Best and worst moments from the Nationals’ 6-5 loss to the Dodgers in Game 4 of the National League Division Series in Los Angeles.
Best or worst drama: The Nationals didn’t want it to come to this, but they’ll have a chance to clinch their first trip to the NLCS — and the first postseason series win by a D.C. pro baseball team since 1924 — at Nationals Park on Thursday after the Dodgers forced a decisive Game 5.
Worst records: After recording the first two outs in the eighth inning of a tie game, Nationals reliever Blake Treinen’s 1-0 pitch hit Andrew Toles on the foot. It was the fourth hit-by pitch of the game by a Nationals pitcher, a single-game playoff record, and the 11th hit-by pitch by the teams combined over four games, a record for any playoff series.
Worst deficit: Pinch-hitter Andre Ethier followed with a single to left, bringing up the Nationals’s long-time National Leauge East nemesis Chase Utley. He scored Toles with a single to right, giving the Dodgers — and closer Kenley Jansen — a 6-5 lead. The Nationals got to Jansen in a non-save situation in Game 4, but he made quick work of Washington on Tuesday to send the series back to D.C.
Best battle: With two on and two outs in the seventh inning and Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw over 100 pitches, Harper came to the plate representing the tying run. The reigning National League MVP worked the count full against the three-time National League Cy Young award winner and fouled a couple of pitches off before drawing a walk to load the bases.
Worst relief appearance: Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts pulled Kershaw and replaced him with Pedro Baez, whose first pitch drilled Jayson Werth to force in a run. Baez’s day was done and the Nationals were within 5-3 with their best hitter coming up.
Best free agent acquisition: For the 679th time (number approximate) this season, Daniel Murphy delivered a big hit. The Nationals’ second baseman drove the second pitch he saw from Luis Avilan, who relieved Baez, into left field for a two-run single that tied the game. Murphy, the Mets’ postseason hero last October, is hitting .462 in the series with six RBI. He was on deck when Harper grounded out to end the game.
Best contact: Danny Espinosa’s batting line this series would make an excellent Halloween costume, but he started Washington’s three-run seventh inning with a single off of Kershaw. Espinosa had struck out in eight of his first nine at-bats of the series, including two more times on Tuesday, before recording his first hit. He just beat the force out at second base on Trea Turner’s infield single to shortstop to set up Kershaw’s matchup with Harper, and had a good at-bat in the eighth inning that ended with a lineout to Yasiel Puig.
Worst call: Puig was called out on a check-swing to end the bottom of the seventh inning by home plate umpire Tom Hallion, who didn’t bother to ask for help from the first-base umpire. Roberts came running out of the dugout to protest the call and Dodgers fans let Hallion know what they thought of it with a not-so-clever chant.
Best groove: Espinosa wasn’t the only one who struggled against Kershaw. The lefty had retired 10 of the last 11 Nationals hitters before running into trouble in the seventh, and finished with 11 strikeouts.
Worst blemish: The Nationals’ bullpen didn’t allow a run in the first three games of the series, but had its postseason scoreless streak snapped at 14 1/3 innings in the fifth. Joc Pederson doubled into the left field corner off of Reynaldo Lopez, scoring Josh Reddick to give Los Angeles a 5-2 lead.
Worst bat-flip: Pederson appeared to think he had more than an RBI double, as he admired the ball sailing toward the left field stands from home plate and flipped his bat before realizing that it didn’t leave the ballpark.
Best shutdown inning: After the Dodgers took a 4-2 lead in the third, Kershaw cruised through the top of the fourth on nine pitches, bringing his total to 62.
Best helping his own cause: Kershaw led off the third inning with a double, his first extra-base hit in 19 career postseason at-bats and the first extra-base hit by a Dodgers pitcher in the postseason since Orel Hershiser in the 1988 World Series.
Worst read: Nationals starter Joe Ross struck out Chase Utley and got Corey Seager to pop up, but Kershaw scored on Justin Turner’s single, which dropped between Trea Turner and Jayson Werth and gave the Dodgers a 3-2 lead. It was a difficult play, but it’s possible that someone who had played outfield for longer than the four months that Trea Turner has since converting from shortstop would’ve made the catch.
Worst control: Ross imploded after that, walking Adrian Gonzalez and Reddick to load the bases before hitting Pederson with a pitch to force in a run. Ross was pulled for Oliver Perez, who got Yasmani Grandal out to end the inning.
Best recipe for Nationals runs: A dash of Turner and a pinch of Murphy. Turner led off the third inning with his second hit of the game and his fifth hit of the series after striking out three times in Game 1. The rookie went first to third on a one-out single to right by Werth and scored his second run to tie the game 2-2 on Murphy’s second RBI, a sacrifice fly.
Best settling down: After throwing 27 pitches in the first inning, Kershaw needed only nine pitches to sit down Espinosa (on a three-pitch strikeout), Pedro Severino and Ross in the second. Ross, who gave up two runs in the first, followed with a nine-pitch, perfect inning of his own.
Worst adventure: Grandal hit a routine fly ball to left in the second inning, but Werth battled the sun as the ball came down and tumbled to the grass after making the catch. The Dodger Stadium outfield could’ve use a few more shadows.
Best out: The Nationals did the seemingly impossible, retiring Seager in the first inning. Ross struck out the presumptive National League Rookie of the Year, who had hit two home runs and a double in the first inning of the first three games.
Worst worry: While Ross had a fine season, lefties hit .312 against him. Roberts loaded his lineup with eight left-handed hitters, including Gonzalez, who belted a two-out, two-run home run in the bottom of the first to give Los Angeles a 2-1 lead.
Best start: Turner didn’t waste any time getting the Nationals off to a solid start, lining Kershaw’s first pitch into left field for a single. Harper followed with a walk and, after a Werth strikeout, Murphy gave Washington a 1-0 lead with a single to right. It marked the first time the Nationals scored first in the series.
Worst rest?: Kershaw was no stranger to starting on three days’ rest in the postseason, and had performed well in that situation over the last three years (1-1, 1.89 ERA), but L.A.’s ace missed two months of the regular season with a back injury and threw 100 pitches over five innings in Game 1. Kershaw threw 17 pitches in the first inning on Friday; he was at 27 pitches after avoiding further damage in the first inning of Game 4.
Best opportunity: Max Scherzer, who allowed four runs on five hits in Game 1, will take the mound for the Nationals in Game 5. Rich Hill will go on short rest for the Dodgers.