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A monster home run by Bryce Harper breathed new life into a Nationals team that was on the verge of being eliminated by the Cubs in the NLDS. USA TODAY Sports

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WASHINGTON — Breaking down Game 2 of the NL Division Series between the Washington Nationals and Chicago Cubs at Nationals Park:

Nationals 6, Cubs 3: Series tied.

***

The Final: Sixteen moribund innings. And then one lightning strike of a frame. That’s all it took for the Washington Nationals to send this NLDS back to Chicago tied at a game apiece with a stunning 6-3 victory Saturday night.

Four outs from falling in a 2-0 NLDS hole, Bryce Harper revived the Nationals with one swing, a towering, game-tying two-run homer to right field off Cubs reliever Carl Edwards Jr. in the bottom of the eighth inning. Edwards followed up with a walk to Anthony Rendon, and lefty Mike Montgomery was summoned to face Daniel Murphy. Murphy shot a single into left field to bring up Ryan Zimmerman.

With no right-handers warm in Chicago’s bullpen, it was on Montgomery to get him out. And it appeared he did – Zimmerman lofted a high fly ball to left field that sent Ben Zobrist back to the warning track…and the wall. The crowd fell silent.

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Yet Zimmerman, the franchise icon who made his debut here in 2005, seemed to know an instant before anyone else: It was gone. Zimmerman pumped his arms as he seemed to will the ball over the wall as he sauntered down the first base line, and the crowd of 43,860 roared as the three-run homer landed in a flower bed.

Sean Doolittle, acquired in July to steady a putrid Nationals bullpen, pitched the ninth for his first career postseason save.

Man of the moment: Harper. In what could have been his final home playoff game – Harper is a free agent after 2018 – the slugger broke out of an injury-induced slump to shake this series to its core. When Edwards left a curveball spinning up in the strike zone, Harper hammered it out to right field, tossed his bat, watched and then went into a trot.

It was estimated at 421 feet, which seemed modest given its towering trajectory. For Edwards, the distance was incidental: He blew the Cubs' chance at taking command of the series - and he knew it right away.

"At that time, as soon as it left my hand I had an idea it wasn’t going down," Edwards said. "He can hit."

The home run was preceded by a pinch hit single from Adam Lind in his first career playoff plate appearance. The Nationals' tying strike was a stunner: Washington’s lone run of the series came on an Anthony Rendon solo home run in the first inning. Otherwise, they’d been shackled by Cubs pitching – they were 3 for 42 for the series entering the fifth inning Saturday – and seemed destined to face a winter of ignominy after the Nationals lost in the first round for the fourth time in six seasons.

Instead, we have a series.

State of the series: Instead of Max Scherzer to save the season, now the Nationals will turn to their ace to put the defending World Series champions on the ropes.

Scherzer, pushed to Game 3 due a hamstring injury, threw a bullpen session Friday, ran sprints in the outfield Saturday and figures to be full throttle Mad Max with the series knotted up Monday night in Chicago.

The Cubs will turn to Jose Quintana, acquired in July from the Chicago White Sox, who will be making his first career start. They are confident he will be up to the challenge.

“Listen, I have all the faith in the world in this guy,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said before Game 2. I’m really excited for him, because this is a guy that’s earned the right to pitch in a game like that.”

The Nationals are a little more strident, handing the ball to the reigning Cy Young Award winner coming off the high of Game 2.

"I think the train's coming," Harper said. "We've got Max coming in Game 3."

What you missed on TV: The sweat collecting on your forehead in the 82-degree, humid conditions at game time. The summerlike conditions - including a gentle breeze blowing out -gave a live ball even more hop, as Washington’s Anthony Rendon hit his first home run of the season that went directly down the right field line, and Cubs catcher Willson Contreras hit a glorified popup that kept carrying into the left field seats to equalize Rendon’s shot.

Anthony Rizzo’s two-run homer also barely cleared the right field wall.

And then there was Zimmerman's decisive blast, perhaps aided by the sultry conditions but counting just the same. 

"I knew the ball was flying out to left, just from BP," Montgomery said. "I was just watching and hoping it came up a bit short. Whether it’s over by a foot or 100 feet, it’s a homer. It kind of sucks."

Zimmerman said he didn't figure it was out "until it landed in the flower bed, I guess.

"I know I hit it pretty good, but I hit it really high. The wind was actually blowing out pretty much the entire game. Just happy to put a good swing on a pitch and maybe got a little lucky. 

"Who knows?" 

Kind of sums up the state of this NLDS.

Gallery: Best of the 2017 postseason

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