Nationals stun Cubs with 5-run 8th to even NLDS

It took 16 October innings, but the Washington Nationals‘ bats finally woke up in a big, big way. Now, as the series shifts to the North Side of Chicago, it’s the Cubs who are suddenly left searching for answers.

After Jon Lester stymied the Nats’ offense for the first six innings of Saturday’s Game 2, Washington looked to be on its way to another crushing postseason defeat until the fateful eighth. Adam Lind got the inning started with a pinch-hit single in his first playoff at-bat, setting the stage for Bryce Harper‘s towering game-tying home run off Carl Edwards Jr. that appeared to travel all the way to Baltimore.

That was only the beginning. Following Harper’s blast, two more Nationals reached base for Ryan Zimmerman, the franchise’s first-ever draft pick after moving to D.C. from Montreal in 2005 and the Nationals’ longest-tenured player. Zimmerman didn’t waste any time, belting Mike Montgomery‘s second pitch over the left-field wall for a three-run blast to complete the stunning comeback and put the Nationals up 6-3.

Sean Doolittle closed out the Cubs in the ninth to knot the series at one game apiece.

Washington had only managed to scrape out a single run on four hits in the first 16 innings of the NLDS before Harper and Zimmerman rescued their team. In fact, by win probability the Nationals were staring at almost certain defeat in the moments before Harper’s moon shot made it a brand new ballgame.

(Courtesy: FanGraphs)

For all the playoff struggles that have dogged the Nationals franchise over the past six years, Saturday’s eighth-inning explosion almost appeared cathartic for the D.C. faithful, who have seen just two home playoff wins since 2012 and haven’t witnessed a Washington baseball team win a postseason series since the original Senators captured the 1924 World Series title.

For a moment in the eighth, it almost seemed as though some demons may have exited Nationals Park along with Zimmerman’s three-run homer.

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