WASHINGTON -- For nearly two games, the Nationals' offense had been dormant. Facing a potential 0-2 National League Division Series hole, and in need of a spark after 16 listless innings, the Nats watched Bryce Harper rise to the occasion like he has so many times in the past.
In the eighth inning of Saturday night's Game 2, Harper launched a mammoth game-tying and series-changing two-run homer off Carl Edwards Jr., which sent the 43,860 fans at Nationals Park into a frenzy. Ryan Zimmerman followed with a go-ahead three-run homer to punctuate a five-run eighth inning that led the Nationals to a 6-3 victory over the Cubs. Washington's improbable comeback tied the NLDS presented by T-Mobile at a game apiece, with the series heading to Wrigley Field in Chicago today.
"I couldn't tell you anything about that run around the bases," Zimmerman said. "I think, obviously, this franchise over the past five years has changed a lot. We used to lose 90 games every year, and now we're expected to win 90 games, and if we're not successful in the postseason, it's a failed season.
"I think we all enjoy that pressure; we want it. ... Tonight was a special game."
Cubs starting pitchers had dominated for two games. Jon Lester followed Kyle Hendricks' Game 1 gem by giving up just two hits in six innings. That performance, combined with home runs from Willson Contreras and Anthony Rizzo, gave Chicago a 3-1 advantage that put them in position to take command of this series.
Washington collected just four hits in two games against Cubs starters, one of which was a solo homer from Anthony Rendon in the first inning Saturday. Gio Gonzalez was solid for five innings of three-hit ball, but the Nationals found themselves staring at the brink of elimination until Harper and Zimmerman rescued them in the eighth.
The best-of-five series now shifts to Wrigley, where Games 3 and 4 will be played Monday and Tuesday.
"You're not going to knock us down," Rizzo said of the defending World Series champions. "We gave up a home run to Rajai Davis to tie the game in the eighth inning [of Game 7 in the World Series against the Indians]. It's part of the journey. You've got to embrace it. It's obviously not a good feeling to lose the way we did, but it's part of it. It's part of the experience."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Nats erupt for five:Adam Lind, who has been a weapon off the bench all year for the Nats, was a catalyst for the big eighth inning with a pinch-hit single. That put a runner on for Harper's homer, which traveled 421 feet into the second deck in right field, according to Statcast™. Harper discarded his bat, let out a primal yell and pointed toward the Nationals' dugout as he circled the bases for one of the biggest home runs of his career.
"I try to stay as calm as I can throughout the whole game," Harper said. "I think that's what makes our team so good. Nobody knows if we're frustrated or happy or sad or anything like that. I think we are a very even-keeled team."
Cubs manager Joe Maddon stuck by his decision to have Edwards face Harper, noting that the right-hander has held left-handed hitters to a .119 batting average this season.
"C.J. was the right man for the job," Maddon said. "Harper is good, C.J. is really good. C.J.'s numbers against left-handed hitters are among the best in all of baseball."
Maddon's next option, Mike Montgomery, did not do much better. With Rendon already on first base following a walk from Edwards, Montgomery surrendered a single to Daniel Murphy before Zimmerman's three-run homer, which barely cleared the fence in left field.
"I know I hit it pretty good, but I hit it really high," Zimmerman said. "Contreras hit one earlier in the game kind of similar -- hit it really high and then it just kept going. The wind died down a little bit towards the end, but the wind was actually blowing out pretty much the entire game. Just happy to put a good swing on a pitch and maybe got a little lucky."
Said Montgomery: "I knew the ball was carrying well to that side of the field. ... It's frustrating, but that's how it goes sometimes."
Rizzo clears the fence: A fan reached out to catch Rizzo's two-run homer to right in the fourth, prompting a crew-chief review to determine if there was fan interference. The ball appeared to have cleared the wall regardless, and the umpires confirmed the call on the field.
"I saw it go over pretty clean, even though you have that railing there," Rizzo said. "You have to be sure here -- it's the playoffs. You can't take any play for granted."
"The monkey's off our back so to speak." -- Werth, on the Nats' offense erupting in the eighth
"When you have the meat of their order coming up in Bryce and Rendon and Zimmerman and Murphy, they're good hitters. You make enough mistakes, they're going to hit one. [Harper] did that tonight. Hopefully, we can get C.J. and Monty right back in that situation and get that monkey off their back." -- Lester, on the two Cubs relievers
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS Kris Bryant and Rizzo set Cubs postseason records in the fourth. Bryant's double was his 13th, the most by a Cubs player in the playoffs, while Rizzo's homer was his sixth, also the most in franchise history.
WHAT'S NEXT Cubs: After an off-day Sunday, the series resumes Monday at Wrigley Field, where Jose Quintana will make his first career postseason start. The lefty has never faced the Nationals, and he is the first Cubs starting pitcher to face an opponent in the postseason before seeing them in a regular-season start since Hendricks pitched against the Indians for the first time in the 2016 World Series. First pitch is tentatively scheduled for 3 p.m. CT.
Nationals:Max Scherzer will make his 2017 postseason debut when the Nationals come to Chicago for Game 3 at Wrigley Field on Monday. Scherzer has been recovering from a right hamstring injury, but after a bullpen session Friday, he is ready to take the mound. First pitch is tentatively scheduled for 4 p.m. ET.