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Dodger reliever Madson is struggling through the World Series

Dodger reliever Madson is struggling through the World Series
Dodgers reliever Ryan Madson wipes sweat from his brow as Boston Red Sox's Mitch Moreland rounds the bases on a three-run seventh inning homer. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

When the Dodgers have been in precarious situations in the middle innings this postseason, when the opposition is threatening with runners on base and the game’s complexion is a swing away from a drastic shift, manager Dave Roberts has unflinchingly confided in one reliever. That reliever, Ryan Madson, pitched to a 5.47 ERA in 58 games during the regular season, but the Dodgers, who acquired him on Aug. 31, discarded the numbers. They trusted the 38-year-old Madson’s stuff and extensive experience.

For the postseason’s first two rounds, the faith paid dividends. Madson, who is second all-time in playoff appearances, successfully extinguished fires in his role. He has only splashed gasoline on them in the World Series.

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Madson was assigned another thorny task in Game 4 on Saturday night, when he entered with two runners on base and one out in the seventh inning. The Dodgers led 4-0. He got pinch-hitter Jackie Bradley Jr. to pop out before serving a fat changeup that Mitch Moreland blasted for a three-run home run in Boston’s eventual 9-6 victory, which pulled the Red Sox within a win of seizing the World Series. The Red Sox can clinch it Sunday in Game 5.

“You got to be your best against that lineup,” Madson said. “Obviously, I wasn’t, and that’s what will happen. That’s a good lineup. If you have your best stuff then you have a chance.”

Madson has appeared in every game of the series. He’s inherited seven runners. All seven have scored. Somehow, Moreland was the first run charged to Madson since Game 5 of the National League Championship Series — a span that includes Madson’s ineffectiveness in Games 1 and 2 of the World Series.

In Game 1 at Fenway Park, Madson relieved Clayton Kershaw in the fifth inning with two on and none out. He issued a five-pitch walk, gave up a run-scoring fielder’s choice, and gave up an RBI single before escaping. Roberts stuck with Madson the next night anyway, replacing Hyun-Jin Ryu with him with the bases loaded and two outs in the fifth inning. The Dodgers led 2-1. They trailed 3-2 by the end of the inning after J.D. Martinez’s two-run single off Madson.

Madson went away from his changeup, perhaps his best pitch, in both instances. He did not believe his pitch selection was at fault. After Game 2, he said, “It’s kind of a crapshoot with inherited runners.” He said he beat Martinez, but the slugger was able to muscle a pitch to the outfield, and commented that he should’ve warmed up more in the New England chill.

The weather wasn’t an issue in Game 3 on Friday, when Madson got an out with two pitches to start the 12th inning of the 18-inning marathon, and it wasn’t an issue on Saturday. This mess was a little later, in the seventh inning, with a bigger cushion. The results did not change.

The seventh inning began with left-hander Rich Hill, the Dodgers’ starter, walking Xander Bogaerts before striking out Eduardo Nunez. Brock Holt, a left-hander, was up next. The matchup seemed favorable, but Hill was on his third time through the Red Sox lineup and Roberts pulled him after 61/3 sterling innings for Scott Alexander, another left-hander.

Alexander walked Holt. Christian Vazquez, a right-handed hitter, was due up so Roberts, who didn’t have Pedro Baez or Julio Urias available out of the bullpen Saturday, brought in Madson. That prompted Red Sox manager Alex Cora to pinch-hit Bradley, a left-handed batter.

“In that spot right there, considering who you have left in the ’pen,” Roberts said, “you have to make a decision and I felt Ryan had a very good chance to get him out.”

Bradley popped out before Moreland, an All-Star first baseman this season, stepped to the plate pinch-hitting in the pitcher’s spot. Moreland had been one for four with an RBI in his career against Madson. They last clashed in 2016. Their encounter Saturday was brief. Moreland swatted the first pitch — an 85-mph changeup up and over the plate — 437 feet into the bleachers in right-center field.

“First-pitch changeup, usually I’m not going to throw it for a strike,” Madson said. “I don’t know where it ended up — I didn’t see the video — but I know it was up out of my hand. Definitely didn’t want it to be a strike but it was. I knew it was up but I don’t know where it ended.”

It was Moreland’s first home run this postseason and his fifth hit. It pulled the Red Sox within a run and reversed the momentum, initiating a historic collapse that has the Dodgers on the brink of elimination.

Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Rich Hill discusses the team losing Game 4 of the World Series.
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