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October 13, 2017

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.