WASHINGTON – Wade Davis stood on the mound at Nationals Park and suddenly lunged forward – the way someone would throw up in a toilet – and smacked his glove against right hand three times. Davis never looks nervous or shows really any emotions, but the Cubs closer embraced catcher Willson Contreras, twirled around and got swallowed by the mosh pit once it finally ended at 12:45 a.m. on Friday in Washington.
Davis had just struck out Bryce Harper, the Nationals superstar whiffing on a cutter that broke sharply toward the dirt, the last out in a 9-8 rollercoaster and a five-game National League Division Series pushed to the limits.
“That’s a bad mother----- right there,” pitcher Jon Lester said amid the champagne-and-beer celebration inside the visiting clubhouse. “I love that guy. I’ve got to play with a lot of good closers, and he’s a bad sumb----. He proved it tonight.”
Davis already proved it with the 2015 Kansas City Royals team that rode a power bullpen to a World Series title – and during a regular season where he converted his first 32 save chances as a Cub – but even this was next-level stuff.
In an elimination game where Kyle Hendricks lasted only four innings – and in a reversal the Twitter opinion trended toward why didn’t Joe Maddon pull him sooner – the manager cycled through Brian Duensing, Pedro Strop, Mike Montgomery, Carl Edwards Jr. and Jose Quintana, Saturday’s likely NL Championship Series Game 1 starter at Dodger Stadium.
“No, we hadn’t talked about it,” said Davis, the totally low-maintenance closer. “You just kind of figure it might happen.”
Eventually, the all-hands-on-deck strategy just became Davis as the last line of defense, responsible for the final seven outs.
In the same way that Aroldis Chapman gave this team an entirely different dimension during last year’s playoff run, Davis jogged in from the left-field bullpen at 11:47 p.m., inherited two runners in a two-run game and needed only four pitches to strike out Ryan Zimmerman to end the seventh inning.
“He’s got ice in his veins,” said Ben Zobrist, who played with Davis on that championship team in Kansas City. “He really hung in tough there for us and pulled it off.”
The Cubs acquired Davis during the winter meetings for moments like this, knowing how valuable he would be in October, even if he cashes in somewhere else as a free agent.
Davis walked Daniel Murphy and Anthony Rendon to lead off the eighth inning, but he doesn’t rattle easily, getting pinch-hitter Adam Lind to ground into a double play. After Michael A. Taylor’s broken-bat RBI single, Contreras and first baseman Anthony Rizzo executed a back-pick play to throw out Jose Lobaton and end the threat.
“He does a great job of turning the page,” outfielder Jason Heyward said. “That last inning, in the ninth, I swear (it was like) he had just come out of the bullpen and he was a different Wade Davis. That’s unbelievable.”
Davis mowed down the top of the Washington lineup and maxed out at 44 pitches, sending Harper and the Nationals home for the winter, because the Cubs felt like they had no other choice.
“I looked down there a couple times – no one was warming up,” Davis said. “I had to. These guys fought so hard, all season long. They fought hard in this game. The offense and the defense – everybody’s been battling – and I really didn’t want to let it happen to us then.”