WASHINGTON -- Albert Almora Jr.'s RBI double in the ninth inning proved to be the difference as the Cubs edged the Nationals, 4-3, at Nationals Park on Tuesday night.The score was tied at 3 when Chicago scored the go-ahead run off left-hander Sammy Solis. With Addison Russell on second, Almora
WASHINGTON -- Albert Almora Jr.'s RBI double in the ninth inning proved to be the difference as the Cubs edged the Nationals, 4-3, at Nationals Park on Tuesday night.
The score was tied at 3 when Chicago scored the go-ahead run off left-hander Sammy Solis. With Addison Russell on second, Almora doubled to left-center field, driving in Russell. Before that play, Solis hadn't allowed a run in his last 11 appearances.
• Rare off night for Solis
"[Solis has] been great for us," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "He just made one bad pitch. He got the slider up, and that was really the only bad pitch he's made in -- I don't know how long. Almora could've popped it up. He didn't miss it."
Almora, MLBPipeline's No. 78 overall prospect, played with Solis in the Arizona Fall League, so he had some background on him. But it was clutch, especially since it was his first at-bat of the game. Almora had entered defensively in a double switch.
• New school of thought benefits Almora Jr.
"The guy's been here for five minutes and goes up there and he's not passive," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of the rookie. "He jumped on the first pitch, and I loved it."
The Cubs opened up a 3-0 lead against Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez by the fourth inning. In the second, John Lackey and Dexter Fowler scored on a single by Jason Heyward. In the following frame, David Ross gave Chicago a three-run lead when he singled up the middle, sending Ben Zobrist home.
Neither starter received a decision.
Gonzalez went 6 1/3 innings, allowing three runs on five hits and striking out nine. Lackey pitched six-plus innings, giving up two runs on four hits and fanning seven.
The Nationals scored all three of their runs via the sacrifice fly. Danny Espinosa scored on Jayson Werth's in the third, while Espinosa scored again on one by Ben Revere in the seventh.
Washington would tie it an inning later against closer Hector Rondon as Bryce Harper came home thanks to Anthony Rendon.
"We had opportunities," Baker said. "Second and third and nobody out and bases loaded, and we hit some balls on the nose. Bryce hit the ball hard, Murph hit the ball extremely hard. We played a good game. We just came up on the short end."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Start me up: Lackey helped himself in the third with a two-out single to right. Fowler then doubled, and both he and Lackey scored on Heyward's single. The Nationals intentionally walked Kris Bryant -- only the second time in his young career that has happened -- to face Anthony Rizzo, and Gonzalez struck him out. Rizzo came into the game batting .194 against left-handers and 2-for-17 against Gonzalez.
"I blacked out," Lackey jokingly said of his hit. "[Jon] Lester's trying to catch me on hits. I needed one bad tonight, and I got one."
Lack of runs: During Gonzalez's last five starts, the Nationals have scored nine runs. The last time the Nationals scored four runs in a game that featured Gonzalez was May 28 against the Cardinals. The Nationals scored four runs in the game.
Penmanship: The Nationals had runners at second and third with nobody out in the seventh when Maddon pulled Lackey after 98 pitches. Pedro Strop gave up a sacrifice fly to Revere, but he struck out Werth to end the inning. Maddon then called on Rondon in the eighth with one on and one out, and the right-hander served up a single to Ryan Zimmerman and a sac fly to Rendon, which tied the game at 3.
"He's had plenty of rest, so that's why I was able to do that," Maddon said about asking Rondon to get the final five outs. More >
"[The Cubs] know they're in a ballgame, and we'll come out tomorrow and win this rubber match. We've got [Stephen Strasburg] going tomorrow. We feel very confident about it. Our guys don't like to lose." -- Baker
"[The Nationals] have a bunch of gamers out there. They're just like us, we're just like them. Every pitch matters. Nobody takes a pitch off. None of their pitchers take a pitch off, none of their defenders do, none of their hitters do. I love it. It's great, and it's good for baseball. It's good for kids to watch a game like that and see how it's supposed to be." -- Maddon
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Tuesday was Lackey's 400th career start, making him the third active pitcher to reach that milestone, joining the Mets' Bartolo Colon (479 starts) and the Yankees' CC Sabathia (462).
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
In the first inning, Heyward hit what looked like a double play, but first-base umpire Bob Davidson called Heyward safe on the play. Baker challenged the call and after 40 seconds, the play was overturned.
In the fifth inning, it appeared Gonzalez hit into a double play after he tried to bunt Jose Lobaton to second base. Baker challenged the play, claiming that Gonzalez was safe at first. After one minute and 18 seconds, the call was overturned and Gonzalez remained at first base.
Cubs:Jason Hammel will close this series against the Nationals. The right-hander is coming off a loss to the Braves in which he gave up three runs over 5 2/3 innings. He's 9-0 with a 3.16 ERA against the Nationals in his career, and it's the most wins without a loss by any active pitcher against a single opponent. First pitch is scheduled for 3:05 p.m. CT.
Nationals: Right-hander Stephen Strasburg did not face the Cubs during the four-game set in early May at Wrigley Field. He has not faced the Cubs since Aug. 22, 2013. In that game, he allowed four runs in eight innings. First pitch is scheduled for 4:05 p.m. ET
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Bill Ladson has covered the Nationals/Expos for MLB.com since 2002 and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the Time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats.
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast.