Pete Hodges recaps the wild Game 5 of the NLDS, in which Clayton Kershaw saved the day with a two-out bullpen appearance.
Game 5 of the 2016 NLDS between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Washington Nationals began quietly enough with a perfect first inning from starting pitchers Max Scherzer and Rich Hill. Washington’s righty continued cruising in the second, but the Dodgers’ lefty hit a snag.
Daniel Murphy singled on a ground ball through the left side of the infield, representing the first baserunner of the night. Following an Anthony Rendon strikeout, Murphy advanced to second on a five-pitch Ryan Zimmerman walk. A visit from Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt didn’t help as Hill’s second pitch to Danny Espinosa was smacked to right field for a single. Murphy challenged Josh Reddick’s throwing arm and it paid off as the throw was up the third base line allowing Murphy to evade the tag and score the first run of the night. Hill settled down and struck out Jose Lobaton and Scherzer to limit the damage.
Scherzer allowed a leadoff walk in the third, but it was quickly erased by a 3-6-3 double play followed by the retirement of Hill to end the inning. Hill allowed a leadoff single to the speedy Trea Turner, who promptly stole second base. Bryce Harper lifted a fly ball to center field, advancing Turner to third. After retiring Jayson Werth by way of the K, Hill intentionally walked Espinosa before being replaced by Joe Blanton. The former starter retired Rendon without incident, keeping the score at 1-0.
Scherzer struck out the side around a Justin Turner walk in the fourth inning but ran into a bit of trouble in the fifth. The inning started with consecutive singles from Reddick and Joc Pederson. After striking out Yasmani Grandal, Scherzer allowed an Andrew Toles bloop single to right, loading the bases. Pinch-hitter Andre Ethier went down swinging and Chase Utley smacked the first pitch he saw to second baseman Espinosa for an inning-ending groundout.
Blanton pitched a clean fourth inning and was replaced by rookie Julio Urias in the fifth. The 20-year-old eased into his first playoff action by striking out Scherzer and forcing Turner to ground out to first base. Urias then walked Harper on seven pitches. The 19-year-old made just one pitch to Werth because his fourth throw over to first resulted in an inning-ending pickoff of Harper.
Werth ended up walking to lead off the bottom of the sixth inning. Urias was able to retire Murphy and Rendon on a liner and popout, respectively. Then Ryan Zimmerman smashed a double to left. With two outs, Werth was sent home but Toles and shortstop Corey Seager executed a fantastic relay to cut Werth down at the plate, preserving the 1-0 lead and ending the inning.
Having pitched six shutout inning on 98 pitches, Dusty Baker sent his ace back on the mound to face Pederson. One pitch later, Baker was walking out to the mound to call for lefty Marc Rzepczynski. Pederson deposited Scherzer’s 95 mph fastball over the left-center field wall, tying the score at one. The left-handed Rzepczynski walked the ice-cold Yasmani Grandal on four pitches, only to be replaced by Blake Treinen in response to Toles being lifted for pinch-hitter Howie Kendrick. Kendrick singled, moving Grandal to second. Dave Roberts pinch ran for the catcher with Austin Barnes. Following a Charlie Culberson pinch-hit strikeout, Sammy Solis was called upon to face new catcher Carlos Ruiz, who hit for Utley. The former Phillies backstop singled home the tiebreaking run on a scorched single. Two batters later, Shawn Kelley was brought in to face Justin Turner and the third baseman smoked a triple to center field, plating two more runs and bringing the score to 4-1. Oliver Perez was brought in and retired Adrian Gonzalez. The Nationals set a record for most pitchers used in a single playoff inning (six).
Lefty Grant Dayton entered the game in the seventh and allowed a Chris Heisey two-run blast after Espinosa walked to lead off the inning. The lefty then coughed up a single to Clint Robinson and was replaced by closer Kenley Jansen for the possible three-inning, one-run save. Jansen retired Turner before allowing a Bryce Harper single, placing men on the corners. An intentional walk to Daniel Murphy was followed by a swinging strikeout of Anthony Rendon to end the threat and preserve the 4-3 Dodgers lead.
Perez remained in the game to begin the eighth inning and he retired Reddick via a groundout before walking Joc Pederson on four pitches. Jansen remained in the game to execute a sacrifice bunt, his first in the major leagues. Perez was lifted for Mark Melancon who intentionally walked Kendrick before inducing an inning-ending groundout by Culberson.
Jansen allowed a leadoff walk by Stephen Drew, but a failed sacrifice bunt attempt from Espinosa helped mitigate the impact. Pedro Severino flew out to center field and Michael Taylor went down swinging to end the eighth.
Melancon tossed a perfect top of the ninth, finally giving Dusty Baker a break from walking out to the mound.
With Jansen approaching his career-high in pitch count and the Dodgers bullpen depleted, Dave Roberts had perennial Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw warming in the bullpen with only one day’s rest. Jansen struck out Turner to begin the ninth, but he then showed clear signs of fatigue. Jansen walked Harper on four pitches, likely not wanting to throw anywhere near the middle of the plate to the reigning NL MVP. After he walked Werth, Dave Roberts made his move, calling for his ace. Clayton Kershaw came out of the bullpen and made short work of Daniel Murphy, forcing the MVP hopeful to pop out on his second pitch. Kershaw proceeded to strike out the overmatched pinch-hitting Wilmer Difo to end the game and notch his first career save.
The bullpen game that Dave Roberts stitched together for Game 5 was quite impressive, but the NLCS is a seven-game series and the Chicago Cubs are coming. Dodgers fans should enjoy this series victory, because they may lack the depth necessary to compete at the next level.