Ryan Madson stood along the celebration’s perimeter, close enough to revel, far enough to avoid the worst of the Dodgers’ debauchery at SunTrust Park on Monday night. He might’ve joined the wet fray, spraying champagne and dousing Budweiser on everybody in his vicinity, a decade ago. But he’s 38 now, with a couple World Series titles and a few other postseason appearances to his name. The shenanigans are behind him. He prefers to observe.
“I like to sit back and watch now, and just enjoy it,” Madson said. “Watch everybody’s reaction instead of being part of the reaction.”
The Dodgers were celebrating another trip to the National League Championship Series after closing out the Atlanta Braves 6-2 in part because Madson, a Dodger all of five weeks, executed an improbable fifth-inning escape. The right-hander was asked to relieve starter Rich Hill with the bases loaded and one out. The Braves led 2-1. One mistake and the game’s complexion shifts. But Madson did not falter. He threw nine pitches to induce two meek popouts and wiggle free unscathed.
“After the most disappointing season I’ve ever had, to be able to be put in this position and trusted with this, just even the last spot on the roster, means so much,” Madson said. “It feels like a total revival.”
Last week, Madson nervously awaited his fate at his locker in the home clubhouse at Dodger Stadium, hours before the club would inform him whether he was in its National League Division Series bullpen. The Dodgers acquired him at the Aug. 31 waiver trade deadline believing he could bolster their relief corps despite his two disabled list stints and a 5.28 ERA in 49 games with the Washington Nationals. Then he allowed six runs in 8 1/3 innings as a Dodger – good for a small-sample-size 6.48 ERA and to generate some apprehension.
But Madson believed he threw the ball as well as he did last season — when he was one of baseball’s elite relievers — in his final regular season outing after visiting his trainer in Arizona during an off day and returning rejuvenated. He was just hoping his bosses noticed. They did. Manager Dave Roberts cited Madson’s ability to miss bats for why he was given a spot. And it was why he went to him in the fifth inning Thursday.
The game was slipping away. Freddie Freeman reached on an infield single that could’ve been charged as an error to Justin Turner. Hill walked Nick Markakis on four pitches. Manny Machado botched a routine groundball to load the bases and coax Roberts from the dugout. A night after a grand slam crushed Los Angeles, Roberts wanted Madson to face Tyler Flowers.
Madson said he entered the game with one objective: to throw each pitch with conviction. Attack the hitter and put him away. He began the first clash with a curveball in the dirt. A 93-mph, two-seam fastball followed for a called strike before he threw a changeup for a ball. Down 2-1, he flung a 97-mph two-seamer in on Flowers’ hands. He popped it up to the catcher, Yasmani Grandal, in foul territory for the second out.
Madson then jumped out on Ender Inciarte 0-2 with a pair of devastating changeups that Inciarte swung through — changeups Madson said were as good “as I’ve ever thrown in my whole life.” Three pitches later, after the count went to 2-2, he threw another changeup. Inciarte popped it up to the shortstop to end the inning.
“That was huge, the fact that Madson came in and did that,” Grandal said. “He made really good pitches early on, especially against Inciarte and ended up being able to put him away.”
The final out secured, Madson walked to the Dodgers dugout with his head down. Those were satisfying outs. They were the two biggest of his frustrating season, one he began in Washington on a team that failed to live up to its World Series aspiration. But he didn’t display any emotion. A couple hours later, he was containing those emotions again, observing the chaos in the background with a renewed appreciation.