I’m not even sure where to begin.
The Dodgers won a baseball game on Thursday night in one of the most unique, unconventional and thrilling ways possible. But their 4-3 win over the Nationals was not only a game that will be remembered for years to come had they won or lost, but it was also a 4½-hour test of wills.
The seventh inning took 66 minutes from top to bottom, and was almost a game in itself. But to start there does a disservice to the amazing six frames that came before it.
Rich Hill started on three days rest for the first real time in his career, and threw 55 pitches in recording his eight outs. He allowed a run and struck out six.
“It was what we’ve been doing the whole year,” Hill told Alanna Rizzo after the game, on SportsNet LA. “It was everybody, and it was awesome to see.”
He might have allowed another, leaving two on base as he left, but...
Setup man Joe Blanton entered the game with two outs in the third, his earliest appearance of the season, by two innings. Blanton recorded four outs, getting the team through four innings, and leaving a clean slate.
Julio Urias, pitching in his first game in 14 days, started the fifth inning and got through the sixth without allowing a run. Urias is the youngest Dodger ever to pitch in the postseason, the 4th-youngest in MLB to pitch in the postseason, and the youngest ever to win.
There was the bizarre decision of Jayson Werth trying to score on a double in the sixth inning, only to be thrown out at the plate by 20 feet.
The Dodgers were through six innings having only allowed a run, but that still saw them trailing Max Scherzer, 1-0. But Scherzer was at 98 pitches, thanks to some patient plate appearances, none more than by Justin Turner, who drew a 13-pitch walk in the fourth inning. That was part of the 30-pitch inning that produced no runs but put a few extra clicks on Scherzer’s odometer.
Joc Pederson took Scherzer’s first pitch of the seventh inning over the left field wall, tying the game and giving the team new life, while also joining Lou Johnson and Rick Monday as Dodgers to homer in winner-take-all postseason games.
Carlos Ruiz, who homered as a pinch hitter in Game 3 against left-hander Gio Gonzalez, drove in the go-ahead run with a pinch single against left-hander Sammy Solis in the seventh inning, confirming every stated reason why the Dodgers traded for him.
Ruiz drove in pinch-runner Austin Barnes:
#Dodgers went ahead for good when a catcher drove home a catcher. Neither was the starting catcher. Vintage Friedman.— Bill Shaikin (@BillShaikin) October 14, 2016
Turner added to the lead with a triple off the center field wall, scoring two for a 4-1 lead. The third baseman, who was 10-for-19 (.526) with six doubles in the 2015 NLDS, was 6-for-15 (.400) this time around, with a home run, five RBI, five walks, two hit by pitch and a .591 on-base percentage in the 2016 NLDS. In 10 postseason starts, Turner has reached base at least twice in all 10.
Staked to a 4-1 lead and nine outs to go, the Dodgers were riding high, but that cushion was erased almost immediately when Grant Dayton allowed a two-run home run followed by a single to open the inning. The Dodgers still had nine outs to go but now just a one-run lead and the tying run on base.
Enter Kenley Jansen, in his earliest appearance since April 20, 2013.
“Doc just told me to be ready, it might be in the seventh,” Jansen told Rizzo. “I just tried to slow myself down, pitch after pitch.”
Those pitches just kept coming for Jansen, who got trough the seventh and the eighth, and then started the ninth inning. Jansen recorded seven outs, a career high, and threw 51 pitches, another personal high, and only four fewer pitches than the starter, Hill.
Jansen was in the game long enough to get his second plate appearance of the series, and laid down a sacrifice bunt.
It was a throwback to the 1970s and 1980s use of firemen, when long outings were the norm. And every second of it was nerve-racking.
To get the final two outs, the Dodgers called on Clayton Kershaw, who threw 110 pitches two days ago. It was shades of Orel Hershiser in Game 4 of the 1988 NLCS, something we alluded to before the game. We have officially reached the let’s get nuts stage of the postseason.
“I came to [Roberts],” Kershaw told reporters in his postgame press conference. “Once Kenley went out there in the seventh, I was just doing the math. I don’t think Kenley’s ever done a six-out save, let alone a nine-out save. He threw 20 pitches in the seventh inning, and I said, ‘Let me go get loose and see how I feel. I’ll let you know. I might be able to do this.’”
He was able to do this, needing just seven pitches to do so.
Kershaw recorded those final two outs with relative ease, including a pop up by Daniel Murphy, who had another fantastic NLDS against the Dodgers, 7-for-16 (.438) with six RBI and five walks (.545 OBP).
“I just felt like Kenley was going to go out there and give us everything he had,” manager Dave Roberts said after the game. “I set the groundwork for Clayton, if it got to Murphy.”
Thursday was Kershaw’s throw day in between starts, with Kershaw slated to start Game 2 of the NLCS against the Cubs on Sunday at Wrigley Field.
“I guess I got my bullpen out of the way,” Kershaw quipped after the game.
It was Kershaw’s second professional save. In his last one, 10 years ago in the Gulf Coast League, Jansen was his catcher.
Jansen was the only Dodger to record a save in the regular season, the first time since 1919 the club only had one pitcher with a save.
All three games Kershaw pitched in the NLDS, the Dodgers won. All three were one-run victories.
Dusty Baker thought he was done with Kershaw after Game 4. Remember?
What do you expect from the Dodgers with all hands on deck in Game 5?— Eric Stephen (@truebluela) October 12, 2016
Dusty Baker: "I know Kershaw ain't pitching. Thank God."
“There are conversations that we have with the front office daily, about being forward thinking and open-minded about how we can guys in certain roles,” Roberts said. “There are so many guys who played a huge role.”
The NLCS is next, starting Saturday in Chicago. Roberts said before Game 5 that Kenta Maeda is set to start Game 1 for the Dodgers. The Cubs will start Jon Lester in Game 1, per the Associated Press, with Game 2 up in the air depending on the health of Kyle Hendricks.