Dave McCullough recaps Game 3 of the NLDS between Los Angeles and Washington in which the Nationals regained homefield advantage.
Game three in a five-game series is when the teams change venues; the team with home-field advantage travels to become the visiting team for two games before the series relocates back to the site of Games 1 and 2 for the decisive Game 5 – if necessary. This is why splitting the first two games is so important for the visitors – by stealing a game on the road, a team can take home-field advantage away and make it their own. That’s what the Dodgers did by winning Game 1, and though they lost Game 2, they traveled back to Los Angeles owning the advantage. That gave them the chance to take a decisive lead and close out the series on their home field in Chavez Ravine.
But the Nats were determined to prevent that from happening. They entered Game 3 knowing they could bring back ace Max Scherzer on short rest if necessary in Game 4, but also hoping to make that unnecessary by winning Game 3. They sent former 20-game winner Gio Gonzalez to the hill, opposing Dodgers hurler Kenta Maeda – a 28-year-old “rookie” import from the Japanese League. Maeda won 16 games in his first National League season, but he got off to a rough start in Game 3.
After striking out the leadoff hitter, Trea Turner, the Dodgers righty surrendered a soft single to Jayson Werth that ricocheted off the glove of second baseman Charlie Culberson before bouncing into right field. Game 2 hero Daniel Murphy was then retired on a popout to the shortstop, but Maeda couldn’t get out of the inning – he walked both NL MVP candidate Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon to load the bases. LA’s pitching coach Rick Honeycutt visited the mound hoping to settle down Maeda, and he succeeded, as the Japanese hurler struck out Ryan Zimmerman to end the inning and the threat.
The Dodgers did cash in a first-inning run. After leadoff hitter Howie Kendrick was retired on a sharp liner to right field, Los Angeles’s third baseman Justin Turner worked a walk on a full count. Likely NL Rookie of the Year Corey Seager then slashed a double into right field, and Turner motored around the bases to score the first run. Gio Gonzalez stranded Seager at second by striking out Yaisel Puig and inducing a grounder from Adrian Gonzalez. LA led after one inning, 1-0.
Both teams went in order, 1-2-3, in the second inning. Leading off the third, Trea Turner stroked a line drive into center field. Werth then doubled to deep right, scoring Turner and tying the game at one run apiece. After Murphy flew out to right, Harper singled and drove Werth in from second to make the score 2-1 in favor of Washington. With Rendon at the plate, Harper stole second, and took third when Yasmani Grandal’s throw sailed into center field. Maeda proceeded to groove a pitch to Rendon, who blasted it into the left-center field stands to make the score 4-1, Nationals.
Behind by three runs, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts sent up Austin Barnes to pinch hit for Maeda leading off the bottom of the third. However, Barnes struck out after working the count full. Kendrick then doubled, but Justin Turner grounded out – sending Kendrick to third – and Seager struck out swinging, ending another threat and inning for the home team.
In the fourth, again both teams went down in order, 1-2-3. In the top of the fifth the Nationals put both Harper and Zimmerman on via walks against Dodgers pitcher Pedro Baez, but after another Honeycutt visit to the mound, Espinosa popped out to end the inning with two on. In the bottom half of the inning, Dodgers second baseman Charlie Culberson was retired on a pinball that hit Gio Gonzalez but bounced to Murphy, who threw out the runner. Joc Pederson then singled to right and catcher Carlos Ruiz launched a home run to left, cutting the lead to 4-3, Nationals.
However, Gio Gonzalez’s night was over – Sammy Solis was summoned from the bullpen to face Howie Kendrick with one out and the bases empty. Another Justin Turner walk put a runner at first, but after a mound visit from Washington pitching coach Mike Maddux, Seager flew out, ending the inning. The Dodgers had clawed back two runs, but the Nationals still led the game 4-3 after five full innings.
The sixth, seventh, and eighth innings were scoreless for both teams. The Nats put two on in the top of the sixth, but the rally fizzled and died on a Murphy strikeout. The Dodgers put a man on with one out in the seventh, but reliever Oliver Perez shut down the potential threat. Both teams went in order in the eighth.
In the top of the ninth Roberts went to his closer, Kenley Jansen, hoping to keep the score 4-3 into the home half of the inning. But Jansen – who was brilliant in a five-out save in Game 1 – struggled in Game 3. He surrendered a lead-off homer to Werth, walked Murphy, and hit Harper, putting two on with no outs and a run already in. After a Rendon pop fly that was snagged by first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, Zimmerman doubled, allowing both Murphy and Harper to score, while Zimmerman advanced to third on the throw. Ross Stripliing came on in relief of Jansen, and he got pinch hitter Chris Heisey to fly out, but Zimmerman scampered home on the sacrifice, scoring the fourth run of the inning.
The final score looks more lopsided than the game that was actually played – it was a tight contest from the fifth through the top of the ninth, with both teams emptying their benches and bullpens with pinch hitters and relievers in an effort to keep it close. However, the Nationals were the deserved winners in the end, having gotten a big time performance from Werth, the homer from Rendon, and then icing the game with Zimmerman’s double in the ninth. Headed into Game 4, Washington’s manager Dusty Baker can now save Scherzer for Game 5 – or Game 1 of the NLCS if he chooses. But LA manager Dave Roberts probably has no choice but to bring back potential Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw on short rest, trying to stave off elimination.