WASHINGTON — Carl Edwards Jr. knew the ball was gone as soon as it left his hand. Mike Montgomery wasn’t sure until it went just over the fence.
The sinking feeling was the same for each reliever, and the rest of the Chicago Cubs.
Edwards’ hanging curveball turned into a tying two-run homer by Bryce Harper and Montgomery’s pulled changeup became a three-run shot by Ryan Zimmerman. The five-run rally in the eighth inning lifted Washington to a 6-3 victory on Saturday, tying the NL Division Series at a game apiece.
“It’s frustrating, but when you’re going up against good hitters, you’ve got to make your pitches,” Montgomery said. “We had them where we wanted them, and we couldn’t get the job done late in the game.”
Lester allowed one run and two hits in six innings in his 20th career postseason start. The left-hander threw 86 pitches before he was pulled in favor of a pinch hitter.
Pedro Strop worked a scoreless seventh before Edwards got into trouble in the eighth. With one out and a runner on first, the wiry right-hander fell behind 3-1 against Harper and the 2015 NL MVP drove his next pitch into the second deck in right field.
Citing the 26-year-old’s numbers against lefties, manager Joe Maddon called turning to Edwards “the right option” and “the only option.” Lefties hit .119 against Edwards this season and .135 over his career. But the Nationals were also 5 for 12 against him this season.
“C.J. was the right man for the job,” Maddon said. “He made a bad pitch and the guy didn’t miss it, and that’s it. Sometimes that happens. Bryce is good. C.J. is good. Bryce got him.”
Edwards said it was “the right pitch, just the wrong hitter.” Walking Anthony Rendon put Montgomery on the spot because Maddon wanted a ground-ball pitcher. Instead, the lefty allowed a single to Daniel Murphy and then the home run to Zimmerman that the wind carried over left fielder Ben Zobrist.
“It’s a tough situation, but it’s the kind of situations I want to be in,” Montgomery said. “I prepared for that. It just didn’t go my way this time.”
As much as the Cubs could feel the surprising turn of events, the memories of winning the World Series last year crept in not long after. Rizzo, who became the franchise’s all-time postseason leader in home runs and RBIs, said nothing is going to faze his team.
“We’ve given up way bigger home runs than that before,” Rizzo said. “You’re not going to knock us down. We gave up a home run to Rajai Davis to tie the game in the eighth inning (in Game 7 of the World Series). It’s part of the journey. You’ve got to embrace it.”
After that home run, Maddon turned to Edwards and Montgomery to get the final three outs for the Cubs’ first championship since 1908. So it’s not at all surprising that Maddon wants them back out there in the same situation soon and so do their teammates.
“We’ve all been there, we’ve all given up big hits, we’ve all given up big homers,” Lester said. “Hopefully the situation arises on Monday and they go right back out there and dominate.”
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