- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 11, 2016

LOS ANGELES — When “I love L.A.” finally poured out of the black speakers in center field, the Los Angeles Dodgers had used every facet of their roster to force a Game 5.

They brought back their best starting pitcher, Clayton Kershaw, on short rest. They resurrected their battered closer to end the game. They pushed with every fiber in order to put the Washington Nationals into a Game 5 of the National League Division Series with a heart-pumping 6-5 win, tying the series 2-2, because of Chase Utley’s single against Blake Treinen in the eighth inning.

The final game of the series will be Thursday night at 5 p.m. or 8 p.m. in Washington, the start time dependent on the result of Tuesday night’s Game 4 between the Chicago Cubs and San Francisco Giants.

Unlike the Nationals’ flight to California on Sunday, the flight back will carry a tempered mood. They are one step from elimination. They are also one step from advancing. Winning Game 3 assured them of two chances to rise out of the first round for the first time since baseball returned to the District in 2005. It turns out they will need them both.

“We’re going home,” Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. “I’m sure they wanted to take both games here. We wanted to take both games here.”

Just outside of the press box at Dodgers Stadium are artifacts from a different baseball time. A more benign time, with less information, no social media vitriol, a time of cigars and well-dressed fans and heroes. Back when so many seemed to have powers reserved for comic books, and when those people met, everyone stopped to watch.

It happened in modern times Tuesday night in Los Angeles. Bryce Harper was the hitter. Kershaw the pitcher. Washington was trying to push back into the game. Kershaw was working to make Game 5 exist. Hair-raising tension followed.

Harper was down 1-2. Kershaw just missed throwing a strike, the result in the eye of the beholder, really, to move the count to 2-2. A diabolical curveball and Harper restrained, 3-2. Pitch 108 from Kershaw was fouled off. Pitch 109 was fouled off. Pitch 110 walked Harper.

“Man, that’s what baseball is all about right there,” Baker said. “A matter of will.”

“At-bat of the game,” Daniel Murphy said.

That at-bat, between two of the game’s mightiest, loaded the bases and lit the fuse for the Nationals’ three-run seventh inning rally. It was all undone by the 37-year-old Utley, who wasn’t sure in the offseason if he would return for a 14th season.

“Hats off to Chase right there,” Murphy said. “He swung through two of those breaking balls already, and he makes an adjustment right there and shoots a line drive up the middle. I was at second base, I saw the whole at-bat unfold. He did a great job right there being able to get inside that ball.

The Nationals opted for Joe Ross to start the game. He opened with ferocity. In the first inning, Ross was throwing his fastballs at 96 or even 97 mph. He averaged 93 mph this season with the pitch. A quiet grounder to second was followed with a strikeout. Those outs brought the lone right-handed batter in the Dodgers lineup to the plate, Justin Turner, to the plate. Ross hit him with the first pitch. Adrian Gonzalez hit a two-run homer three pitches later.

Ross’ unraveling in the third inning was swift. With two outs, and Kershaw on second, Turner singled between left fielder Jayson Werth and center fielder Trea Turner, scoring Kershaw. Trea Turner said afterward he thought his read and route to the ball were sound. It just landed in the poorest spot possible.

One walk was followed by another. A 2-2 pitch to Joc Pederson hit him, forcing in another run. That was the end of Ross’ first appearance since Sept. 28, just 2 ⅔ innings of misery in his first playoff appearance.

“He lost where the plate was,” Baker said.

The positive work done by the Nationals’ bullpen in the series has been undermined by their starters. Max Scherzer lasted six innings in Game 1. Tanner Roark just 4 ⅓ innings in Game 2. Gio Gonzalez 4 ⅓ innings in Game 3. Then Ross’ brief appearance in Game 4. The bullpen has thrown more innings than the Nationals’ starters through the first four games of the series.

The Nationals’ early work against Kershaw poked through two runs. That was the end of their production against the three-time Cy Young award winner, who was pitching on short rest, until the seventh.

When Kershaw was removed, disaster loomed. Pedro Baez entered, threw one pitch that hit Werth and forced in a run. The Dodgers changed pitchers, not results. Left-hander Luis Avilan was called to face Murphy for the second consecutive night. Monday, Avilan struck out Murphy. Tuesday, Murphy hit a single into left-center field that scored two and tied the game. He is hitting .462 in the series.

From there, the teams were back into a bullpen tussle, matching up and crossing fingers through the later innings. Mark Rzepczynski, Treinen and Sammy Solis for the Nationals. Joe Blanton wading through Washington hitters for the the Dodgers until the lead came.

That brought Los Angeles closer Kenley Jansen back to the mound. A night after allowing four runs, Jansen had no issues on Tuesday. He struck out pinch-hitter Stephen Drew. Did the same to Turner. Harper was next. He could not recreate the success that started the Nationals’ late rally. His groundout to first left him irritated and the Dodgers lined up to high-five each other.

A series that has gone through a rainout, scheduling changes, bad starting pitching and big moments has only one thing left. At the end of Thursday, one team is going home.

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