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The Chicago Cubs beat the Washington Nationals, 9-8, in a come-from-behind win in Game 5 of the National League Division Series on Thursday to advance in the playoffs.
In the process, the Nationals suffered a unique and particularly cruel collapse.
After taking a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the fourth inning, everything came undone for the Nationals in a fifth inning that has never happened before in recorded MLB history, according to Yahoo’s Jeff Passan, citing Baseball-Reference data going back decades.
The inning began with Nationals ace Max Scherzer pitching in relief. After he recorded two outs, things went awry.
Willson Contreras hit an infield single, followed by a single from Ben Zobrist to move Contreras to second.
With two men on, Addison Russell sent a sizzler up the third-base line and into left field, bringing home Contreras and Zobrist to move the score to 5-4.
But that was just the beginning.
The Nationals then intentionally walked Jason Heyward, bringing up Javier Baez. On what would have been strike three, Baez’s bat hit Nationals catcher Matt Wieters’ helmet, and the ball went by Wieters.
As Wieters retrieved the ball, he overthrew first base and the backup from second baseman Daniel Murphy, sending the ball into right field as Russell scored and Heyward moved to third.
Here’s the play, via MLB:
The inning got even wackier from there. On the next batter, Wieters was called for catcher’s interference after his glove hit Tommy La Stella’s bat, loading the bases. On the next at-bat, Scherzer hit Jon Jay, sending him to first and bringing in a run to make it 7-4.
The Nationals finally got out of the inning on the next at-bat, but the damage was done. Though they went on to score four more runs, they couldn’t stop the bleeding as the Cubs scored two more. Trailing 9-8 in the bottom of the ninth, the Nationals went down 1-2-3 to end the game and their season.
In 2.7 million half-innings in Baseball-Reference’s database, the sequence of an intentional walk, a passed-ball strikeout, catcher’s interference, and a hit-by-pitch in consecutive at-bats had never played out before, Passan reported.
The Washington Post’s Adam Kilgore reported that the Nationals believed Baez’s bat hitting Wieters should have resulted in a dead ball, but that the home-plate umpire said such a rule applied only to stolen bases. If the ball that went past Wieters had been ruled a dead ball, the inning would have ended, and the Nationals would have gotten out trailing 5-4.
“This game’s cruel sometimes the way things can happen,” Scherzer said, adding: “This one burns. I don’t know how else to describe it. You’re just gonna be sitting there kicking yourself the whole offseason.”
The Cubs, for the third year in a row, will move onto the National League Championship Series; they’ll play the Los Angeles Dodgers. Meanwhile, the Nationals, for the 13th year in a row, won’t advance to the NLCS.