The unsung hero of Cubs' epic Game 5 victory doesn't even wear a uniform

The unsung hero of Cubs' epic Game 5 victory doesn't even wear a uniform

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Oh man, another challenge??

That was the reaction from about half the press box at Nationals Park as the hour moved to early Friday morning in an epic Game 5.

Anybody who had to wake up early for work the next morning likely went through the same exasperation when Joe Maddon called for a challenge with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning on a play that seemed pretty cut-and-dry.

But it wasn't cut-and-dry. The Cubs won the challenge, successfully picking backup catcher Jose Lobaton off first base and ending the inning.

It completely halted the Nationals' momentum, sniping any chance they had of completing a comeback against the Cubs and their discombobulated bullpen.

Theo Epstein and Kris Bryant both said that moment — the backpick at first base and subsequent challenge — will be the one thing from this zany, bonkers game that they remember for the rest of their lives.

"Willson's pickoff there was huge to shift the momentum," Bryant said. "Not many people would attempt that throw because if you throw it into right field, the runner scores.

"That's one of the times we really enjoy the replay review."

And yet the hero of that moment was a guy that doesn't even suit up to play for the Cubs. 

Nate Halm's official title is advance scouting coordinator, but he is also in charge of replays during the game, sitting in front of screens ready to challenge at a moment's notice.

He was sitting in his usual war room as Thursday night bled into Friday morning and noticed on one angle that Lobaton's foot appeared to come off the bag.

Halm looked again at another angle — quickly, of course, because teams are only allotted 30 seconds after a play to either challenge or move on — and saw Lobaton's foot clearly came off the bag while Anthony Rizzo was still holding the tag firmly on Lobaton's...crotch.

So Halm jumped up, screaming for Maddon and the Cubs coaching staff in the dugout to challenge the play.

They did, and the rest is history.

Three pitches before that soon-to-be-infamous challenge, Lobaton had singled off Wade Davis with two outs. The Nationals had just scored one run off yet another Michael A. Taylor RBI and Lobaton's hit moved Taylor into scoring position as the tying run.

Davis got a quick strike on Trea Turner at the plate and when he ran the count to 1-1 with a curveball that missed the zone, Contreras noticed Lobaton dancing far off the bag on his secondary lead. So the Cubs catcher gave the signal to Rizzo at first base to be ready for a backpick.

Davis' next pitch missed, but Contreras wasn't worried about the location, snapping a perfect strike over to Rizzo, who was somehow able to keep the tag on Lobaton as the Cubs caught a major break.

It was a horrendous error on Lobaton's part, because he was going nowhere with a runner (the tying run, no less) in front of him on the basepaths.

And it was just the boost the Cubs needed to regain momentum they never again relinquished.

"We were trying to find a way to get to the finish line," Epstein said. "The double play was big with [Nationals pinch-hitter Adam] Lind and then the replay, with two guys on. 

"Real close play. I didn't even think we were gonna challenge and Nate saw something on the replay, saw Lobaton's foot come off the base. That was a huge moment in the game to get an out without having to throw more pitches. Obviously they had the tying run on base there in scoring position."

Nineteen different guys suited up for the Cubs in that epic Game 5.

Yet it was a guy that doesn't even put on a uniform that wound up the hero.

Willson Contreras' bat-flip game is already in midseason form

Willson Contreras' bat-flip game is already in midseason form

The MLB regular season is still 13 days away, but Willson Contreras is ready for the swings to count.

The Cubs catcher hit an absolute bomb of a homer Friday afternoon off White Sox pitcher Reynaldo Lopez, but it wasn't just a homer.

Contreras put an exclamation mark on the dinger (his third of the spring and the second this week) with an A+ bat flip:

I'm not sure what's more majestic: The 450-foot shot or the 45-foot bat-flip.

Either way, Contreras is ready for those 2018 NL MVP votes.

Cubs opposition research: It's an even year, so count on a Giants comeback


Cubs opposition research: It's an even year, so count on a Giants comeback

The expectations couldn't be any higher for the 2018 Chicago Cubs. 

It's 2016 all over again. The goal isn't just a trip to the playoffs or another NL pennant. It's World Series or bust for this group of North Siders.

With that, let's take a look at all of the teams that could stand in the way of the Cubs getting back to the Fall Classic:

San Francisco Giants

2017 record: 64-98, last place in NL West

Offseason additions: Andrew McCutchen, Evan Longoria, Austin Jackson, Gregor Blanco, Tony Watson, Julian Fernandez

Offseason departures: Michael Morse, Matt Cain, Matt Moore, Denard Span, Kyle Crick, Christian Arroyo

X-factor: Brandon Belt

The trades for Longoria and McCutchen are going to get all the attention, but the Giants are sort of acquiring Belt, too. 

Their sweet-swining lefty first baseman only appeared in 104 games in 2017, missing the last few weeks of the season with a bad concussion. When he was on the field, he led the team in both homers (18) and walks (66) despite just 451 plate appearances. 

Belt has turned into one of the most patient hitters in the game and if he is able to stay healthy for a full season, would slot in perfectly in the 2-hole ahead of McCutchen, Longoria and Buster Posey. 

Projected lineup

1. Joe Panik - 2B
2. Brandon Belt - 1B
3. Andrew McCutchen - RF
4. Buster Posey - C
5. Evan Longoria - 3B
6. Hunter Pence - LF
7. Brandon Crawford - SS
8. Austin Jackson - CF

Projected rotation

1. Madison Bumgarner
2. Johnny Cueto
3. Jeff Samardzija
4. Ty Blach
5. Chris Stratton


The Giants tied for the worst record in Major League Baseball in 2017, surprising many around the league. Absolutely nothing went right for the team, from a lack of power on the field (Belt missed a third of the season and still led the team in homers), injuries (Bumgarner only made 17 starts) and general ineffectiveness (Mark Melancon).

But the Giants are a team that excels in even years, though the Cubs may have broken that juju by knocking San Fran out of the NLDS in 2016.

Still, between the return to health of key players and some big moves that improved the lineup, this team is primed for a return to form.

Watson is a nice piece at the back end of the bullpen and bet on a rebound from Melancon, who was one of the best late-inning relievers in the game from 2013-16 (1.80 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 147 saves).

Expect more out of the rotation with Bumgarner and Cueto a dynamic 1-2 punch. Cubs fans are familiar with what Samardzija can do if he gets on a role, too.

It seems crazy to pick the Giants to finish higher than the Diamondbacks, but they still have the same core of players from the championship years and have a much-improved roster.

Prediction: Second place in NL West, wild-card team

Complete opposition research

San Diego Padres
Colorado Rockies
Arizona Diamondbacks
San Franciso Giants