Cubs survive one of the strangest elimination games ever played

WASHINGTON -- It'll go down as one of the wildest elimination games in postseason history, but somehow, some way -- while using seven pitchers -- the Chicago Cubs advanced to their third consecutive National League Championship Series behind a 9-8 win over the Washington Nationals.

It wasn't supposed to end this way for Washington, not when righty Max Scherzer marched in from the bullpen in the top of the fifth inning to a roar from the sold-out crowd. But the reigning Cy Young winner wasn't his usual dominant self.

Leading 4-3 at home in Thursday night's elimination game, Scherzer was supposed to bridge the middle innings and deliver the lead to the Nationals' brilliant late-game pitchers. It never happened, because the most unusual of innings did.

After Scherzer got reigning MVP Kris Bryant to ground out and current Hank Aaron Award finalist Anthony Rizzo to line out to center, that's when the Cubs went to work.

Willson Contreras singled, followed by a Ben Zobrist pinch-hit base knock. Then came the hit of the game, a first-pitch double down the left field line by shortstop Addison Russell. Scherzer was on the ropes, all after two outs. But the Cubs weren't done. A dropped third strike, catcher's interference and a hit by pitch followed. Really. All that happened with Scherzer on the mound. A 4-3 deficit turned into a 7-4 Chicago lead.

The Cubs would spend the next five innings doing everything they could to walk the game away, as their bullpen issued eight free passes and the Nationals chipped away at the lead. It wasn't enough, though, as Russell doubled home another run and Bryant beat out a double-play ball to plate one more. The Cubs scored just enough to outlast a Nationals squad that simply wouldn't go away.

But a break in the eighth inning sealed the deal for the visitors. With a runner ahead of him at second base, Jose Lobaton was picked off first by Contreras when his foot came off the bag on his slide back into the base, as replay reversed the initial safe call. It saved closer Wade Davis some pitches, as he would get the final seven outs. Davis threw 44 pitches.

The Cubs' chances for a World Series championship repeat live on, as they get a rematch with the Dodgers in the NLCS, beginning Saturday in Los Angeles. But first they'll need to take a deep breath or two after eliminating the Nationals.

It was that insane of a night.