The Washington Nationals, who were up 2-1 in the NLDS, had two great opportunities to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers. In Game 4, they faced Clayton Kershaw on short rest. In Game 5, they had their ace, Max Scherzer, going against Rich Hill.
The Nationals lost both games by one run.
“It’s been a long time since a team in D.C. broke through in a game of this magnitude,” Washington’s 106.7 The Fan host Grant Paulsen said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “They’re 0-for-their-last-10 now as a city – and this is combined in a bunch of different sports – with opportunities to get to a semifinal round. D.C. has had one appearance in a semifinal round – just one – since Joe Gibbs won Super Bowls back in the early ’90s with the Redskins. People, I think, were very nervous (entering this game). They wanted to see the Nats jump out to the early lead. They got the one-run lead. They couldn’t add to it. Max Scherzer hung six zeroes in a row and then came out for the seventh at 98 pitches, and the first pitch he threw was a solo home run for Joc Pederson.”
Scherzer was removed immediately, his night ending with 99 pitches. Five relievers and three runs later, the Nationals finally got out of the seventh inning.
“I thought (Scherzer) was potentially out of gas,” Paulsen said. “I was inclined to do what Dusty Baker did, which was have him start the inning. After the solo home run, the bases were vacant so he maybe could have rode with him for another batter, but they went right away to start playing some match-ups. . . . But everything that could go wrong did go wrong for the bullpen that inning.”
The Dodgers, meanwhile, got 2.1 innings of scoreless relief from Kenley Jansen, with Clayton Kershaw recording the final two outs for the first save of his big-league career.
“I was shocked at first just because I hadn’t really thought about it, but it makes a lot of sense,” Paulsen said of using Kershaw out of the pen. “Madison Bumgarner did something similar at one point in time. It was made necessary because they went to their closer, Kenley Jansen, in the seventh inning. You knew at that time there’s just no way he’s going to get a three-inning save. There’s Kershaw saying he wants the ball. They had to do whatever they could to win this game. I’m curious – Baker mentioned this postgame and I agree with him – I’m curious what kind of toll this takes. This helps you get the win tonight and that’s all that matters for now, but how does Kenley Jansen look when he’s called upon to protect a one-run lead against the Cubs? What does this do for Clayton Kershaw as he gets geared up for the National League Championship Series? You win the battle tonight, but just as a baseball guy, I’m really curious to see how that plays out.”
The Nationals, on the other hand, will have all winter to stew about what could have been.
“Here we go again,” Paulsen said. “People just nationally don’t talk about D.C. in the same light that they do some of the other star towns like Cleveland. You can’t ever have a conversation about Cleveland without people telling you about how badly that city had it – and I’m not going to tell you that they didn’t – but the Cavs have been in the Finals pretty recently and the Indians have been in a World Series in the mid-90s and in league championship series. In Washington D.C., you got four major sports teams (that haven’t had much postseason success in the last 25 years). In D.C., that’s such a well-known thing. People live and die with these teams – and they’ve done a lot of dying for pretty much 25 years. If you’re like me and you’re 28 years old, you don’t even know what it’s like to see a team win around here. In D.C., you just kind of keep feeling like you get kicked in the stomach. I think for Nationals fans that’s going to be the feel when they wake up (Friday) and try to make sense of this.”