseason defeat.
"Yeah, it was," he said. "And Bryce was just starting to swing the bat. It's very disappointing, not to be going to L.A., not to go home to see my family and play in Dodger Stadium and go to the next step. You know, it was just a tough game to lose."
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