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Nationals shut out Cubs 5-0 to force Game 5 of the NLDS

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After all of the uncertainty and drama leading into Wednesday’s rescheduled NLDS Game 4 between the Nationals and Cubs, Stephen Strasburg arguably made the best start of his life. In doing so, he kept the Nationals’ playoff hopes alive and forced a decisive Game 5.

In case you missed yesterday’s whirlwind, Nationals manager Dusty Baker said he was sticking with Tanner Roark to start Game 4 instead of starting Strasburg, which drew a lot of criticism. Baker said Strasburg was under the weather, blaming that on mold in Chicago. Baker changed his mind late Wednesday morning and announced Strasburg as his Game 4 starter. Good thing he did.

Strasburg braved the heavy wind and misty rain, dominating the Cubs across seven shutout innings. He gave up just three hits and a pair of walks while striking out 12 on 106 pitches. The Cubs managed to get a runner to second base only twice.

The Nationals took advantage of a defensive miscue by shortstop Addison Russell in the third inning to score their only run. Trea Turner doubled with one out, Bryce Harper later drew a two-out walk and stole second. Ryan Zimmerman hit a grounder to Russell, who charged in but the ball skipped off of the heel of his glove, allowing Turner to cross home plate.

Cubs starter Jake Arrieta was not at all sharp, though he gave up just one unearned run and two hits with four strikeouts, but he also walked five. Jon Lester came in and admirably pitched 3 2/3 shutout innings of relief to keep the Cubs within arm’s reach of the Nationals. In the top of the eighth, Lester walked Ryan Zimmerman. Zimmerman, knowing Lester’s past difficulty throwing to first base, took a big lead. Lester threw over, a one-hopper to Anthony Rizzo. Lester threw over again, this time hitting Rizzo’s glove on the fly. Rizzo swiped a tag on Zimmerman’s foot but the umpire initially ruled him safe. Cubs manager Joe Maddon challenged the call and it was overturned, giving Lester — are you ready for this? — a pickoff in the playoffs.

After that feel-good moment for the Cubs, it got worse. Daniel Murphy singled off of Lester, so Maddon brought Carl Edwards, Jr. into the game. Edwards walked Anthony Rendon, then got a visit from pitching coach Chris Bosio. It didn’t work. He walked Matt Wieters and gave way to closer Wade Davis. After working the count 1-1, Michael Taylor drove a 95 MPH fastball to right field for a grand slam, pushing the Nationals lead to 5-0. Davis gave up a single and a walk before being replaced. Brian Duensing finally ended the inning, inducing a 3-1 ground out from Howie Kendrick.

Ryan Madson took over for Strasburg in the bottom of the eighth. He got Javier Baez to fly out, then couldn’t find his control, perhaps due to the rain. He walked Ian Happ, then hit Jon Jay. Madson recovered, fanning Kris Bryant — giving him a golden sombrero — and getting Rizzo to ground out.

Sean Doolittle got the call in the ninth to protect a five-run lead. Willson Contreras flied out to left, Zobrist flied out to right, and Russell struck out for a 1-2-3 ninth inning. The NLDS is all tied up at two games apiece.

The two teams will head to D.C. for the completion of the series with Game 5 on Thursday, starting at 8 PM ET. The winner moves on to play the Dodgers in the NLCS.

Aaron Judge set a new postseason strikeout record

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For a few days, it looked like Aaron Judge was finally hitting his stride in the postseason. He was still striking out at a regular clip, piling more and more strikeouts atop the 16 he racked up in the Division Series, but he was mashing, too. He engineered a three-run homer during Game 3 of the Championship Series, followed by another blast and game-tying double in Game 4. His one-out double helped pad a five-run lead in Game 5, while his 425-footer off of Brad Peacock barely made a dent during a 7-1 loss in Game 6. And then Lance McCullers‘ curveball found and fooled him, as it did five of the 14 batters it met in Game 7:

The strikeout was Judge’s first of the evening and 27th since the start of the playoffs. No other major league batter has racked up that many strikeouts in a single postseason, though Alfonso Soriano’s 26-strikeout record in 2003 comes the closest. Within that record, Judge also collected three golden sombreros (four strikeouts in a single game), narrowly avoiding the dreaded platinum sombrero (five strikeouts in a single game).

It’s an unfortunate footnote to a spectacular year for the rookie outfielder, who decimated the competition with 52 home runs and 8.2 fWAR during the regular season and was a pivotal part of the Yankees’ playoff run. Thankfully, the image of McCullers’ curveball darting just under Judge’s bat won’t be the image that sticks with us for years to come. Instead, it’ll look something like this: