WASHINGTON (AP) — Rich Hill isn’t sure how the course of history could have differed for the Los Angeles Dodgers if he recorded one more out.
“If I could’ve finished off that third inning, it might’ve maybe changed things,” Hill said.
When manager Dave Roberts took the ball out of Hill’s hands, he turned it over to a bullpen full of question marks. After starter Kenta Maeda got through a strong inning-plus, a revolving assortment of relievers allowed five runs in a 6-1 loss to the Washington Nationals on Monday that tied the NL Division Series at 2.
“The result certainly wasn’t what we would have hoped for, but as far as kind of the process, I loved it,” Roberts said.
Pedro Báez gave up a three-run home run to Ryan Zimmerman in the fifth that busted open the game, and his teammates couldn’t crack Nationals ace Max Scherzer to close out the series.
Instead, the Dodgers will turn to Walker Buehler in a winner-take-all Game 5 on Wednesday back in Los Angeles and hope the young right-hander can continue his yearlong success in the biggest of pressure situations thus far. Buehler tossed six scoreless innings to beat the Nationals in Game 1, and Roberts said Clayton Kershaw is ready to follow in relief.
“We’re excited,” Buehler said. “I think the thing that’s kind of lost in playoff baseball is that it’s really fun. And I think the pressure and things like that, if you spin it in your head the right way it can make it more fun.”
With Los Angeles up 2-1 in the series, all options potentially were available for Roberts on Monday, including Kershaw, who memorably closed out the Game 5 in 2017 in Washington to send the Dodgers to the NL Championship Series. After Hill walked four in 2 2/3 innings, Roberts turned to Maeda, Julio Urías, Báez, Ross Stripling and Dustin May with less than favorable results.
Maeda struck out two in 1 1/3 innings, then came out as pinch-hitter A.J. Pollock struck out for the 10th time in 12 playoff at-bats. Roberts was limited with how much he could use Maeda after an appearance in Game 3 Sunday.
Roberts didn’t like what he saw from Urías in giving up three hits in the fifth and was confident about his decision to yank him for Báez with Zimmerman up and two on.
“I just felt that Pedro was a better matchup considering where he was at as far as freshness and I just liked him in that spot, I really did,” Roberts said. “So the thought was for Pedro to continue to get out of it and continue on.”
Báez promptly served up the 97 mph fastball that Zimmerman sent over the center-field fence.
“It’s the same thing I’ve been doing all year is trying to go in there, trying to come in with the mentality of trying to get the out, try to do my job,” Báez said through an interpreter. “Unfortunately today he was able to get that high fastball and make good contact.”
Between the third and fifth innings, Dodgers pitchers allowed more runs than they had in any of the first three games of the series. Stripling then had a wild pitch that helped the Nationals tack on another run in the sixth, and the Dodgers came up empty after loading the bases with one out in the seventh against Scherzer, who struck out seven and allowed one run in the victory.
“Scherzer pitched really well,” Dodgers catcher Will Smith said. “He had his slider going, his change-up to the lefties and he was mixing his fastball in pretty good. He was just making pitches all night.”
Absent a solo home run by Justin Turner in the first, the lack of clutch hitting couldn’t dig the Dodgers out of the deep hole their pitchers put them in. That included two fruitless innings against a Washington bullpen imploded a day earlier.
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