LOS ANGELES - Stephen Strasburg vs. Clayton Kershaw lived up to the hype. But as Nationals fans surely know by now, these games against the Dodgers almost always come down to some key moments late against the respective teams’ bullpens.
And in the finale of a fantastic, tightly contested series at Chavez Ravine, it was the Dodgers bullpen that stepped up to get the outs necessary to deal the Nationals a 2-1 loss.
After Kershaw was surprisingly pulled following seven dominant innings, the Nationals were 90 feet away from tying the game in the top of the eighth when Trea Turner greeted Pedro Báez with a triple to right-center. But Ryan Raburn, starting because of his track record hitting lefties but remaining in the game to bat against the right-handed Baez, struck out for the first out of the inning.
Bryce Harper then smoked a comebacker that for a split second looked it would easily score Turner. But Báez managed to snag the hot shot, and then caught Turner in a rundown between third base and the plate. A frustrated Harper didn’t attempt to advance beyond first when he had the opportunity, and then Los Angeles closer Kenley Jansen entered to get Ryan Zimmerman to quash that rally.
Jansen returned to pitch the ninth and wrap up the game, stranding the tying run on second and sending the Nationals home with two wins in this highly anticipated series and a 7-2 record overall on their long tour of California.
Matchups like this don’t always live up to the hype, but it was clear early on this one probably would. Kershaw retired the side in the top of the first, striking out a pair. Strasburg tossed a scoreless first on 14 pitches and was in control from the outset.
Then came yet another big blow from the guy in the Nationals lineup who has been providing them all season.
Zimmerman led off the top of the second and pounced on Kershaw’s first-pitch fastball, down and in, driving it down the left field line and over the fence for his 17th homer.
That not only gives Zimmerman the league lead in home runs, it also gives him his highest single-season total since 2013, even though the Nationals today played only their 58th game of 2017.
The Nationals continued to put modest pressure on Kershaw (three hits and three walks in the first five innings) but they couldn’t push another run across against the lefty.
That put the pressure on Strasburg to be perfect. And for more than five innings, he nearly was. When Corey Seager stepped to the plate with two outs in the sixth, the only blemishes against Strasburg were an Adrían González single in the first and a three-base error by Michael A. Taylor, who dropped Chase Utley’s line drive to right-center in the second.
The Dodgers, though, started making Strasburg work in the sixth. And when Seager blasted a 2-1 fastball to center, the game was tied 1-1 and Strasburg had needed 21 pitches against only three batters.
The right-hander thought he was out of the sixth when he struck out Gonzalez, but Jose Lobaton couldn’t keep the ball in front of him, and as it rolled to the backstop and González raced to first base. A subsequent wild pitch advanced González to second base and left Strasburg cursing on the mound.
That sequence proved costly, because it allowed González to score when Yasmani Grandal’s line drive to left-center landed safely just beyond Raburn’s diving attempt.
Just like that, Strasburg’s two-year streak without surrendering an unearned run came to an end. And just like that, the Dodgers led 2-1 and Strasburg’s day was done after six innings and 104 pitches.