WASHINGTON (AP) — The Chicago Cubs has just wasted a strong start by Jason Hammel and blown two late leads in a disappointing loss to the Washington Nationals.
Afterward, they could take consolation in knowing Wednesday’s 5-4 defeat was merely a blip in the early stages of a long regular season.
“It stinks, but what are you going to do? It’s baseball,” cleanup hitter Anthony Rizzo said. “I’d rather lose this game in June than later on in the season.”
The game began with a marvelous pitching duel between Hammel and Washington’s Stephen Strasburg. Once the bullpens got involved, the contest morphed into a back-and-forth drama better suited for late fall.
“It kind of had a playoff feel, the way it was fought and played, especially at the end,” Rizzo said. “It was a fun game, a crazy game, the kind you see in October.”
Jayson Werth singled in the winning run with two outs in the 12th inning before a sellout crowd of 42,000, largest of the season in Washington.
The Nationals won two of three in this showdown between the NL East and NL Central leaders.
“Just a hard-played series on both sides,” Hammel said. “An October preview, maybe.”
Facing Adam Warren, Werth hit a liner off the wall in center field to score Michael Taylor, who hit an RBI single against Trevor Cahill (0-2) earlier in the inning.
“It was awesome,” Taylor said. “It’s the kind of game you want to part of.”
Addison Russell had given the Cubs the lead in the 12th with a run-scoring single off Yusmeiro Petit (2-0).
“They have a good team. We have a good team,” Werth said. “It was a battle, a good series.”
Strasburg gave up one run in seven innings, and Hammel did the same. After they departed, both teams received shoddy bullpen work.
Pinch-hitter Stephen Drew gave Washington a 2-1 lead with a homer in the eighth off Pedro Strop. It was the Nationals’ club-record ninth pinch-hit home run of the season, the third by Drew.
With closer Jonathan Papelbon on the disabled list, Washington manager Dusty Baker summoned Matt Belisle to protect the lead in the ninth. Belisle promptly gave up a leadoff double to Kris Bryant, and Baker turned to Oliver Perez to end it.
Rizzo greeted the left-hander with a two-run shot to right.
Cubs closer Hector Rondon added his name to the list of ineffective relievers in the bottom half. He issued a leadoff walk to Bryce Harper and an RBI single to Wilson Ramos.
“The two best teams in baseball going at it, exchanging punches,” Hammel said. “It was exciting. We had our chances to do it and they answered back.”
Hammel remained 9-0 lifetime against the Nationals after giving up five hits, striking out four and walking none. He ended his outing by getting Anthony Rendon to ground out with a runner on third.
Strasburg struck out eight, allowing six hits and a walk. He wasn’t involved in the decision, so he’s 10-0 with a 2.90 ERA after 14 starts this season.
“Fastball command got better as the game went on,” the right-hander said.
Ben Zobrist opened the game by hitting a 1-2 pitch from Strasburg over the wall in right. Jason Heyward followed with a double and was cut down trying to steal third.
Chicago didn’t put another runner in scoring position until the seventh, when Albert Almora Jr. doubled with one out.
The Nationals got a first-inning run when Ben Revere singled and scored on a wild pitch. After Ramos led off the Washington second with a single, Hammel retired 13 straight.
WEST COAST DISTRACTIONS
The Nationals face San Diego and the Dodgers on the road over the next seven days, a journey that will test the team’s focus. “I’ve seen the West Coast destroy teams,” Baker said. “Everybody has friends, relatives, couple fleas, couple parasites. It’s no joke, going to the coast.”
Cubs: After taking Thursday off, Chicago sends Jake Arrieta (10-1, 1.86 ERA) to the mound Friday afternoon against the Pirates at Wrigley Field.
Nationals: Tanner Roark (5-4, 2.93) starts Thursday night to launch a four-game series against San Diego. Roark’s lone complete game in the majors came against the Padres.