Russell: 'You can't draw up a series better than this'
Addison Russell joins SVP to recap the "ups and downs" of the Cubs' Game 5 win against the Nationals and looks ahead to facing the Dodgers in the NLCS.
WASHINGTON -- In one corner of the victorious clubhouse, the mild-mannered closer of the Chicago Cubs tried to answer questions but could barely string his words together to form a sentence.
"I'm emotionally drained," Wade Davis said with a sigh.
On the other side of the room, Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward attempted to explain away what exactly happened in the fifth inning of the deciding Game 5 against the Washington Nationals on Thursday night. The Cubs scored four runs off Max Scherzer after two outs and no one on base. No one saw it coming.
"That was nutty," Zobrist said between champagne showers after the thrilling 9-8 win to close out the National League Division Series. "There were a lot of weird things that happened in the game tonight."
And in the middle of the clubhouse stood someone who never made it into the game, or even into the dugout. Cubs video coordinator Nate Halm played as large a role as anyone when he noticed Nationals baserunner Jose Lobaton's foot come off first base on a pickoff attempt in the eighth inning, just as the Cubs were about give the lead back to Washington. Halm was being doused during the Cubs' celebration as if he had hit a home run, because the ensuing video challenge ended that Nationals threat.
"I didn't think we were going to challenge, then Nate saw something on the replay," team president Theo Epstein said between sips of beer. "That was a huge moment in the game."
There were so many big moments in Game 5, it might be remembered as much as Game 7 of last year's World Series. The Cubs survived -- and despite issuing nine walks and going 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position, they scored nine runs.
"It was crazy," Jon Jay declared. "It was one of those classic games."
Jay was part of that four-run fifth inning, which included the following four consecutive plays that netted the Cubs two runs: intentional walk; dropped third strike; catcher's interference; and a hit by pitch.
"That's playoffs," a happy Jon Lester said. "That's what you see in the postseason."
But against Scherzer? It was hard to believe.
"Just the fact that we went from two outs no one on to a huge turning point in the game," Epstein said. "We got the two singles, but then it was filling out the box score."
The lead the Cubs took that inning would be challenged the rest of the night, as Chicago's relievers once again could not find the strike zone. With Kyle Hendricks off his game, manager Joe Maddon asked his bullpen for 15 outs. Instead, they gave him eight walks.
"We had to get 27 outs without throwing strikes, seemingly," Epstein said with a hint of sarcasm.
As Maddon began to use his relievers, the math didn't add up. There were more outs than competent arms left. That's when Davis got the call. He was asked if he knew ahead of time that he might enter in the seventh inning.
"No, let's never do it again," he said with a smile.
Davis played the role of this year's Aroldis Chapman, entering with two outs in the seventh inning and the tying runs on base. He struck out Ryan Zimmerman to end that threat, but then got into a jam of his own the next inning. That's when Halm stepped in. With two on and two outs, catcher Willson Contreras back-picked Lobaton at first base. It looked like Lobaton made it back to the bag easily, but first looks can be deceiving when video replay is available.
"I didn't think I had him initially," Anthony Rizzo said. "But on those bang-bang plays, you never know. It's one of those you have to take a peek."
Halm signaled to Maddon to challenge it, and the Cubs won on the reversal. Davis was out of the jam without throwing another pitch.
"I was rushing so much I kind of needed a reset," Davis said. "That was definitely huge. It saved me a bunch of pitches."
Davis finally caught his breath, but there was still the ninth inning to take care, with the top of the order due up for the Nationals. After getting the first two outs, he only needed to get by Bryce Harper to clinch the series. It was a classic battle, which Davis won over the course of six pitches. He struck out Harper.
"I was trying not to give up a homer," Davis said.
He avoided the long ball and put up a heroic performance, even if it didn't look so good. Most games that take nearly five hours are kind of ugly, but if you win, it's something special.
"It certainly wasn't pretty, but gutsy it was," Epstein said.
Davis was asked how he was feeling after throwing 44 pitches and getting seven outs to help send the Cubs back to the National League Championship Series for the third consecutive year.
"My arm is OK," he said. "I'm emotionally tired right now."
Anyone who played or watched the entire series between the two teams has to feel the same. It was an epic bout with the Cubs once again coming out on top. They've faced every challenge this year and have overcome. That's not easy the season after winning a championship.
"This is what it's all about," Epstein said. "There is no better thing to be known for: winning at this time of year."
The Cubs are getting used to these crazy affairs, after having played that wild Game 7 of the 2016 World Series. But this one might be remembered for more than just a great finish. An early deficit was overcome by taking down a Cy Young winner and then recovering after near bullpen implosions at every turn. It all seemed on the brink of falling apart, until a video challenge changed the late-game momentum. This night was one for the ages.
"It was one of the most fun games I've ever been a part of," Addison Russell said as he wiped the champagne from his eyes.
The biggest praise was left for Davis. Like Chapman before him, he dug deep and found something he wasn't even sure he had. But his teammates believed in him, and it's one reason they're one step away from a return to the World Series.
"He's one of the toughest guys I've ever met," Hendricks said of Davis. "When asked to go seven outs, he didn't bat an eye."
Zobrist offered his take on Davis.
"He's got ice in his veins," Zobrist said. "That was a very tough moment. He pulled it out for us. A wild finish to a wild game."