There were plenty. There was Cody Bellinger, the NLCS MVP, pouring a Budweiser on any dry head he could find. There was Manny Machado, the star shortstop and the villain of this postseason, pointing to a bottle of champagne and yelling, “I play for this!” There was closer Kenley Jansen, standing a few feet from Turner, tearing up at how tough of a season he had before throwing 6 2/3 scoreless innings in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
But none of those was the first name that popped into Turner’s head. Instead came a bit of a surprise.
“[Ryan] Madson is probably the unsung hero of this entire series — the entire postseason, really,” said Turner, the Dodgers' third baseman. “Just what he’s done every time he’s gotten the ball.”
This summer, when Madson was still pitching for the Washington Nationals, when he was still sliding through a season marked by injuries and ineffectiveness, it would not have seemed possible for him to be thriving in the postseason, let alone pitching in October at all. Madson had a 5.28 ERA in 44 1/3 innings with the Nationals, was traded Aug. 31 in a money-saving move and struggled for the Dodgers in limited opportunities in September. When the Dodgers made the playoffs almost in spite of their bullpen, there was little chance Madson would be a significant part of any postseason plans. He was too shaky down the stretch. He was 38. The Dodgers had other options who offered length and upside, and all of that promised to squeeze Madson off the roster for their division series against the Atlanta Braves.
Then Manager Dave Roberts kept Madson around. And then Madson became a reliable reliever for a team in desperate need of one. And then he was the winning pitcher in Game 7 of the NLCS against the Milwaukee Brewers on Saturday night, his revived right arm helping to push the Dodgers into a World Series matchup with the Boston Red Sox that opens Tuesday at Fenway Park.
“I was bad in Washington this year — really bad. You can say that now,” Madson, standing on a bed of ice cubes, said during the celebration Saturday. “It was not a good showing from me all around, but I think a change of scenery, getting my head right, figuring some small things out, I think that went a really long way.”
It has led him to give up one run in 6 1/3 playoff innings, almost all coming in high-leverage situations, as he joined Jansen and Pedro Baez as the first pitchers Roberts turns to when he needs a big out. Madson now has 53 career postseason appearances — including World Series runs with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008 and Kansas City Royals in 2015 — and 19 of those came after his career seemed to be over. He did not pitch in the major leagues from 2012 to 2014, his arm weakened by Tommy John surgery on his elbow, and he only resurfaced after months of electric therapy with trainer Jay Schroeder in Phoenix.
In August, Madson was there again, in Phoenix with Schroeder, to address lingering lower-back pain that was shooting down his front leg and hurting his ability to get outs. He made subtle tweaks to the start and finish of his delivery, particularly with the way he moved his hips, and the pain went away. But the results did not change until the Dodgers adjusted his pitching approach in September.
“I felt like my stuff was always good in Washington, so that wasn’t really the problem,” Madson said. “I just didn’t think I was throwing the right pitches at the right time. The Dodgers showed me what would work in what counts, how I should change what I was doing, really getting into the analytics of it, and that made me a lot more confident. It was a shift to what I was doing with my pitches that really helped me take a step mentally. That’s how I was able to turn it around.”
Madson did not expand on how the coaching he has received with the Dodgers differs from how the Nationals worked with him, and he only had positive thoughts about his year in Washington. Now, so soon after a Game 7 win, was not the time to dig too deep into his recent past. But it has been 10 years since he won the World Series with the Phillies, as the shutdown setup man for that team, and he did reflect on a decade that has come and gone.
He can’t believe he has 13 seasons of experience to draw from as the Dodgers look for their first title since 1988. His hair has grayed. He no longer jumps into these types of celebrations, instead standing on the edges of the clubhouse Saturday night, an unopened champagne bottle resting on his hip, a slight smile stuck on his face as he let the young guys have their turn.
“There was a moment tonight, and it may sound funny because it was sort of a tense moment, but I was facing Ryan Braun and that was one of the guys we played against in the ’08 run with Philadelphia,” Madson said. “I thought, ‘Okay, I’m not the last old guy standing.’ I’m just one of the last old guys standing. I think that’s pretty cool.”