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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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John Gant homers, pitches Cardinals to 6-4 win over Nationals

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USA TODAY Sports

John Gant homers, pitches Cardinals to 6-4 win over Nationals

ST. LOUIS -- Even John Gant cracked a smile.

Gant homered for his first major league hit and pitched one-run ball into the sixth inning, helping the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Washington Nationals 6-4 on Tuesday night for their season-high seventh consecutive victory.

Kolten Wong had three hits and three RBIs as St. Louis (65-55) pulled within four games of the NL Central-leading Chicago Cubs and moved within one game of the Philadelphia Phillies for the second NL wild card. The Cardinals also improved to 18-9 since Mike Shildt was named interim manager on July 13, the most wins for a manager through his first 27 games in franchise history.

"Things are starting to click for us," Wong said. "We're playing confident. We're out there playing aggressive and I think it's the kind of baseball Cardinals fans have been waiting for."

The Nationals (60-60) have dropped six of eight to fall eight games behind Atlanta in the NL East.

"We've just got to keep pulling the same rope, keep grinding it out, keep trying to win ballgames," Nationals slugger Bryce Harper said.

Gant (5-4) permitted four hits and struck out six in 5 1/3 innings. He has given up just two earned runs over 11 1/3 innings in his last two starts, both wins.

The 26-year-old Gant was 0 for 30 for his career when he drove a 1-1 pitch from Gio Gonzalez (7-9) over the wall in left in the second. The two-run shot gave Washington a 3-0 lead.

"I was jogging kind of my hands in the air," said Wong, who scored on Gant's homer. "I already knew it was going out. Looking back I think he almost caught me."

Added Gant, "I thought it was going to hit the wall maybe but when I finally looked up and (Wong) was looking back at me, that's when I knew it was going over the wall."

Gant, who has a reputation for being a stoic player, admitted to smiling "once or twice" once he got back to the dugout.

Wong's solo homer made it 6-1 in the sixth, but Washington responded with three in the eighth. Harper hit a two-run shot, and Daniel Murphy singled in Anthony Rendon.

Matt Adams then struck out looking against Dakota Hudson, ending the inning, and Jordan Hicks worked the ninth for his fourth save in eight chances.

Paul DeJong also doubled and scored for St. Louis one night after he connected for a game-ending homer in a 7-6 victory. Matt Carpenter walked in the sixth to extend his on-base streak to 32 games.

"We have a 25-man roster and we have confidence in all of them," Shildt said. "They're here for a reason and guys are looking to contribute every night and in different ways."

Gonzalez was charged with five runs and five hits in four innings. The veteran left-hander is just 1-4 in his last six starts.

"I wasn't hitting my spots," Gonzalez said. "Just not being as consistent in the strike zone as I should be. It's just one of those games you can't explain."

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Nationals place Ryan Madson on 10-day DL

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Nationals place Ryan Madson on 10-day DL

Ryan Madson is the latest Washington National headed to the DL, turning the team's relief pitching rotation upside down even more than it already is. 

According to MASN's Dan Kolko, the 37-year-old is nursing a "lumbar nerve root irritation" injury and will sit out for 10 days. 

In response, the team has named Koda Glover as the closer, who was promoted from Triple-A Syracuse Wednesday. 

Glover gave up a game-ending solo blast to the Cardinals' Kevin DeJong Monday night. 

The night before, Madson was on the other end of David Bote's walk-off grand slam in Sunday's 4-3 loss to the Cubs. 

As for Tuesday night, Glover's status remains unknown.

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