Best and worst moments from the Nationals’ 4-3 loss to the Dodgers in Game 5 of the National League Division Series on Thursday at Nationals Park.
Best drama: With the Dodgers leading 4-3 in the ninth inning, Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen took the mound for his third inning of work as Clayton Kershaw, two days removed from starting Game 4 on short rest, warmed in the Los Angeles bullpen. Jansen struck out Trea Turner for the first out, but then walked Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth. With Jansen clearly gassed after throwing a career-high 51 pitches, Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts called on Kershaw, the three-time Cy Young Award winner, to get the final two outs.
Worst letdown: The first batter who Kershaw faced? The Nationals’ best hitter, Daniel Murphy, who had been on base three times already and was 8 for 24 with two home runs in his career against the Dodgers ace. A walk-off home run to clinch the Nationals’ first trip the NLCS? Nope. A pop-out to second base, which left the last man on Dusty Baker’s bench, 24-year-old infielder Wilmer Difo, as Washington’s last hope to send more than 42,000 fans home happy. Difo struck out to end the longest nine-inning postseason game in baseball history at 4 hours, 32 minutes.
Worst lineup: After Jansen walked Stephen Drew to lead off the eighth inning, Danny Espinosa popped out to first on an attempted sacrifice bunt. Jansen got Pedro Severino to fly out to center field and struck out Michael A. Taylor to end the inning and preserve the Dodgers’ one-run lead. Those aren’t the names the Nationals would generally like to see hitting in the eighth inning of a winner-take-all game, but that was the reality after Baker took Ryan Zimmerman and Rendon out of the game with double-switches the previous two innings.
Worst inning: The Dodgers erupted for four runs in the top of the seventh inning to erase a 1-0 deficit. After Joc Pederson tied the game with a homer to left field on Max Scherzer’s first pitch of the inning and 99th pitch of the game, Baker went to his bullpen. Baker would make five more trips to the mound before the inning was over more than 40 minutes later, as Washington used a postseason record six pitchers in the frame. Carlos Ruiz’s base hit off the glove of a diving Rendon scored Austin Barnes for the go-ahead run, and Justin Turner added a two-run triple off of Shawn Kelley to give Los Angeles some breathing room.
Best hope: Espinosa led off the bottom of the seventh with a walk and Chris Heisey followed with a pinch-hit home run off of Grant Dayton to bring the Nationals to within 4-3. Clint Robinson then singled to left, prompting Roberts to call on his best reliever, Jansen.
Worst runners stranded: The Nationals had runners at first and third with one out after a Harper single, but Jansen responded by striking out Werth. After intentionally walking Murphy to load the bases, Jansen, who threw 21 pitches, struck out Rendon to end the inning. The Nationals were 1 for 10 with runners in scoring position and left 11 men on base.
Worst announcement: The Nationals put the time of the final Metro train to Greenbelt on the scoreboard during the Nationals’ third pitching change of the seventh inning. Fans responded with boos and an appropriate cheer.
Worst send: With two outs in the sixth inning and Washington looking to build on its 1-0 lead, Zimmerman ripped a double into the left field corner. As Werth raced toward third base, Bob Henley inexplicably waved him home. Corey Seager’s relay throw beat Werth to the plate by at least 30 feet.
Best pick-off move (or worst balk): Werth’s out at home wasn’t the Nationals only TOOTBLAN of the game. Dodgers rookie Julio Urias made his postseason debut when he took the mound to start the fifth and got two quick outs before walking Harper. The 20-year-old left-hander, who tied for the major league lead in pick-offs, then picked off Harper to end the inning. FS1 analyst Harold Reynolds was convinced that Urias had committed a balk, and for one of the first times this series, many Nationals fans agreed with something that came out of Reynolds’s mouth.
Worst there goes the no hitter: Josh Reddick’s single to right field to lead off the fifth inning was the Dodgers’ first hit of the game against Scherzer, who allowed five hits, walked two and struck out seven in six innings.
Best hitting with an 0-2 count: Pederson followed with another single to right after falling behind in the count 0-2, before Scherzer responded by striking out Yasmani Grandal. The cheers from the mostly standing crowd at Nationals Park grew louder in anticipation of another crucial “K” when Scherzer started the next batter, Andrew Toles, with a pair of strikes, but the Dodgers rookie blooped the next pitch over Murphy’s glove and into right field, loading the bases for Andre Ethier.
Best escape act: Scherzer struck out Ethier and got Chase Utley to ground out to shortstop to preserve the Nationals’ one-run lead.
Worst pitch count ruiner: With two outs in the top of the fourth inning, Turner drew a 13-pitch walk against Scherzer. With his changeup working — and aided by a somewhat generous strike zone coupled with catcher Jose Lobaton’s pitch-framing skills — Scherzer had been cruising until then. He struck out Adrian Gonzalez to end the inning, but was at 67 pitches.
Best opportunity: Trea Turner led off the third inning with a single, stole second and advanced to third on a Harper fly out. After Werth struck out swinging, Dodgers starter Rich Hill intentionally walked Murphy before Roberts summoned Joe Blanton from the bullpen. Blanton retired Rendon on a lineout to center field to end the threat.
Worst start to a shutdown inning: After the Nationals gave him the lead, Scherzer walked Grandal on four pitches to start the third. Improbably, Scherzer was out of the inning two pitches later, getting Toles to ground into a double play and retiring Hill on a grounder to second.
Best Mr. October 2015 and 2016: With apologies to Reggie Jackson, Murphy’s incredible postseason run continued. The Nationals’ second baseman, who hit seven home runs with the Mets in last year’s playoffs, led off the second inning with an opposite field single, bringing his average in the series to .500 (7 for 14). After Rendon struck out, Murphy stole second base, thanks to a bad throw by Grandal.
Worst nightmare: A five-pitch walk to Zimmerman brought Espinosa to the plate. The shortstop was 1 for 11 in the series with eight strikeouts, and he seemed poised to add to his LOB total. Then a funny thing happened.
Best redemption: Espinosa singled to right field — something he had done one time all season as a right-handed batter — to score Murphy, giving the Nationals a 1-0 lead. Baseball is beautiful. Reddick’s throw home was not.
Best catch: Turner robbed Utley of extra bases with a diving catch for the game’s first out. The ball landed in Turner’s glove in a similar spot in the outfield to where a run-scoring single fell between Turner and Werth in Game 4 at Dodger Stadium. The converted shortstop, who has only been playing center field for four months, got a much better jump on the ball this time.
Best fire: Scherzer threw 16 pitches in a perfect first inning and the Nats’ ace was just a little amped up for the biggest start of his life.
Best crowd: The Nats went down 1-2-3 in the first inning, but the fans were into it. Early on, there seemed like a decent chance that the game would end before Metro closed. The seventh inning, which lasted 1 hour, 5 minutes, changed that.
Best first pitch: Hurricane Matthew prevented Livan Hernandez from making it to D.C. for Game 1 as originally scheduled, but the former Nationals’ pitcher threw the ceremonial first pitch on Thursday.
Best eyes: Hours before first pitch, the Nationals Park out-of-town scoreboard in right-center field flashed a close-up image of Game 5 starter Scherzer’s two different-colored eyes. Scherzer’s bleepin’ brown/pitching eye and blue eye were both seeing Ks.
Best signs: Oh, those are good.
Worst history: Put the recent playoff disappointments of D.C.’s other major sports teams aside for a moment; Baker and the Nationals had their own postseason demons to exorcise, and they couldn’t do it. Baker has now lost nine consecutive playoff games in which a win would have advanced his team to the next round, while the Nationals have been eliminated in the NLDS in all three of their trips to the postseason.
Best positive thoughts: During his press conference before the game, Baker urged Nationals fans to forget about the past and be optimistic about the future. “Positive thoughts go a long ways,” Baker said. “In the places where I’ve been, where the people were positive, no matter what the score was, no matter what, it was usually a positive outcome. They say the mind can move mountains, and it can certainly move a ball. I just want everybody to just think good and happy thoughts.”
Best advice: Loosen’ up! Redskins legend John Riggins, who might be the only better free agent signing in D.C. sports history than Murphy, is at the game and shouted “Play Ball!” (and a few other things) before the first pitch.
Best bat decal: Bryce Harper paid tribute to Harambe during batting practice with a new decal on the knob of his bat.