Wil Nieves hit a walk-off two-run homer in the ninth to lift the Washington Nationals to a 5-3 victory on Friday night over the Cubs, who lost their second straight game for only the third time this season.
With the game tied at 3 in the ninth and Bob Howry (0-2) on the mound, Austin Kearns singled to lead off, and one out later Nieves launched an 0-2 pitch to right for the game-winner.
"It's a bad pitch," Howry said. "You don't want to go up and away from a guy, because all he's got to do is get his arms extended. I tried to come up, and I wanted to be up and in. I just pulled it across the plate."
It was Nieves' first career homer. Howry didn't have much of a scouting report.
"It doesn't matter if it's him or anybody -- that's not a good location," Howry said.
Nieves' homer may have been the difference in the outcome, but Johnson made the highlight reel. The Nationals had two outs in the fifth, and Felipe Lopez lofted the ball to deep left-center.
"It was a 3-1 count, so I backed up a couple steps to give the hitter credit in that situation," Johnson said. "Felipe Lopez has some pop. I wanted to make sure I could get to the ball if it was driven. I didn't realize the wall was that close. I knew I had to dive to catch it. I left my feet and hit the wall pretty soon thereafter."
He dove to snare Lopez's fly ball, and slammed head first into the bottom of the outfield fence. Johnson survived, although the brim of his cap needed some adjusting. Didn't it hurt?
"I don't think I hit my head," Johnson said. "I got up pretty fast. I was looking around and checking to see -- when your adrenaline is going, you're checking to see if everything is still intact."
His right arm was pretty well scraped, courtesy of the gravel warning track.
"That's as good a catch as you'll ever see in baseball," Ryan Dempster said.
"That's the best play I've ever seen, personally -- maybe best ever," Ryan Theriot said.
It was time, Johnson said.
"I was thinking before the game, defensively, I haven't made a bunch of nice plays," he said. "I've made some running catches but nothing like a full-out sprint. I was thinking that today and fortunately it worked out."
He wasn't interested in seeing a replay. He will be playing his at-bat in the eighth over and over in his head.
"To tell you the truth, you think about that [catch], but the play I think about the most is when we had bases loaded, one out and we're not able to get one of those runs in," Johnson said of the eighth. "That's the at-bat I'll be thinking about all night. It would've been nice to get that run in."
Johnson won't be alone.
The Nationals had taken a 3-2 lead in the sixth on Lastings Milledge's RBI single. In the eighth, Aramis Ramirez and Kosuke Fukudome each singled off Luis Ayala, and both advanced on Mark DeRosa's sacrifice. Geovany Soto was intentionally walked to load the bases, and Ayala was lifted for Mike O'Connor, who unintentionally walked pinch-hitter Matt Murton to force in a run.
But pinch-hitter Mike Fontenot struck out, and Johnson grounded out to shortstop to end the inning.
"We expect Fontenot to put the ball in play," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "We were trying to get the game over in the eighth inning. We had every chance in the world. We just didn't get it done.
"This was a couple games in a row where we've had opportunities and we didn't take advantage of them," Piniella said.
Dempster matched his longest outing this season, but did not get a decision. Dempster struck out five, and gave up three runs -- two earned -- on four hits over seven innings. He retired the first two batters he faced, then walked Ryan Zimmerman to set up Nick Johnson's third home run.
"The first inning, I was upset with myself, having two out, nobody on, and a four pitch walk and then hang a pitch for a home run," Dempster said. "I tried to keep myself calm and go out there and make pitches and go as deep as I could. It was a tough loss. We had opportunities, and it didn't happen. I felt I could've done a better job of giving us a chance to win the game."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.