The Dodgers’ game-deciding, two-out rally in their 4-2 win Friday night began in a spot the team almost always avoids: with Joc Pederson facing a left-handed pitcher.
The veteran Tony Sipp had just entered with the game tied in the eighth inning for his third outing in three days. The Washington Nationals had retired the previous 22 batters in a row between starter Anibal Sanchez and reliever Javy Guerra. Pederson began the night six for 33 with 12 strikeouts and no walks against left-handers this season. The odds were stacked against the Dodgers, but manager Dave Roberts, working with a short bench without Enrique Hernandez’s services, stuck with Pederson.
Pederson responded by clawing back from a 1-2 count and laying off a 3-2 curveball to work a walk to become the Dodgers’ first baserunner since the first inning.
“Getting down two strikes with two outs,” Roberts said. “He could’ve easily given it away.”
The discipline ignited a swift turnaround against the dreadful — and gassed — Nationals bullpen.
Alex Verdugo followed with a single, the Dodgers’ first hit since compiling three singles in the first inning, and Nationals manager Dave Martinez replaced Sipp with Kyle Barraclough. The right-hander was recalled from the minors Friday and hadn’t pitched in a major league contest since June 15.
The decision proved disastrous when Justin Turner swatted a fastball just over the left-center field wall for a three-run home run.
The Dodgers nearly responded with their own two-out bullpen debacle. Kenley Jansen took the mound in the ninth inning to close and quickly got two outs. Jansen was one strike away from a clean inning, but Trea Turner singled to extend the game before Jansen hit Adam Eaton with a pitch and walked Anthony Rendon. The sudden command problems loaded the bases for Juan Soto.
The Nationals were down to their last strike a third time when Jansen walked Soto to push home the Nationals’ second run. Howie Kendrick stepped to the plate with the tying run in scoring position. To his frustration, he fell behind 0-2 on two borderline pitches he thought were above the strike zone. Kendrick took the next pitch for a ball before fouling off three pitches. He finally whiffed on the seventh pitch of the at-bat — and Jansen’s 34th of the inning — to end the game.
“The wheels came off, really, quite frankly,” Roberts said.
The game began with a modern pitching marvel — two relatively soft throwers, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Sanchez, successfully mixing and matching their way through potent lineups. They combined to give up one run in 13 2/3 innings.
In theory, Sanchez offered an appetizing matchup for the Dodgers. The veteran nibbles around the strike zone, relying on hitters chasing pitches to accrue outs with soft contact, and the Dodgers (68-37) are one of the best at not chasing. And Sanchez is right-handed. The Dodgers mash right-handers better than any team in the National League.
The Dodgers were applying the theory with success in the first inning. Four of their first five batters reached base. Cody Bellinger supplied their third single to score Pederson with one out and Max Muncy walked to load the bases. An outburst seemed imminent. It never developed.
A.J. Pollock swung at a 3-0 pitch. He connected off the end of his bat and hit a soft chopper to Sanchez. The pitcher threw home to get the force. Corey Seager ended the inning with a groundout, stranding three runners. Sanchez needed 31 pitches to secure the three outs. It appeared as though trouble loomed for him, but none did.
He didn’t allow another baserunner, retiring the final 20 batters he faced until his exit after seven innings. He struck out six, walked one, and threw 89 pitches.
“That’s what he always does,” Justin Turner said. “He mixes, throwing five pitches, if you count the eephus, by just moving the ball around and living on the edges.”
Sanchez didn’t leave with a lead because Ryu was wiggling out of jams. That changed in the seventh when the Nationals (55-48) loaded the bases before Eaton roped a single to left field. The hit scored Victor Robles and prompted Gerardo Parra to try to score from second. Verdugo, who made a diving catch to rob Eaton of extra bases in the sixth, fired a strike home on a hop to get Parra. The call was upheld by replay.
“He can do it all,” Ryu said of Verdugo through an interpreter. “And he made really good defensive plays, which allowed me to lower my ERA despite my pitching today.”
Ryu’s night ended after the replay review. He departed having given up the one run and eight hits with his league-leading ERA down to 1.74. Roberts replaced him with Joe Kelly to face Rendon, who worked the count to 3-1 and thought he had walked on a borderline pitch. But umpire Brian O’Nora called it a strike. Rendon popped out on the next pitch and Kelly escaped, keeping the tie intact for an outburst sparked by an improbable walk.
“He’s a good lefty, and I don’t get to face them all the time,” Pederson said of Sipp. “Just doing my best to help the team win.”