The Washington Nationals were just 48 hours removed from a raucous celebration after their wild-card win over Milwaukee on Tuesday night, when players bounced in unison to the reggaeton thumping from the clubhouse sound system and turned the room into an alcohol-soaked mosh pit.
Then the bright lights came on in Dodger Stadium on Thursday night, and the Nationals looked like a team in need of a fistful of Advil and a cure for a nasty hangover.
Starting pitcher Patrick Corbin had never walked four batters or more in any of the 1,147 innings he’s thrown in seven big-league seasons; the left-hander walked four in the first inning of an eventual 6-0 loss to the Dodgers in the opener of the National League Division Series.
Veteran utility man Howie Kendrick committed one error in 304 chances of the 48 games he played first base this season; the 35-year-old former Angel and Dodger committed two errors Thursday night, one that allowed the second Dodgers run to score, in the fifth inning.
The Nationals are among baseball’s most disciplined teams at the plate — they had the second-fewest strikeouts and fourth-most walks in the NL; they managed two hits, struck out 13 times, walked three times and “chased way over 20 pitches,” manager Davey Martinez said, “which is uncharacteristic of our team.”
About the only phase of their game that played true to form was Washington’s bullpen; Tanner Rainey gave up a walk and a single in the seventh, Fernando Rodney gave up a two-run single, and Hunter Strickland gave up solo homers to Gavin Lux and Joc Pederson in the eighth.
“You see some weird things in the playoffs,” Kendrick said, “but sometimes things just happen.”
A few of those weird things happened to Corbin and Kendrick in the fifth. With the Dodgers leading 1-0, Corbin struck out David Freese and Justin Turner and got ahead of dangerous cleanup man Cody Bellinger with two strikes.
But just as he did in the first inning, when he lost command of his fastball and spiked a few too many sliders, Corbin threw four of his signature breaking pitches for balls to put Bellinger on.
Washington third baseman Anthony Rendon made a spectacular back-hand diving stop of Chris Taylor’s shot down the line, but Taylor beat the long throw to first for a single, Bellinger taking third on the hit.
Max Muncy ripped a grounder to first. Kendrick dropped his right knee to the ground but still couldn’t block the ball, which scooted through his legs and into right field. Bellinger scored for a 2-0 Dodgers lead.
“You try to make every play, and tonight it didn’t work out,” Kendrick said. “Unfortunately it’s in the postseason, but I wouldn’t change anything about the way I tried to make that play. Just one of those times you miss it. You try to suck it up and hope you make it up on the other end. We weren’t able to do that.”
The Nationals had five hits against the Brewers on Tuesday, rallying for three runs in the eighth. Their best scoring chance Thursday came in the fourth, when Dodgers starter Walker Buehler walked three to load the bases. The rally fizzled when Asdrubal Cabrera hit a one-hopper to the mound.
To even the series in Game 2 on Friday night, shortstop Trea Turner thinks the Nationals need to try a little easier.
“I feel like right now we’re trying to do too much,” Turner said. “It’s the postseason, but we should have a little bit of fun. Look around … there’s energy in the stadium, a great atmosphere.
“I don’t care what the score is, what situation you’re in, this is why you play the game. I think if we realize that, we can come out tomorrow and play a little better and have a little fun.”