The Dodgers are still alive. After dropping two straight games to fall behind in the best-of-five Division Series, Los Angeles topped Washington 6–5 on a ninth-inning RBI single from Chase Utley, forcing a decisive Game 5.
Clayton Kershaw faltered on three occasions—in the first, third and seventh—but was picked up by his offense each time. The Dodgers totaled eight hits, and chased Nationals starter Joe Ross from the game in the third. Justin Turner came up huge again, doubling in a run and scoring twice, bringing his average in the NLDS to .455. Adrian Gonzalez also added a two-run home run.
Kershaw finished with 11 punchouts over 6 2/3, but was once again done in by a brutal seventh inning, where he surrendered three of his five earned runs after two Dodgers relievers couldn’t hold the lead.
The two teams will meet again on Thursday in Washington at 5:05 p.m. ET.
Another miserable seventh
Well, it happened again.
Two years after allowing a game-winning three-run jack to Cardinals lefty Matt Adams in the the seventh inning of NLDS Game 4, the same frame did Kershaw in again on Tuesday.
Dave Roberts rolled the dice big-time with the Dodgers leading 5–2 in the seventh, sending his ace back to the hill after 89 pitches, many of them high-stress. It was surely a gamble, given Kershaw’s fatigue and three days’ rest, but it was one many might have made considering he is the best pitcher on the planet.
The inning started ominously, with a clean single to left from the Nationals’ coldest hitter, Danny Espinosa, but Kershaw would quickly settle in. He struck out Pedro Severino on five pitches, and induced a Chris Heisey flyout before surrendering a single to Trea Turner and losing an epic eight-pitch battle to Bryce Harper and walking him on a full count.
That would do it for Kershaw, after 110 pitches and 11 strikesouts. He left with the bases loaded in the seventh inning, and in time, the Dodgers bullpen would allow each one of them to cross the plate and tie the game.
Kershaw has now allowed 15 earned runs after the sixth inning in his postseason career, over the span of 4 2/3 innings. That’s an unsightly 28.93 ERA in those frames.
Though the Dodgers escaped unscathed, the same can’t be said for Kershaw. The lefthander turned in a brilliant outing, considering he began the game allowing two runs in the first three innings, but it won’t look that way in the box score.
Home plate umpire Tom Hallion had a seventh inning worth forgetting.
With two outs and a runner on first in the top half, Kershaw had a chance to finally exorcise his seventh-inning demons against Bryce Harper. After getting ahead of the reigning NL NVP 1–2, the lefthander pulled out a 95 mph fastball, planting it right on the outside edge of the plate. Hallion wouldn’t give it to him. Then, he placed a beautiful hook over the inside corner. Still, nothing. To the naked eye, the two pitches looked like strikes three and four, and upon looking at PITCHf/x, they definitely seemed like strikes.
That’s at least somewhat forgivable; though to miss two strikes in a row is rough. What happened in the bottom half of the inning isn’t as excusable.
With the bases empty and two men out in a 5–5 game, Yasiel Puig was dealt a 2–2 fastball by Marc Rzepcynski. He began to offer, but attempted to checked his swing. Without even thinking about appealing to first base umpire Jeff Kellogg, Hallion rung up Puig on what looked to be a very close call.
Now, by the letter of the law, this is a judgment call. That’s not to say the home plate umpire needs to exercise the judgment, in fact, they only do so if the swing is so obvious. Kellogg had a much better view at first, and should have been consulted.
The moment was also significant for another reason; Puig remained peeved, but calm, in the face of an egregious call. All season, Puig’s maturity was a major concern for the organization, and he exercised impeccable judgment on Tuesday. Better than his old self, and certainly better than Hallion.
Scherzer vs. Wholestaff
Max Scherzer’s last two postseason starts haven’t gone according to plan. Totaling 13 1/3 innings in Game 1 of this year’s NLDS and Game 1 of the 2014 ALDS, the flamethrower has yielded nine earned runs on 12 hits, a walk and just 11 strikeouts.
What’s done him in? The longball, per usual. Four players have gone deep off him in those games, with Corey Seager and Justin Turner doing the damage this time around. He will need to keep the Dodgers—who didn’t exactly kill it in that department during the regular season—in the park to win.
The Dodgers will counter with Mr. Wholestaff (i.e., their whole staff), led by the fragile Rich Hill, who will be pitching on three days’ rest for just the second time in his career. The only time he did throw on short rest was a total disaster—he allowed five runs on three hits and four walks in just three innings as the A’s fell to the Yankees, 6–4, in a mid-July game.
Now, Hill was a different pitcher back then, but given his age and the amount of care he generally requires during a normal regular season week, it’s likely we could see a similar result. It may be up to 20-year-old Julio Urias to quiet the Nationals and keep pace with the formidable Scherzer.