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Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman hit clutch home runs late in Nationals-Cubs

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Stephen Strasburg's brilliance can't save Nats from their October issues

Before the eighth inning at Nationals Park, the Nationals were shriveling. The two-three-four-five men - Harper, Rendon, Murphy and Ryan Zimmerman - in the Nationals' order had a total of 388 regular-season RBI among them.

Carl Edwards Jr. and Wade Davis combined to throw two scoreless innings in the eighth and ninth, and the Cubs cruised to a 1-0 series lead. Pinch-hitter Adam Lind singled to get things started. Baker said either Scherzer or Gonzalez would get Game 2, and the other Game 3.

He proved himself prescient with his fourth trip to the plate. Not to get ahead of ourselves, but if the Nationals surge forward and finally advance to the NLCS, it will be safe to conclude that Harper's homer plotted the course. Javier Baez reached on third baseman Anthony Rendon's error to start the inning and was sacrificed to second by Hendricks. Now the Nationals need their least reliable postseason pitcher to keep them afloat, or Max Scherzer's Game 3 return might be just a formality.

It didn't stay that way for long.

Lester, a three-time World Series victor, kept the Nationals' powerful lineup at bay with his typical postseason savvy.

And then Zimmerman got Montgomery, who came in after Edwards walked Anthony Rendon. It looked harmless at first, with leftfielder Ben Zobrist quickly drifting underneath it.

Getting the bad news: Hector Rondon battled back from an elbow ailment to pitch late in the season, but he lost out. As Zimmerman rounded the bases, arms outstretched, the fans went ballistic yet again. He had nearly complete control over the Nationals. It was the first hit Edwards had allowed since September 10. Harper's towering homer kicked it open.

"People say, 'Don't try to be a hero, ' " said Rizzo, the general manager of the Washington Nationals. "No. No!"

The Nationals scored one time in the first 16 innings of the National League Divisional Series vs. the Chicago Cubs.

The Cubs already announced their pitching plans, saying Wednesday that their rotation would be Kyle Hendricks in Game 1, Jon Lester in Game 2, Jose Quintana in Game 3 and Jake Arrieta in Game 4, if there is one in the best-of-five series. "He's been around a lot of winning teams here". Carl Edwards Jr threw a ideal inning and Wade Davis finished the two-hitter for a save. But Maddon liked what he saw recently from Wilson, including in a simulated game this week. And they got a splendid performance from Strasburg, who held the Cubs hitless through the first five innings of the game and did not surrender an earned run in seven innings.

In many ways, 2017 was a disappointment for Lester.

And with a first-pitch curveball in the dirt, it looked like the right move.

Nationals this season with 36 homers and 108 RBIs. His resulting 100 ERA+ marked him as essentially league average, as did his 0.8 WAR.

Lester was an integral part of last year's World Series run for Chicago, with a 2.02 ERA in 35 2/3 innings and NLCS MVP honors.

Hendricks threw 106 pitches in seven innings. They are leaving their home turf behind for two games at Wrigley Field with a brand-new World Series banner flying above the ballpark, while not yet being the winners of a single postseason series. Saturday night's outing should give them confidence that he's up to that task.

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