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Dodgers revive that old October angst in NLDS Game 2 loss to Nationals

The Nationals came from behind to defeat the Dodgers, 5-2, in Game 2 of the NLDS on Sunday. The series heads to Los Angeles Monday, but will the Dodgers be able to bounce back?

It's October. It's the Dodgers. Never forget that.

Two days after their stirring opening win against the Washington Nationals, the heartache kids again have been whacked in the head by the playoffs, casting the same old doubt on this new autumn of hope.

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"No one said it was going to be easy," Dodger Manager Dave Roberts said, shaking his head after a fittingly chilly and windswept Sunday afternoon at Nationals Park.

Baseball officials stole their momentum by suspiciously ordering an early rain postponement of Saturday's Game 2, even though the entire evening was pleasant and dry.

Less than 24 hours later, the Nationals swiped their mojo, uprooting a 2-0 deficit and tossing it aside for an eventual 5-2 victory to even the five-game National League division series at one game apiece.

"Some of the guys, I'm sure they're eating themselves up right now," Josh Reddick said in a visiting clubhouse filled with sighs and whispers.

The red-clad masses at Nationals Park certainly ate it all up, chanting "M-V-P'' at incessant Dodgers nemesis Daniel Murphy, booing Chase Utley as he failed to advance four runners, jeering Yasmani Grandal as he failed twice with the bases loaded, and dancing unhinged at the complete improbability of the game-changing hit.

Jose Lobaton, a backup catcher who hit one home run against a left-hander all season, blasted a three-run shot over the left-field fence against lefty Rich Hill in the fourth inning to give the Nationals a lead they never lost.

Lobaton pumped his fist. Hill clenched his jaw. The Dodgers rolled their eyes. Ah, October.

''You make one bad pitch to a guy who nobody really thought was going to be the guy to hurt us," mourned Reddick. ''But anybody can be the guy in the postseason."

Anybody but the Dodgers, it sometimes seems, especially after they played a game reminiscent of their stumbles in the previous three postseasons. This October is supposed to be different, and maybe it will be, but for now, they are the same team that has won consecutive postseason games only once in seven years.

Hill was supposed to be a solid second act to Clayton Kershaw, but, while Kershaw made the big pitches on Friday, the curveballing veteran Hill did not.

"It's on me," he said.

The Dodgers' depth was supposed to prevent malaise throughout the order, but they left a dozen runners on base, leaving the bases loaded three times, and pinch-hitters Yasiel Puig and Howie Kendrick were unable to wrangle success out of important opportunities.

Besides Corey Seager (homered again) and Justin Turner (.483 in nine career postseason games as a Dodger), the Dodgers are waiting for all this depth to start showing some, well, depth.

"We had [Tanner] Roark on the ropes," Roberts said of the Nationals' starter. "It was just that one big hit."

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Before the game, it felt like it was the Nationals who were on the ropes, but now? The best-of-five series is tied at one game apiece, with both teams rushing to Dodger Stadium for Games 3 and 4 on Monday and Tuesday. Considering the Dodgers finished the season with 53 home victories, tied for the second-most in baseball, one might think they would have the advantage, but not so fast.

On Monday afternoon they face Gio Gonzalez, who has been fairly awful against almost everybody else, but who happens to throw left-handed, which means he is poison for the Dodgers.

The Dodgers ranked last in all of baseball in batting average and on-base-plus-slugging percentage against left-handers and finished 26th out of 30 teams in runs scored against lefties. Gonzalez not only beat them in his only appearance against them this year, but in the last two years he is 2-0 against them with one run allowed in 14 innings.

"I don't think we need to let that get in our heads too much," Reddick said. "It's something that a lot of people can magnify, but this is the place and the time when you can't do that."

The Dodgers will start Kenta Maeda, who is making his playoff debut and is the sort of low-innings pitcher who will surely tax an already weary bullpen. If the Dodgers lose, they will surely relent and lean on Kershaw on three days' rest to save them, and with Kershaw still fighting back issues, that is no sure bet.

So when Reddick said, "We need . . . to keep dominating at home," he was right.

If all of this feels a bit hurried, blame baseball. No matter what happens the rest of the month, the Dodgers can forever point to Saturday's postponement as yet another October oddity.

The game was rained out when it wasn't raining. Seriously. The teams were sent home at 3:19 p.m. local time as the rain was subsiding. If baseball officials had waited, they could have played a lovely dry night game with no weather issues. Some thought it was because baseball didn't want a delayed broadcast to distract viewers from those lovable Chicago Cubs in their night playoff game against the San Francisco Giants. Whatever the reason, the Dodgers and Nationals were forced to play a 1 p.m. Sunday game that seemed totally unnecessary.

"It kind of sucked, the fact that we could have played yesterday, to have to come in and play today at 1 . . . we're still on West Coast time," Grandal said. "We would have really liked to have gotten that game in last night."

Grandal said the entire affair caught the Dodgers off guard, and they didn't adjust.

"You've got to feel comfortable being uncomfortable, and that's what we were today," he said.

You've got to feel comfortable being comfortable.

That sounds like the playoff mantra for Dodgers fans. Again.

Get more of Bill Plaschke's work and follow him on Twitter @BillPlaschke

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