Baseball in October. There really isn’t anything like it. Serious intensity, historic achievements, sometimes complete absurdity – and just when you think you have seen it all, there’s more.
The Chicago Cubs ninth inning comeback to defeat the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday night was one of those games, or so we all thought.
We all thought, “Wow, now that was insane and intense and potential history in the making.”
While that NLDS Game 5 may still be potential history in the making, the show put on by the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Washington Nationals at Nationals’ Park may have been moreso. Thursday night did something no one expected, it topped the Cubs’ four-run ninth inning.
If you weren’t watching and you think you’ve already seen it all in baseball, you’ve got another think coming. For one thing, part of the beauty of baseball is that there is the opportunity for something to shock you, for history to be made. And I’m pretty sure that it what happened Thursday night Washington, D.C.
The game started out innocently enough with 36-year-old, out-of-nowhere phenom, Rich Hill on the mound for the visiting Dodgers and Cy Young Award candidate Max Scherzer on the mound for the home team.
The Nationals struck first as Danny Espinosa singled to right plating postseason super star, from both last season’s New York Mets and this season’s Nationals, and 2016 NL MVP candidate Daniel Murphy.
While Scherzer cruised, the Nats seemed to continue their dominance into the bottom of the third inning when Trea Turner singled, then stole second. Bryce Harper flied out advancing Turner to third. Hill got Jayson Werth to strikeout swinging but was removed from the game after intentionally walking Murphy.
The Nationals thought they were going to increase their lead in the sixth inning but a baserunning mistake by Werth, or perhaps third base coach Don Henley’s enthusiastic, arm swinging “go sign” cost them the run. Werth was out at home with the call not even being close.
Scherzer continued to deal, having allowed just one-hit to Josh Reddick who singled in the fifth inning. When all was said and done for Scherzer he’d produced a quality start going six-innings, allowing just five hits and one-run while collecting seven strikeouts.
After their big out at the plate in the sixth, the momentum seemed to be switching sides when Joc Pederson tied the game with a solo shot in the top of the seventh that ultimately was the cause of Scherzer being replaced by Marc Rzepczynski, who immediately walked Yasmani Grandal and was subsequently replaced by Blake Treinen.
Treinen faced just two batters, allowing a base hit by Howie Kendrick that advanced Grandal to second and getting Charlie Culberson to strike out while attempting to bunt. This caused another pitching change and, remember, we are still in the seventh inning here.
Sammy Solis took over on the mound for the Nationals with still just one out in the seventh as Carlos Ruiz, who was pinch-hitting for Chase Utley, stepped up to the plate and singled. He drove in Austin Barnes, who had pinch-run for Grandal, for the inning’s second run.
Solis was actually lucky to get NL Rookie of the Year candidate Corey Seager to fly out for out number two but he was replaced right after by Shawn Kelley. Kelley gave up what ended up being a decisive blow when Justin Turner ripped a two run triple off the centerfield wall, scoring both Kendrick and Ruiz. Kelly threw one more pitch and left due to injury.
The Nationals used six pitchers to get out of that insane seventh inning; Scherzer, Rzepczynski, Treinen, Solis, Kelley and Perez. And to think that the rally really began with (well the homer by Pederson) the walk to Grandal. That is when things got out of control for Washington.
However, they did fire back at the Dodgers in the bottom of the seventh making the score a little too close for comfort all of the sudden. Rookie Grant Dayton came on to pitch for the Dodgers and after walking Espinosa, he allowed a two-run shot to pinch-hitter Chris Heisey, making the score 4-3.
Dodger’s manager Dave Roberts oddly went to his closer Kenley Jansen in the seventh to replace Dayton. This seemed odd because when asked earlier in the day if there was any chance that ace Clayton Kershaw would pitch, Thursday his answer was an empathetic “absolutely not.” Kershaw had pitched in Tuesday’s Game 4 on already on short rest.and had thrown 110 pitches.
Jansen kept the Nats scoreless through the eighth inning but was looking dead tired out there on the mound nearing a his career-high in number of pitches.
Much to the surprise of, well, everyone especially both managers – Dusty Baker and Roberts – Kershaw went to Roberts during the eighth saying that Jansen looked too stressed out, which he was, and that he could get the last couple of outs in game. According to Roberts Kershaw said he was “feeling great.”
“Once Kenley went out there in the seventh, I was just doing the math,” Kershaw said. “I don’t think Kenley has pitched a six-out save, let alone a nine-out one. He threw 20 pitches in that seventh inning and I told (Roberts), ‘let me go get loose and see how I feel.’ I kinda knew all along I was gonna (face) Murphy.”
Murphy homered off of Kershaw in last year’s postseason and both were itching for a rematch in the top of the ninth. The Nationals brought in closer Mark Melancon to pitch a scoreless eighth and then it was almost time for Kershaw to make his shocking appearance.
Kershaw hadn’t pitched in relief in seven seasons but he knew with Jensen’s pitch count growing and Murphy scheduled to come to the plate in the ninth that he needed to take control of the situation. Even the broadcasters reacted with disbelief upon seeing Kershaw throwing in the bullpen.
And it was a good thing that he was up and loose in the bullpen. Jansen walked the first two batters in the ninth and after his 51st pitch gave way to the best pitcher in all of baseball, the impossibly great Kershaw, with Murphy stepping up to the plate hoping to become the hero with a walk-off blast.
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) October 14, 2016
This time Kershaw didn’t let that happen. He got Murphy to ground out to second base and struck out Wilmer Difo to end the game and earn the second save of his career. His first save came back in 2006 when the left-hander was still playing in the Gulf Coast League.
But more importantly, one of the greatest pitchers the game has ever seen came in one just one day’s rest and saved the game, sending his team, the Los Angeles Dodgers to face the Chicago Cubs in the National League Championship Series.
Thanks mostly to Kershaw and 19-year old Julio Urias who got the win, the Dodgers will live to play another day.