Dodgers celebrate during the 7th inning. Jon SooHoo/Dodgers
The Dodgers came from behind tonight in Washington to defeat the Nationals and move on to meet the Chicago Cubs for the National League pennant. It didn't look good going into the 7th inning, with the Dodgers down 1-0 and the Nats' ace Max Scherzer rolling along — and the Dodgers starter, Rich Hill, long gone. An hour-plus and eight pitchers later, the Dodgers led 4-3 and the Nationals season was running out of outs.
The Dodgers had taken a 4-1 lead on a Joc Pederson home run to the opposite field off Scherzer, Howie Kendrick and Carlos Ruiz singles, then a Justin Turner triple to the centerfield wall off reliever Shawn Kelley. The Nationals blew through six pitchers in the 7th inning alone, and still found themselves down three runs. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts started the home half of the 7th inning with rookie lefty Grant Dayton on the mound, but he walked Danny Espinosa and gave up a home run to pinch hitter Chris Heisey, the former Dodger who is baseball's active leader in pinch homers. Suddenly it was 4-3 and the ballpark was rocking. Roberts went against usual practice and brought in closer Kenley Jansen, who is rarely seen before the 9th inning. Jansen got himself in trouble a couple of times but hung in until the 9th, only leaving after he had thrown a career-high 51 pitches and put two runners on by walks.
Enter Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers ace starter making his first relief appearance in years. He had pitched two nights earlier, making 110 pitches then, so this was a very unorthodox move by Roberts. It was Kershaw's idea, Roberts said after the game. His lefty got the Nats most dangerous hitter, Daniel Murphy, who had done so much damage to the Dodgers in the playoffs last year, while he was still with the Mets, including two home runs off Kershaw. This time Kershaw got Murphy to pop up for the second out. The only batter left on the Nats bench was rookie Wilmer Difo, and he was no match for Kershaw. He struck out swinging. With that, the Dodgers advanced to the National League Championship Series and will face the Cubs.
After the game, the Fox Sports 1 commentators enthused on the drama of National League baseball. In all 41 players were used, including 13 pitchers, and at 4 hours and 32 minutes it was the longest 9-inning post-season game in the history of baseball. The players said in post-game interviews that it was one of the most tense and fun games of their careers.
The first game in Chicago is Saturday at 5 p.m. our time. The Cubs, who had the best record in baseball during the season, beat the Giants earlier this week. The next game at Dodger Stadium would be Tuesday.
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