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Harper, Zimmerman with late inning heroics even series vs. Cubs

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Harper, Zimmerman with late inning heroics even series vs. Cubs

WASHINGTON -- Things were looking bleak for the Washington Nationals and their dormant offense until Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman took over.

Harper hit a tying two-run homer in the eighth inning and Zimmerman tacked on a three-run shot moments later to lift the Washington Nationals to a 6-3 comeback victory over the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs on Saturday, evening their NL Division Series at a game apiece.

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The Nationals were in serious danger of falling behind 2-0 in the series, entering the eighth trailing 3-1 after dropping Game 1 by a 3-0 score. But after accumulating four hits through the first 16 innings of the postseason, NL East champion Washington broke out with five runs and four hits, led by 2015 NL MVP Harper and longtime face of the franchise Zimmerman.

"I was kind of bewildered, because it's not too many teams or pitchers that have held us in check like that for a couple days," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "I just knew in the bottom of my heart that we were going to explode for some numbers, which we've done all year."

The NLDS moves to Wrigley Field for Game 3 on Monday. The Cubs will have Jose Quintana on the mound and the Nationals counter with two-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, who was pushed back in the rotation because of an injured right hamstring.

MORE NATS: WHY SCHERZER STARTING GAME 3 COULD BE A GOOD THING

Jon Lester held Washington to one run and two hits through six innings, but Cubs manager Joe Maddon turned to his bullpen and everything changed.

After pinch hitter Adam Lind led off the eighth with a single, Harper connected off a hanging curveball from Carl Edwards Jr., taking a moment to admire his shot before chucking his bat to the ground as the ball reached the second deck in right field. His teammates in the dugout reacted immediately, screaming and raising fists as the ball tore through the night air.

Maddon defended his decision to have the righty-throwing Edwards pitch to the lefty-batting Harper.

"He made a bad pitch and the guy didn't miss it, and that's it. Sometimes that happens. Bryce is good. C.J. is good," Maddon said. "Bryce got him."

With fans in the crowd of 43,860 roaring and twirling red towels handed out at Nationals Park, Harper jumped up the dugout steps for a curtain call, throwing an uppercut. Then he flipped his hair on his way back to rejoin his teammates after his fifth homer in 16 career postseason games.

"We knew Harp was due," Baker said. "He's known for the big moment. Man, he blasted that ball a ton."

It was the first extra-base hit for Harper since he returned from the disabled list during the last week of September after missing 42 games with an injured left knee. He was only 4 for 25 overall in the regular season and playoffs after coming back until that key, possibly series-altering at-bat.

"The more at-bats I get," Harper said before Game 2, "the more comfortable I get." Harper also said Saturday's Game 2 was "not got-to-win," that he's "played in a lot of bigger games, I feel like, than this," and that "growing up, playing in front of 15,000 people at 10 years old, it's kind of the same thing to me."

After the next two men reached, Zimmerman stepped in to face Mike Montgomery. This has been a renaissance year for the first baseman, who had only 15 homers and 46 RBIs during an injury-plagued 2016, but led the Nationals this season with 36 homers and 108 RBIs.

His shot off a 93 mph fastball was hardly the no-doubter Harper's drive was, but on an evening in which balls carried in 12 mph wind -- every run scored on a homer -- this one barely cleared the green wall in left field.

As he began running the bases, Zimmerman jutted his right fist out, then spread both arms wide, the way a kid pretends to be an airplane.

It made a winner of Oliver Perez, who pitched to one batter in the eighth, Anthony Rizzo, and induced an inning-ending double play. The last of Washington's six pitchers, closer Sean Doolittle, came on for the ninth and earned the save.

In the fourth, Rizzo became the Cubs' career leader in postseason homers (six) and RBIs (16) with a tiebreaking two-run shot off Gio Gonzalez to give Chicago a 3-1 lead. The ball was barehanded by a man in a No. 17 Kris Bryant Cubs jersey and with a camera slung around his neck. He reached over a railing to grab it; after an umpire review, the initial ruling that it was a home run stood.

Washington's Anthony Rendon had homered off Lester in the first, and Chicago's Willson Contreras went deep against Gonzalez in the second.

MORE NATS: NATS DROP GAME ONE WITHOUT A RUN

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Why Bryce Harper would be a bargain at $500 million

Why Bryce Harper would be a bargain at $500 million

$500 million.

That number is so hard to wrap your brain around, but it's a number a lot of professional baseball players may soon start seeing on their contracts.

One player who could be the first to see that amount within the next year is Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper.

Harper will become a free agent in 2018 and people are already projecting his market value at close to $500 million, if not more.

Miami Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton signed a contract back in 2014 for 13 years, $325 million, holding the league record.

For Fancy Stats writer Neil Greenberg, $500 million is a bargain for someone of Harper's caliber.

"Harper is every bit as good [as Stanton] but he's also young," Greenberg told the Sports Junkies Friday.

"I mean, we don't see a player that's as good as Harper, that's as young a Harper, hit the market almost ever I want to say. You look at how many years of his prime he has left and then even if you start to give him just the typical aging curb off of that prime, he's probably worth close to 570 million dollars starting from 2019 and going forward ten years. And that includes also the price of free agency going up and other factors."

Harper, who is only 25 years-old, brings more to a team than just talent. He's one of the most recognizable figures in baseball, bringing tremendous marketing opportunities to an organization. Greenberg dove deeper into how that will increase his market value.

"And that's just for the on-the-field product. You talk about all the marketing that's done around Bryce Harper [and] what he does for the game. In my opinion, and based on the numbers that I saw, he's a bargain at $500 million."

Don't we all wish someone would say $500 million is a bargain for us?

After crunching the numbers, the biggest takeaway for Greenberg is the return on investment the Nationals have gotten out of Harper.

"Like if you look at his wins above replacement throughout his career, he's given you 200 million dollars in value for 21 million dollars in cash and he's due what another 26 or 27 million this year. I mean he's already given you an amazing return on investment."

"So, if you're the Nationals having - benefited from that - you know you have a little bit of, I guess, wiggle room in terms of maybe you're paying a little bit for past performance 'cause, you know, when a player is on arbitration in their early years they don't really get paid that much."

The Nationals still have Harper for one more season and many feel they need to make him an offer sooner than later. Whenever and whoever he gets an offer from, it's going to be a nice pay day for him.

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Nats' Max Scherzer wins second straight NL Cy Young Award

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Nats' Max Scherzer wins second straight NL Cy Young Award

Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals has coasted to his third Cy Young Award and second straight in the National League.

Scherzer breezed past Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, drawing 27 of the 30 first-place votes in balloting by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

The honor was announced Wednesday on MLB Network.

Scherzer earned the NL honor last year with Washington and the 2013 American League prize with Detroit. He became the 10th pitcher with at least three Cy Youngs.

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Scherzer was 16-6 with a 2.51 ERA and a league-leading 268 strikeouts for the NL East champion Nationals.

Kershaw has already won three NL Cy Youngs, and was the last pitcher to win back-to-back. He was 18-4 with a league-best 2.31 ERA and 202 strikeouts.

Corey Kluber of the Cleveland Indians easily won his second AL Cy Young Award earlier in the day. He got 28 of the 30 first-place votes, with Boston's Chris Sale second and Luis Severino of the New York Yankees third.

Kluber led the majors with a 2.25 ERA and his 18 wins tied for the most in baseball.