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Failed base-stealing attempt by Nationals proves costly

Failed base-stealing attempt by Nationals proves costly
Dodgers second baseman Charlie Culberson tags out the Washington Nationals' Daniel Murphy, who tried to steal second base in the seventh inning of Game 1 on Friday. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

It was not that he was a pain in the rear. It was that he had a pain in the rear.

For three weeks, Daniel Murphy has nursed a strain in the buttocks. He could hit, but he could not run. The Washington Nationals did not clear their second baseman to start Friday's playoff opener until he literally ran through a workout on Thursday.

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So there he was, on first base, with one out, representing the tying run. Nationals Park was rocking. This was the seventh inning, with the bottom of the Washington order looming in the eighth inning and Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen looming as well.

Murphy ran, on his own. He tried to steal. He failed.

That play might have been the most pivotal in the Dodgers' 4-3 victory in Game 1 of the National League division series. The Nationals lost home-field advantage in the series, and the best they can do now is split the two games here before the series moves to Los Angeles.

"I don't think we came into this looking for a split," Murphy said, "but we'll surely take one now."

Murphy is no stranger to postseason heroics. He hit three home runs in the NLDS last year, eliminating the Dodgers on behalf of the New York Mets. He hit four home runs in the league championship series, eliminating the Chicago Cubs.

He also made a critical error in the World Series, which is what he remembered when he was asked Thursday what he learned in last year's postseason.

"Catch the ball," he said, as an awkward silence descended around a small audience of reporters. "Come on. That was funny."

So, the seventh inning, with the Dodgers leading, 4-3. Murphy drew a one-out walk.

And then he ran, with Anthony Rendon at bat and Ryan Zimmerman on deck. Rendon had two hits. Zimmerman had two hits.

Nationals Manager Dusty Baker said he was surprised that Murphy ran.

"I guess the leg felt better than I imagined," Baker said.

Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal said he was surprised, too.

"He's got somewhat of a glute problem," Grandal said.

Baker said he lets his players run if they believe an opposing pitcher is slow in his delivery — "which Baez is," Baker said.

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The supporting numbers are not supportive: Runners have stolen five of 10 bases against Baez in his career, including Friday's game, and Murphy has stolen five of nine bases this season.

Murphy got a good jump, and he would have been safe had Dodgers second baseman Charlie Culberson not made a nifty catch of Grandal's short-hop throw. That was no consolation to Murphy.

"There's only two choices on that: either be safe or don't run," Murphy said. "It was a bad play."

The Nationals did not score in the seventh, in the eighth or in the ninth. Murphy ended the game waiting on deck, and he pointed out that getting thrown out in the seventh inning cost him an at-bat in the ninth.

He might have tied the score. Hitting is what he does best. He is the Nationals' cleanup batter. He had 25 home runs this season, five times his number of stolen bases.

Baker did not fault Murphy. The manager wants his players to be aggressive. And, he noted, a double steal in the third inning preceded a two-run single by Rendon.

"That's why it's called stealing," Baker said. "You're going to get caught sometimes."

Follow Bill Shaikin on Twitter @BillShaikin

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