Nationals even series with Cubs

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He spoke of needing to have fun.

"I mean we only got two hits and we didn't hit the ball hard off of him", Washington manager Dusty Baker said of Hendricks, who gave up just two hits in seven innings.

The dispatch countered the dread, bordering on panic, emanating beyond the clubhouse walls in a region terrified of another one-and-done playoff run.

Indeed, his team reached franchise highs for runs and homers this season, and the Nationals were the only club in the majors with four players - including Harper and Zimmerman - who each topped 20 homers and 85 RBIs. The series is tied at one. After scoring one run on just four hits - f-o-u-r - in the first 16 innings of this series, the Nats got five runs and 10 total bases in one frame.

The Nationals were shut out in Game 1 of this series on Friday, and Lester fired six stout innings on Saturday, allowing only one run, a solo homer by Rendon. All year, Zimmerman has been trying to heighten his "launch angle" with nearly no success, despite his 36 homers and 108 RBI.

"We just needed that spark", said starter Gio Gonzalez. Lester retired the next nine batters he faced.

Picking up today's victory for the Nationals was Oliver Perez. Although he went oh-fer in his first three trips on Saturday, the former MVP showed signs that he's starting to come around. Last night they got an incredible performance from Stephen Strasburg, and blew it on a dumb error, a dumb overthrow, and infuriating timidity at the plate. "I don't know Game 4 or Game 5, but take it one inning at a time, one at-bat at a time, and do the things we can to get on base and put pressure on them".

With his game-tying, eighth-inning blast into the second deck at Nationals Park, Harper provided - at least temporarily - a loud record scratch in what to that point sounded like the same ol' song for a team that tends to hit all the wrong notes when it plays baseball in October. Both sluggers adjusted accordingly for their second encounters. He batted for Hendricks in the eighth and doubled to left field. Bryce always steps up right when it's time.

A Cubs fan reached over the railing in right field to grab Rizzo's shot, but the umpires upheld the home run after a replay review. The ruling was upheld. Bryant lashed an elevated 97-mph fastball to right field, giving the Cubs their first hit and their first run. But the Cubs can not rely on the Nationals to make mistake-they need to create their own offense in the early going.

Then in the decisive eighth, the sluggish Nationals offense finally awoke. It also derailed Lester. But the left-hander threw 34 pitches over 2 1/3 innings in relief Wednesday during Arizona's wild-card win over Colorado, so it will be interesting to see how fresh he looks. He gave up a single to pinch hitter Adam Lind and struck out Trea Turner. The momentum suddenly shifted again. That set the stage for Harper, who by his own admission, hadn't been as ready for the spotlight as he would have liked since coming off the disabled list. Mike Montgomery wasn't sure until it went just over the fence.

The ballpark erupted. Harper jumped out of the dugout in celebration.

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