With back-to-back wins in the first two games with the Chicago Cubs in Wrigley Field, the Washington Nationals handed the Cubbies their first series loss in the last 11 in their home park, going back to May 24-26 when the Cincinnati Reds took a series in so-called friendly confines, and it set the Nats up with an opportunity to sweep a series on the North Side of Chicago for the first time since 2005.
Saturday’s win was the Nationals’ fourth straight, sixth in the last seven, 11th in 13 and their 14th in their last 18 games, and it left them 36-31 overall away from Nationals Park this year, and 53-26 in their last 79 games since they fell 12 games under at 19-31 on May 23rd.
Cubs’ skipper Joe Maddon told reporters he was impressed with what he was seeing from his former bench coach Davey Martinez’s squad.
“They’ve got a nice thing going on,” Maddon told reporters, as quoted by Chicago Tribune writer Paul Sullivan on Saturday.
“They could be very dangerous. If they get the bullpen situated, they could be very good down the stretch.”
The Nationals only need 2⁄3 of an inning from the bullpen on Friday, they got 4 2⁄3 scoreless on Saturday, and five innings from the bullpen in the series finale, though Hunter Strickland gave up a homer, and Fernando Rodney gave up a game-tying, two-run blast in the eighth inning that led to the game going into extra innings.
Before the third of three in Wrigley, Martinez said that though he has history with the Cubs’ skipper from their time together both in Chicago and Tampa Bay, once the games starts it really is like any other matchup.
“I only know I’m managing against Joe because of Joe,” Martinez said. “It’s kind of crazy. I look up to him and respect him, but we both know we have a job to do.”
The series finale was every bit as competitive as the previous two games, and the Nationals came out on top again.
Martinez’s club blew a 5-3 lead in the eighth inning, but scored two runs in the top of the eleventh when it went to extras, and the Nationals swept the Cubs in Chicago for the first time since Washington’s inaugural season in 2005.
Trea Turner went 2 for 5 with a walk and a run scored in the finale. Anthony Rendon went 4 for 5 with a home run (No. 29), a walk, two runs, and two RBIs. Juan Soto was 3 for 6 with a double. Asdrúbal Cabrera was 2 for 4.
With the score tied at 5-5 after ten innings, Howie Kendrick singled to start the 11th, Turner doubled to right, and after Kendrick scored from third on a wild pitch, Rendon drove in the second run of the inning with an RBI single.
Daniel Hudson, who’d thrown a scoreless 10th, came back out for the bottom of the 11th and locked it down after the Nationals took the lead.
Martinez talked after the win about his team’s fight.
“They fought,” he said.
“They fought all weekend, and we played well. What Daniel Hudson did for us those last two innings was really incredible. He picked us all up, the big hits by Trea, by Anthony, Soto, all of these guys, man, they played their hearts out.”
Asked what if anything he learned over the weekend, Martinez said, they’re resilient.
“They’re very resilient. I’m telling you now, I said this all along, they’re not going to quit, that’s who they are.”
“The thing that I love the most is that, hey, they’re bearing down with two strikes, they’re not giving in, we’re fouling some pitches off, we’re putting the ball in play, we’re coming up with big hits, they’re taking their walks, and all of those things matter. It’s just not two or three or four guys, you watch all our guys right now, we hit some balls good today.”
“I give them credit,” Maddon said in his own post-game interview. “They worked some really good at bats, they did, they worked some tough at bats in moments. The big difference was they weren’t chasing out of the zone and we were.
“That’s the difference in the series, primarily, I give them credit.”
“They just don’t chase,” the Cubs’ skipper added. “They’ve got a bunch of guys, you look at their on-base over their batting averages and it’s normally significant, and they’ve got some veteran hitters in there of course too, and bully for them, but that’s what we need to be able to accomplish, that we’re going to force people into the strike zone and when you do, that’s what happens.”
Martinez, asked if he’d ever imagined sweeping the Cubs in Wrigley, stuck to his mantra.
“Hey, you know, I say this all the time, all I do is concentrate on one day at a time, so we had two games that we won, we came in today, and we try to go 1-0 every day.”
With a 54-26 record in their last 80 games now, and a 73-57 mark overall, the Nationals are 6.0 out in the NL East, and +4.0 up in the NL Wild Card race after winning five straight.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Martinez said of the run they’ve been on, “... and like I said, I credit these guys for sticking with it, because they could have easily went south when things were going bad, but they didn’t and it’s a testament to the veterans here, the coaching staff, myself, [GM Mike] Rizzo, just constantly staying positive and bringing energy every day with these guys, and they bring the energy every day, so we’re on a great run, and it’s been fun, but we know we’ve got a day off, we know Tuesday we’ve got to come back and do it again.”