Column: Dodgers defy history and take the roller-coaster playoff ride to Game 5
The Dodgers staved off elimination and defeated the Nationals, 6-5, in Game 4 of the NLDS. Game 5 is in Washington D.C. on Thursday. Will the Dodgers win the series?
It was a rainy night in St. Louis. It was a chilly night against the New York Mets. It was every wretched night in every Dodgers heartbreak for the last three Octobers.
It was overworked Clayton Kershaw wilting and his relievers stepping upon his slumped figure. It was the Dodgers blowing another lead, another series, another season. It was everything an instantly quiet and brooding Dodger Stadium crowd had come to expect, the disillusionment, the debacle, the end.
Then, on two wings and three prayers, it wasn’t.
A couple of relievers stopped the bleeding. A trio of hitters opened a wound on the other guys. Soon, thousands were hugging and Randy Newman was singing and autumn lived.
Suddenly, Clayton Kershaw found his smile.
“I’m exhausted, physically and mentally drained, but we live another day,” he said.
Suddenly, Justin Turner said his team had shown its heart.
“When stuff’s gone bad, we just dig in deeper,” he said.
It wasn’t history, it was the Dodgers defying history, with their will and work ethic and maybe a little bit of wizardy. Instead of somber elimination, it was jubilant survival, a Dodgers team pushed to the brink of elimination that finally pushed back.
They were down, they were up, they were tied, but, in the end, they were magic, defeating the Washington Nationals, 6-5, on Tuesday afternoon to knot the five-game National League division series at two games apiece.
“If anyone gives up on this team, they haven’t seen us play a whole lot this year,” Manager Dave Roberts said.
But, bless my Utley, Tuesday perhaps showed that this is not last season.
“We have a thing for the dramatic,” Turner said with a shaggy red grin.
How’s this for drama?
For the fourth consecutive autumn, Kershaw was trying to save the season while pitching on three days’ rest, and he was doing a pretty good job of it, holding a 5-2 lead with two out in the seventh inning, when the Nationals loaded the bases on two singles and a walk.
Roberts pulled Kershaw, which was smart, but then brought in Pedro Baez instead of the more consistent Joe Blanton, which was not so wise. Blanton is usually the eighth-inning guy but this was a high-leverage situation and exceptions could have been made and, well, you can guess what happened.
Baez hit Jayson Werth in the elbow to push across a run. Luis Avilan was rushed in to face the left-handed Daniel Murphy, who drove a ball into left field to drive in two runs and tie the score.
Finally, finally, Blanton was brought to the mound, but by then Kershaw was rubbing his face in the dugout and the other Dodgers were treading lightly upon the crust of a collapse.
Or were they?
Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner is hit by a pitch from Nationals pitcher Joe Ross in the first inning of Game 4 of the NLDS on Tuesday at Dodger Stadium.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw throws a pitch against the Nationals in the fourth inning of Game 4.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Nationals center fielder Trea Turner misses the ball as left fielder Jayson Werth fields a single by Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner in the third inning of Game 4.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw slides into second base with a third-inning double as Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy takes the throw in Game 4 of the NLDS.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw connects for a double to lead off the third inning against Nationals pitcher Joe Ross in Game 4.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez watches his two-run home run against the Nationals in the first inning of Game 4.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez high-fives teammates after hitting a two-run homer off Nationals pitcher Joe Ross in the first inning of Game 4.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers center fielder Joc Pederson is hit by a pitch from Nationals starter Joe Ross, scoring Justin Turner from third base in the third inning of Game 4.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers center fielder Joc Pederson hustles around first base on his way to an run-scoring double in the fifth inning of Game 4.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw leaves the mound after getting replaced in the seventh inning with two outs and the bases loaded in Game 4.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers pinch-hitter Yasiel Puig tries to check his swing during an at-bat in the seventh inning of Game 4.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers pinch-hitter Yasiel Puig reacts after he’s called out on strikes by umpire Tom Hallion during the seventh inning of Game 4. Puig would stay in the game to play right field.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley connects for a single to drive in teammate Josh Reddick with the eventual winning run in the eighth inning of Game 4.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers reliever Joe Blanton turns toward the Nationals bench after getting the last out in the eighth inning of Game 4.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley flips the ball pitcher Kenley Jansen (not pictured) after cutting in front of first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to make the final out against the Nationals in Game 4.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Second baseman Chase Utley and Dodgers fans react after the last out was recorded against the Nationals in Game 4.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
“We still had energy, it was still a tie game, we still had a chance to win, still had outs left,” said Turner, later adding, “There is no room for feeling sorry for ourselves or ‘poor me.’ If we had that outlook, we’d be packing up our lockers and going home today.”
Blanton instead packed up the Nationals’ rally, striking out Anthony Rendon to end the seventh inning, then retiring all three batters in the eighth.
“We just showed the ability to kind of keep trucking along,” Blanton said.
That big rig rolled right over the Nationals in the bottom of the eighth, steered by two unlikely guys who have epitomized the success of this unusual roster.
Andrew Toles, whose first 22 games this season were played at Class-A Rancho Cucamonga, hung tough enough to get hit by a bounching curveball from Blake Treinen.
Andre Ethier, who sat out most of the season because of a broken leg and wound up with only 26 plate appearance, stepped in as a pinch-hitter for his first plate appearance of the postseason and promptly smacked a single to left-center field through a hole in the defensive shift.
“All about finding ways to win,” Turner said.
Then came the final blow, struck by a guy whose previous big Dodgers postseason blow was a vicious slide, Utley calmly driving in Toles with a single to right, then calmly discussing it in vivid detail.
“Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t, today it did,” said the understated Utley, who put the final scoop on the cone with a lunging toss to Kenley Jansen covering first base to end the game on a Bryce Harper grounder.
Sounds difficult. But after Game 4, these Dodgers are convinced anything is possible.
Just ask Roberts, who admitted that he was as emotionally drained as the players.
“Us playing on the road to win one game. … I like our guys,” Roberts said.
Just ask Adrian Gonzalez, whose two-run homer set the Dodgers up for their early lead, and who is looking forward to another meeting with Scherzer.
“We beat him once already, we know we can do it,” Gonzalez said. “We put some pretty good at-bats against him in Game 1 and I’m confident that we can do it again.”
Finally, just ask Turner, who said flatly, “We’re going to go and beat Scherzer again.”
When asked by The Times’ Andy McCullough whether he was seriously offering a public guarantee, Turner stood by his story.
“I’m not going to stand here and predict we’re going to lose,” Turner said.
How could he? Not after Tuesday, which represented new life, new hope, and, who knows, maybe even a new October.
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