There are seven different ways to allow a baserunner, and the Nationals engaged in far too many of them in a nightmarish fifth inning that saw their 4-3 lead turn into a 7-4 deficit.
Max Scherzer, working in relief to face the toughest part of the Cubs’ order, began with two quick outs. And then everything went to shit. There was one single, another, then a double that drove them both in: the start of a meltdown, but a pretty ordinary one. The context here ratchets up the intensity, sure, but the simple content of those at-bats—two runs on three hits—is a garden-variety meltdown. The frustration it provokes might feel strong enough to seem unique, but it isn’t, really. It’s what came next that made this inning truly brutal.
First, Scherzer intentionally walked Jason Heyward. Then Javier Baez came to the plate, and on an 0-2 count, this happened:
That was ruled a passed-ball strikeout, but catcher Matt Wieters made a throwing error that allowed Baez to advance to second base while Heyward moved on to third and the lead runner scored to put the Cubs up 6-4. That, in a vacuum, is some truly awful stuff for the Nationals. But it gets worse. The call that set everything in motion here—the passed-ball strikeout—appears to have been wrong.
It’s very clearly visible that Baez hit Wieters on his backswing, presumably unintentionally. Per MLB’s Official Baseball Rules, that seems to mean that the ball should have been dead and no one should have had the chance to move forward:
One of the game’s best starting pitchers blowing up in a relief appearance, an ugly error, and what seems to have been a very serious blown call by the umpiring crew. And things still got worse. To briefly return to that idea of the seven ways to get on base, the Cubs had so far managed only to achieve a hit and a walk, plus an error that advanced a runner. The next batter was Tommy La Stella, who benefitted from another screw-up by Wieters with a catcher’s interference call. That left the bases loaded, with Jon Jay at the plate—ready to get hit by a pitch and send in a run.
Intentional walk, (very probably wrong) passed-ball strikeout, catcher’s interference, hit by pitch. That is a uniquely awful sort of hell.
Kris Bryant, at last, popped up to put the Nationals out of their misery—considering the circumstances, a true humanitarian act.