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Bryce Harper powers massive comeback as Nationals win 6-3 to even NLDS

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After the Nationals landed on the wrong end of a two-hitter on Friday night, they were ready to rebound and even the series. Enter Bryce Harper, who tied the game with a mammoth eighth-inning home run and set up Ryan Zimmerman to clinch the game with another two-run homer later in the inning. The 6-3 win helped the Nats fend off the Cubs for the first time in the National League Division Series, tying the series 1-1 in advance of Game 3 on Monday.

Jon Lester took the mound for Chicago, firing six innings of two-hit, one run ball to stifle the Nationals’ attempts to build on an early lead. His biggest mistake was a 1-1 fastball to Anthony Rendon, who hooked it fair down in the right field corner to put the Nats on the board in the first inning.

In the fifth, he found himself in trouble again. Zimmerman roped a single up the middle, then advanced to third base on a stolen base and wild pitch. Back-to-back walks to Michael A. Taylor and Howie Kendrick set the table for Trea Turner, but Lester kept his cool, working a full count before his sinker caught Turner swinging for a big inning-ending strikeout.

Gio Gonzalez wasn’t as lucky against the Cubs’ offense, who posted a two-run lead after Willson Contreras struck a second-inning solo homer and Anthony Rizzo put up a two-RBI shot in the fourth. Contreras’ home run set a new Statcast mark for the club, too, launching at a 45-degree angle for the highest angle on a home run by any Cubs’ player in Statcast history.

It looked like things were settling in the Cubs’ favor after Lester stepped off the mound, leaving Pedro Strop to set down a scoreless seventh. Carl Edwards Jr. took things in a different direction, however. He served up a leadoff base hit to Adam Lind, then watched Bryce Harper mash a game-tying home run to bring the Nats back into the competition. Harper being Harper, the homer landed him in the record books:

The deciding blast was still to come. With one out and the bases clear, Edwards walked Rendon on eight pitches. That prompted a pitching change, but Mike Montgomery was no luckier than his predecessor. He permitted a line drive single to Daniel Murphy, then was caught on an 0-1 changeup as Zimmerman belted the three-run, go-ahead homer:

Sean Doolittle shut the door for the Nats, erasing an Addison Russell single with a game-clinching double play in the ninth. With the win, the Nationals no longer have to win Game 3 to stay in the series, though they’ll certainly try to do so when Max Scherzer faces off against Jose Quintana on Monday at 4:00 PM ET.

The Astros gave the Yankees an opening. Keuchel and Verlander will try to close the door.

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If Game 4 of the ALCS had been even remotely conventional, it’d stand at 3-1 in favor of Houston right now. The Yankees’ starter pitched well but got no run support. A mighty Astros team with an ordinarily good closer in Ken Giles had a 4-0 lead in the late innings. As the Yankees set out to mount a comeback, a base runner fell down in between first and second and should’ve been dead to rights. This is playoff baseball, however, so stuff, as they say, happens. The runner was safe, the closer struggled, the Yankees rallied and now we’re tied 2-2.

But are we even at 2-2?

On paper, no, because the Astros now will send Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander out in Games 5 and 6, and that gives them a clear advantage. Keuchel dominated the Yankees in Game 1, tossing seven scoreless innings and striking out ten batters. Verlander struck out 13 batters in a 124-pitch complete game in which he allowed only a single run. Beyond the mere facts of the box scores, however, the Yankees have looked profoundly overmatched by both of the Astros’ aces, in this postseason and on other occasions on which they’ve faced off against them. Most notably in the 2015 wild-card game at Yankee Stadium when Keuchel pitched six scoreless innings in the 3-0 victory.

But remember: stuff happens.

Stuff like Aaron Judge‘s and Gary Sanchez‘s bats waking up. The two most important sluggers in the Bombers lineup combined to go 3-for-6 with two doubles, a homer, a walk and five RBI in last night’s victory. Each of them had been silent for the first three games of the series but if they’re heating up, the Yankees will be a lot harder to pitch to.

Stuff like Masahiro Tanaka showing that he can tame the Astros’ lineup. Which he did pretty well in Game 1, giving up only two runs on four hits in six innings. He was overshadowed by Keuchel in that game, but it was a good performance against a strong lineup in a hostile environment. Tanaka pitches much better at Yankee Stadium than he does on the road, so don’t for a second think that the Astros bats will have an easy time of it today.

Stuff like the Yankees bullpen still being the Yankees bullpen. Yes, the Astros got to David Robertson yesterday, but it’s still a strong, strong group that gives the Yankees a clear advantage if the game is close late or if they hold a lead.

All of which is to say that we have ourselves a series, friends. While, 48 hours ago, it seemed like we were on our way to an Astros coronation, the Yankees have shown up in a major way in Games 3 and 4. If you’re an Astros fan you should feel pretty confident with Keuchel and Verlander heading into action over the next two games, but we have learned that absolutely nothing is guaranteed in the postseason.