Rockies outlast Cubs 2-1 in 13 innings to advance into the NLDS

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Kyle Freeland narrowly outdueled Jon Lester in a pitcher’s duel, but it was a battle of bullpens that ultimately decided the fate of the Rockies and Cubs on Tuesday night (and early Wednesday morning here). Freeland tossed 6 2/3 shutout innings, yielding four hits and a walk while striking out six. He got into a couple of dicey situations but managed his way out of trouble each time. Jon Lester was a bit shaky to start the game but quickly settled down, giving up just the one first-inning run over six innings on four hits and a walk with nine punch-outs.

The Rockies’ first run came in the first inning after Charlie Blackmon walked, DJ LeMahieu hit a ground-rule double into the ivy in left-center, and Nolan Arenado lifted a sacrifice fly to right-center.

The Cubs didn’t get on the board until the bottom of the eighth, when Anthony Rizzo hit a two-out single. Terrance Gore pinch-ran for him and promptly stole second base, then came around to score on a Javier Báez double to left field against Adam Ottavino.

Both teams remained knotted at one run apiece until the 13th inning. For the Cubs, Jesse Chavez, Randy Rosario, Steve Cishek, Pedro Strop, Cole Hamels, and Justin Wilson combined for six scoreless innings of relief. On the Rockies’ side, after Adam Ottavino yielded his run in the eighth, Wade Davis, Seung Hwan Oh, Chris Rusin, and Scott Oberg combined for 3 1/3 scoreless frames to bring the game into the 13th.

The Rockies didn’t seem likely to build a rally after two quick outs to begin the top of the 13th frame. But Trevor Story was able to sneak a single between Kris Bryant and Báez into left field. Gerardo Parra moved Story all the way to third on a single to right field. Tony Wolters then played the role of hero, grounding a single up the middle to plate Story and break the 1-1 tie.

Oberg remained in the game for the bottom of the 13th. Drama immediately inserted itself as Oberg and Wolters got crossed up with what ended up being a fastball for ball three against Gore. The pitch ended up hitting home plate umpire Chris Guccione and appeared to nick Gore’s uniform. Gore was initially awarded first base, but replay review showed he was not hit and he came back to finish the at-bat. Oberg threw a slider low and away, and Gore swung for some ridiculous reason, striking out. Oberg then struck out Báez and Albert Almora, Jr. to defeat the Cubs 2-1 and advance to the NLDS.

Tuesday’s game set a record for the longest elimination game in baseball history. The Cubs fail to make it to the NLDS — actually the NLCS, if we’re being super-specific — for the first time since 2014. The Rockies are back in the NLDS for the first time since 2009. They will open Game 1 against the Brewers on Thursday at 5:07 PM ET. That game will be broadcast on FS1. The Brewers have to be happy the Rockies had to exhaust themselves just to get past the Cubs and they now have to travel once again.

Nats’ success shouldn’t be about Bryce Harper

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Bryce Harper turns 27 years old today. As an early birthday present, he got to watch his former team reach the World Series for the first time in franchise history. His new team finished exactly at .500 in fourth place, missing the playoffs. These were facts that did not go unnoticed as the Nationals completed an NLCS sweep of the Cardinals at home last night.

Harper spent seven seasons with the Nationals before hitting free agency and ultimately signing with the Phillies on a 13-million, $330 million contract. The Nationals offered Harper a 10-year, $300 million contract at the end of the 2018 regular season, but about $100 million of that was deferred until he was 65 which lowered the present-day value of the offer. The Nats’ offer wasn’t even in the same ballpark, really.

Nevertheless, Nationals fans were upset that their prodigy jilted them to go to the Phillies. He was mercilessly booed whenever the Phillies played in D.C. Nats fans’ Harper jerseys were destroyed, or at least taped over.

Harper, of course, was phenomenal with the Nationals. He won the NL Rookie of the Year Award in 2012, then won the NL MVP Award several years later with an historically outstanding 1.109 OPS while leading the league with 42 homers and 118 runs scored. Overall, as a National, he had a .900 OPS. Pretty good. He was also productive in the postseason, posting an .801 OPS across 19 games, mostly against playoff teams’ best starters and best relievers. Furthermore, if the Nats had Harper this year, he would have been in right field in lieu of Adam Eaton. Harper out OPS’d Eaton by 90 points and posted 2.5 more WAR in a similar amount of playing time. The Nationals would have been even better if they had Harper this year.

The Nationals lost all four Division Series they appeared in during the Harper era. 3-2 to the Cardinals in 2012, 3-1 to the Giants in ’14, 3-2 to the Dodgers in ’16, and 3-2 to the Cubs in ’17. They finally get over the hump the first year they’re without Harper, that’s the difference, right? I saw the phrase “addition by subtraction” repeatedly last night, referring to Harper and the Nats’ subsequent success without him.

Harper, though, didn’t fork over four runs to the Cardinals in the top of the ninth inning in Game 5 in 2012. He didn’t allow the Dodgers to rally for four runs in the seventh inning of Game 5 in ’16 before ultimately losing 4-3. He didn’t use a gassed Max Scherzer in relief in 2017’s Game 5, when he allowed five of the seven Cubs he faced to reach base, leading to three runs which loomed large in a 9-8 loss. If certain rolls of the dice in those years had gone the Nationals’ way, they would have appeared in the NLCS. They might’ve even been able to win a World Series.

The Nationals saw how that looks this year. It was the opposing manager this time, Dave Roberts, who mismanaged his bullpen. Howie Kendrick then hit a tie-breaking grand slam in the 10th inning off of Joe Kelly to win the NLDS for the Nats. The playoffs are random. Sometimes a ball bounces your way, sometimes an umpire’s call goes your way, and sometimes the opposing manager makes several unforced errors to throw Game 5 in your lap.

Reaching the World Series, then thumbing your nose while sticking out your tongue at Harper feels like a guy tagging his ex-girlfriend on his new wedding photos. It’s time to move on.