Harper's clutch HR lifts Nats to DH sweep

Washington overcomes early slam, more rain in nightcap

September 9th, 2018

WASHINGTON -- Rain has shaped the weekend series between the Cubs and the Nationals. Two long delays led to Friday night's postponement and Saturday's doubleheader. The start of Game 1 was pushed back 2 hours, 10 minutes. And the nightcap was interrupted by a delay of 1 hour, 29 minutes in the bottom of the eighth before the conclusion after 1 a.m. ET.

The Nats endured it all and swept the twin bill with a 6-5 victory in the nightcap on a go-ahead two-run homer from in the seventh inning at Nationals Park.

"I'm proud of the guys," left-hander said. "I think this was an awesome day for us. Having to wait around for an extra two hours last night and then coming today, with a lot of rain in the forecast, coming from behind in the second game, I think that says a lot about our team."

The Cubs' lead in the National League Central race dipped to 2 1/2 games over the Brewers, their slimmest margin since Aug. 22, with the two losses on Saturday.

Harper got a hold of a cutter left up in the zone by Cubs reliever in the seventh inning -- giving the Nationals their first lead in Game 2. It was Harper's 32nd home run of the season, and once it landed over the wall, he pointed and turned toward the dugout in excitement.

It's the club's first doubleheader sweep since October 2015.

"They played through some awful weather, and they battled for two games and into the wee hours of the morning," manager Dave Martinez said.

The Nats had moved to the bullpen last week, an effort to limit his innings, as they saw his stamina declining as the season wore on. But they were forced into a position of need with the twin bill, and Rodriguez was called upon to start Game 2. He did not give up a hit through the first three innings, striking out five consecutive Cubs at one point en route to a season-high seven strikeouts in four innings. But he scuffled through the fourth inning, where after a hit and pair of walks, Rodriguez surrendered a grand slam to .

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With a fresh bullpen after Max Scherzer tossed his second complete game of the season in a 10-3 win in Game 1, Rodriguez's night was complete after four innings, paving the way for a chorus of young arms. Austen Williams, Sammy Solis, and helped bridge the gap to Doolittle, who pitched for the first time since he landed on the disabled list on July 7, and Greg Holland, who locked down the save.

"I always assume that we're going to finish the game," Holland said. "Even if it looks bad, I still try to stay locked in."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED

Caratini's grand slam appeared to awaken the Nationals' bats, which immediately began to mount a steady rally after being blanked by Cubs starter Cole Hamels for three innings when hit an RBI triple off Hamels in the fourth. 

The Nats continued to chip away in the sixth, when hit a solo home run and Sanchez added an RBI double to pull the Nats within a run and chase Hamels.

After gave the Cubs a two-run lead with a double in the seventh off reliever , Rendon tied it with a double in the bottom half of the frame to set up Harper.

DOOLITTLE RETURNS

The reliever's return from the disabled list also meant the bullpen cart at Nationals Park got its first passenger, as Doolittle was summoned to record the final two outs in the eighth inning. Although his velocity was a bit lower than usual, Doolittle's stuff was still sharp. He struck out on three pitches and induced a flyout from Caratini. Martinez figured the game might enter a delay soon and the Cubs might use Murphy to pinch-hit before the rain started to fall. So he called on his closer an inning early.

"I was happy with how I felt, all things considered," Doolittle said. "Not the ideal, I guess, circumstances to come off the DL, weather-wise at least, really late at night and back end of a doubleheader. But today was all about hanging tough and making the most of some tough situations. I'm happy I got to help out."

SOUND SMART

Harper reached safely in seven of his eight plate appearances in the doubleheader. He has now reached safely in 22 of his last 33 plate appearances dating to Sept. 1 against the Brewers. During this stretch, he has 14 walks, eight hits and seven RBIs.

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UP NEXT

Right-hander (1-3, 6.00 ERA) will be on the mound as the Nationals wrap up a four-game set with the Cubs at 1:35 p.m. ET on Sunday at Nationals Park. Fedde was sharp in his return from the disabled list -- aside from giving up four runs in the second inning -- matching a career high with seven strikeouts in five innings against the Cardinals on Tuesday. Left-hander Mike Montgomery (4-5, 3.85 ERA) will start for Chicago.