And people say baseball is boring. Thursday night’s series finale between the Washington Nationals and Chicago Cubs had bench-clearing brawls, charging bullpens, more home runs, and more great pitching from the Nats. The Nats completed the four-game sweep of the Cubs as they head into their last weekend on this homestand, and with their 85th win, their magic number is 18, and they retain a 7.5 game lead in the division.
In the fifth inning, Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa each stole a base with a five-run lead. It got under the skin of Cubs bench coach Jamie Quirk, who started screaming some not-so-nice things to Nats third base coach Bo Porter. Porter walked toward the Cubs dugout, and things got crazy. The Nats cleared their bench and relievers sprinted in from the bullpen in defense of their coach. Quirk was ejected, and it was all over. Right? Wrong.
In the top of the sixth inning, with Bryce Harper leading off, Cubs reliever Lendy Castillo through way in on harper, and it appeared he was trying to plunk him. Harper walked toward the mound, yelling at Castillo, as the benches and bullpens cleared again. It appeared that cooler heads would prevail again, until several Cubs relievers appeared to be waving goodbye to some Nats relievers while jawing at them. The bullpens came back together, and things got out of hand.
Cubs catcher Steve Clevenger appeared to take a swing at Michael Morse, which caused Sean Burnett and Edwin Jackson to lose their cool along with Morse. It mostly amounted to a shoving match with three ejections issued: Steve Clevenger and Manny Corpas from the Cubs and Michael Gonzalez from the Nats. Nats manager Davey Johnson believed “it was their bench coach's frustration of us handing it to them for three days." You can always count on the truth from Davey.
Jordan Zimmermann had a great recovery game from some recent struggles. Though he got into some trouble in the first two innings with a home run in the first to Anthony Rizzo and triples in the second to Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney, he got locked in after that. At one point, Zimmermann retired 12 consecutive batters in his seven inning, two run, five hit game, where he walked just one and struck out nine.
The offense came to life in a big way for the third straight night. Bryce Harper gave the Cubs fits on the base paths throughout the game. In the first inning, he extended a double into a triple with his trademark aggressive baserunning. When Ryan Zimmerman grounded out to the pitcher, Harper stuttered back to third and then charged for home as pitcher Justin Germano threw lackadaisically to first for the out. He scored the first run of the game for the Nats.
Adam LaRoche and Kurt Suzuki both stayed hot, too. LaRoche went 1-for-3 with two walks (one intentional), but he hit his 29th home run of the year and is now just three shy of his career high with a lot of baseball left to play. Suzuki went 3-for-5 with another home run and is 4-for-7 in his last two games. As James Wagner of the Washington Post reported this past weekend, Suzuki has worked with Davey and hitting coach Rick Eckstein to tweak his swing. Maybe it’s working.
With 9-1 victory and a series sweep, the Nationals keep rolling and control their own destiny by continuing to rack up victories. The fire and passion the team showed in defending their own and not lying down despite a lead and a guaranteed series win illustrates their best qualities and the reason they are favorite to win their division.