"This was such a tough series, just a dogfight," said Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks, who started the series' opener and finale. "You've got to tip your hat. That club on the other side is really, really good. Lot of tough ballplayers over there. Top to bottom, they're just so deep.
"We're just lucky we were able to come out on top."
Hendricks stifled the Nationals in Game 1, tossing seven shutout innings, but it was a tougher go on Thursday. After Daniel Murphy smacked a game-tying solo shot off Hendricks' first pitch of the second, Michael A. Taylor increased Washington's lead with a three-run home run later in the inning.
Yet the Cubs created their own rally, striking for a four-run frame in the fifth against two-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer. The Nationals relentlessly clawed back, continuing to pressure Chicago, the reigning World Series winner.
"Really anxious, almost bemused at some of the things that were happening in that game," said Theo Epstein, the Cubs' president of baseball operations. "It was kind of a surreal game. We got all those runs with only one big hit to drive in runs, and then it was a matter of just holding on, finding a way to get 27 outs. It seemed impossible at times."
The Nationals twice held the Cubs hitless until the sixth. In Game 2, they rallied from a late deficit behind home runs from Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman. An ill Stephen Strasburg supplied seven scoreless innings in Game 4 to push the series to its climactic finale.
Kris Bryant, the Cubs' reigning NL MVP Award winner, went 4-for-20 in the five-game set.
"They battled us," Bryant said. "They've got probably the best pitching in the league. [Max] Scherzer coming in today and beating a guy like that, that's probably one of the best pitchers of my time, we feel really good about it."
There was plenty to celebrate, indeed. The Cubs, after all, are the team left advancing to the NL Championship Series presented by Camping World against the Dodgers beginning Saturday, a rematch of the NLCS from a year ago.
"This game was probably more surreal from start to finish than any other game," Epstein said. "We only had one clean hit to drive in a run, and we scored nine, and then we had to find to get 27 outs without throwing strikes. Our guys did an unbelievable job of finding a way to gut through it."
Nathan Ruiz is a reporter for MLB.com based in Washington.