By Bruce Levine–
WASHINGTON, D.C. (CBS) — In the aftermath of disaster, they were standing in front of their lockers in the visiting clubhouse at Nationals Park on Saturday when the media was allowed in.
Cubs relievers Carl Edwards Jr. and Mike Montgomery failed to get the job done in a 6-3 loss to the Nationals in Game 2 of a National League Division Series that’s now tied 1-1 as it heads back to Chicago for Game 3 on Monday. Five outs from taking a commanding series lead, the Cubs watched as Edwards allowed a game-tying two-run homer to Bryce Harper and Montgomery followed three batters later by serving up a three-run blast to Ryan Zimmerman in the Nationals’ five-run eighth inning.
Edwards and Montgomery kept a focused, even-keeled outlook. Edwards took responsibility for hanging curveball on a 3-1 count that Harper drilled about as far as a human can hit a ball. Harper had been 1-of-7 in the series before the at-bat.
“That was the right pitch,” Edwards said. “I just hung it. When you hang it, it gets banged. It was certainly the right pitch selection and as I said, I hung it. At that moment, I really couldn’t do anything once it left my hand. As soon as I left it up, I was thinking it wasn’t coming down anytime soon.”
Cubs manager Joe Maddon had chosen to keep the right-handed Edwards in against the lefty-swinging Harper because Edwards has quality reverse splits, allowing lefties to hit just .119 with a .437 OPS in the regular season.
Maddon called using Edwards the “right call” and also curiously added he was “the only option” in the situation.
“Bryce got him,” Maddon said.
After Edwards walked Anthony Rendon, Maddon called upon the left-handed Montgomery to face the lefty-swinging Daniel Murphy, who promptly singled. Maddon then chose to stay with Montgomery instead of turning to star closer Wade Davis or another right-hander. Montgomery had held righties to a .215 batting average and .632 OPS. Davis held righties to a .211 batting average and .690 OPS.
Montgomery’s pitch caught too much of the plate, and Zimmerman’s homer landed just inches over the left-field wall. Just like that, in a span of six batters, the complexion of the series changed.
“Hey, they are a good offense,” Montgomery said. “We have to do a better job of executing pitches. Really, that is about it.”
There were no Cubs players hanging their heads or hiding from reporters in the aftermath of a gut-wrenching defeat. What was on display was a group that still has a total belief in themselves.
“A big part of it is you have to know how to lose,” Montgomery said. “You cannot let one loss affect the rest of the series. I think we are good at understanding that. It was a frustrating loss. You have to brush it off and get back out there on Monday playing good baseball, just like we have been playing.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.