But the accomplishment of advancing to the National League Championship Series for the first time in club history isn’t just about the heroes. It’s about the entire organization. Dig into the score book from Wednesday night at Dodger Stadium, and you will find these five things that shouldn’t be forgotten.
1. Stephen Strasburg: Here’s how the night started for the Nationals right-hander: flyball to left that Joc Pederson thought was a homer but was instead ruled a double because it went through a hole in the fencing in front of the Dodgers’ bullpen, followed by a no-doubt two-run shot by Max Muncy. Throw in Enrique Hernández’s leadoff homer in the second inning, and this start felt a lot like Max Scherzer’s in the wild-card game — unexpected and unwanted results from exactly who you want on the mound.
Here’s how Strasburg responded: He gutted it out. Forget whether you would have said that about him five years ago. That’s who he is now. After Hernández’s homer, the Dodgers went 2 for 18 against him. With a runner on second in the sixth, Strasburg struck out the last three batters he faced. Strasburg putting behind his early problems, figuring it out and keeping the game at 3-0 allowed there to even be a comeback.
2. Tanner Rainey: For weeks, the only acceptable arms to emerge from the Nats’ bullpen have been Daniel Hudson and Sean Doolittle — or Strasburg and Scherzer, starters who have recorded massive outs out of necessity.
But in the seventh inning of a game the Nats trailed 3-1, here came Rainey, the rookie right-hander Washington acquired in an offseason trade for Tanner Roark. The task: retire two right-handed Dodgers, rookie catcher Will Smith and pinch hitter Chris Taylor.
For so much of the season, these situations have been a spark to an open propane tank, and you can argue Washington Manager Dave Martinez should have turned elsewhere. Yet Rainey got Smith to pop up to shortstop, then Taylor to fly harmlessly to right.
This was important in winning Game 5, for sure. More than that, though, it could be important going forward. Someone is going to have to emerge and get some key outs. Of the candidates — who also include Fernando Rodney, Wander Suero, Hunter Strickland — Rainey has the best stuff, 99-mph heat and a wipeout slider. In his past two outings in the Dodgers series, he retired five batters and gave up just one hit. Wednesday night may have been a step for him — and the entire bullpen.
3. Dave Martinez > Dave Roberts: Not in overall accomplishments as managers — because even with Wednesday’s disappointment, Roberts has four division titles and two pennants in four years at the Dodgers’ helm and Martinez is navigating through his first postseason. But in Game 5, Martinez’s moves worked, and Roberts’s didn’t. Worse for L.A.: Roberts’s were inexplicable.
Among the serious questions that will be asked in L.A. in what will be an unexpectedly long offseason: How in the world do you let Kershaw face Rendon?
Maybe Roberts was buoyed by the future Hall of Famer’s three-pitch strikeout of Adam Eaton with two on to end the seventh and that led him to allow him to start the eighth against Rendon. It’s an egregious error. Rendon’s first three plate appearances had resulted in a double and two flyouts, one of them driven. It took Rendon two pitches to take Kershaw out of the yard.
Still, the Dodgers led 3-2 with Soto coming up, and Roberts had lefty specialist Adam Kolarek available. Yes, Kershaw is left-handed, too. But his stuff is diminished. Soto is 20, a beast, and he devoured the 89-mph slider Kershaw spoon-fed him.
Those blunders by Roberts, though, rank down the list after what happened in the 10th. Right-hander Joe Kelly had completed two innings of work once during the regular season. But after a 1-2-3 ninth, Roberts sent him out for the 10th. Kelly walked Eaton. Rendon ripped a double. Roberts still had Kolarek in his holster but instead chose to intentionally walk Soto to load the bases.
Kenley Jansen, the Dodgers’ recently inconsistent but historically excellent closer, sat in the bullpen. Kelly, who hadn’t thrown more than 31 pitches all year, threw his 32nd of the night to Kendrick. Rewind the DVR and watch what happened again and again and again.
4. Patrick Corbin: The left-hander hadn’t matched alpha males Strasburg and Scherzer in this series as a starter or a spot reliever. He struggled with his control in his Game 1 start, walking in a run in the first inning of a 6-0 loss. He couldn’t finish Dodgers hitters in a relief appearance in Game 3 and was eventually charged with six runs, taking another loss.
But Martinez found the perfect time for him: seventh inning of a 3-1 game, bases empty, two outs, and five of the next six Dodgers left-handed hitters. In relief of Rainey, Corbin struck out Pederson. Then, after the back-to-back homers tied the score in the eighth, he held steady. He got the scalding hot Muncy to pop out to short, hit the only right-hander due up, Justin Turner, with a pitch, then struck out MVP candidate Cody Bellinger and right-handed pinch hitter David Freese to close out the frame.
5. Michael A. Taylor: Victor Robles, the Nats’ starting center fielder and a potential future star, slightly pulled his right groin while running out a groundball in Game 2. Nats officials don’t believe the injury to be serious, and they didn’t want to sit Robles for an injury replacement on the roster because then he would have been ineligible to play in the next series. So suddenly, the starting center field job for the final three games of the series went to a player who strikes out nearly a third of the time and was banished to the minors for much of the season.
But watch Doolittle’s demeanor when, in the 10th, Justin Turner hit a two-out looper into center, a ball that looked as if it would keep the Dodgers alive with Bellinger coming up. At first, Doolittle’s shoulders sag. Yet here came Taylor, charging in from deep center and extending his glove as he dived. The catch, which had to be reviewed, finished the Dodgers and started an unprecedented celebration for the Nats.
Robles probably will come back against the Cardinals, perhaps even in Game 1. But the three starts Taylor made — in which he went 4 for 12 with a walk and played flawless defense — served as a reminder of what the Nats have in him and a confidence-builder for a player who could impact the St. Louis series.
For more by Barry Svrluga, visit washingtonpost.com/svrluga.