Nats even playoff series with Cubs in dramatic fashion

Nationals react to a go-ahead home run by Ryan Zimmerman to give the Nats a 6-3 win.

WASHINGTON — The Nationals followed manager Dusty Baker’s advice and played it cool even as they were losing chances to even their National League Division Series with the Cubs.

They were cool until they broke through then there was no way to contain the excitement of a 6-3 win Saturday night.

The Nats erupted for 5 runs in the bottom of the 8th inning of Saturday night’s game just as they were five outs from dropping into a perilous position.

With 97 wins, the Nats earned home field advantage in their best of 5 matchup with last year’s World Series Champion Cubs. That was lost in Friday night’s 3-0 loss.

The Nats were in danger of being one game away from elimination, down 3-1 in the final frames, when pinch hitter Adam Lind singled to lead off the critical 8th.

Trea Turner struck out and up strolled Bryce Harper.

Harper belted a no-doubt moon shot to right that tied the game at 3 and sent the crowd into a frenzy.

Harper whooped and hollered and once he returned to the dugout didn’t stay there long before bounding up the steps again to give the cheering crowd a first pump.

Two batters later, with Anthony Rendon and Daniel Murphy on base, Ryan Zimmerman gave tens of thousands in the stands something else to leave their feet for.

His 3-run home run came when the Nats needed it the most. His team had only managed 4 hits over the previous 16 innings of playoff baseball. His fans were desperate for a win.

Apparently the longest tenured National needed that hit, too.

Zimmerman took a slow lap around the bases. He lifted his arms triumphantly as he rounded first base. He gave out a howl as he neared home plate. He was met with a chest bump by Harper at the dugout as the stadium reveled.

Ryan Zimmerman rounds first base after an 8th inning home run.

Both superstars have been around Nationals Park long enough to know why the win felt so special and why before the game Baker was channeling Fonzie from Happy Days and telling his hitters to ‘be cool.’

In three tries over the last five years the Nats have failed to win a playoff series. The team has yet to fulfill the great potential it’s regular season mastery would suggest should lead to a World Series.

Saturday’s magic is as cool an experience as Nats Park has seen but it’s only the first step in advancing past the Cubs.

Game 3 will be Monday in Chicago starting at 4:00 p.m. EST. Max Scherzer (16-6, 2.52 ERA) will face Jose Quintana (11-11, 4.15 ERA.)