The Nationals finally had the lead, courtesy of Jose Lobaton's three-run homer in the fourth inning, and manager Dusty Baker didn't want to take any chances when starting pitcher Tanner Roark started scuffling in the fifth. With his pitch count mounting and the Dodgers locking in on the right-hander, Baker made the call to the bullpen.
Well, the first of many calls. Baker asked his relief corps to get the final 14 outs of a game and prevent the Nationals from going into an 0-2 hole in the best-of-five National League Division Series. His relievers responded with 4 2/3 innings of one-hit ball, stifling the Dodgers and helping the Nats even the series with a 5-2 victory.
"Well, they had had what, seven hits in four (plus) innings off of Tanner, and he had gotten out of trouble a couple of times with the bases loaded and then one time with a double play," Baker said. "So just kind of looked like they were on him. And, you know, we had the lead. We didn't want to trade places with them."
Righty Blake Treinen got the victory with 1 1/3 innings of perfect relief, and closer Mark Melancon worked around Justin Turner's one-out single in the ninth inning for a save, but it was the manager's deft use of his three left-handed arms in the bullpen that kept the Dodgers lineup, packed with left-handed bats, at bay.
"Honestly, that's what we expect from ourselves," said southpaw Sammy Solis who got Adrian Gonzalez to line to left for the final out of the sixth inning, stranding two inherited runners. "Giving up no hits, four different relievers - it's ideal. It's not always going to be that way, but tonight we relied on each other, attacked guys and I think that's what we need to do the rest of the postseason."
Lefty Mark Rzepczynski started the parade of successful relievers, getting the final two outs of the fifth after walking pinch-hitter Yasiel Puig to load the bases. When Rzepczynski ran into trouble in the sixth, walking Chase Utley and Turner, Solis picked him up.
"Anytime you've got three lefties in there, and then with the righties we got, you're able to mix/match from the fifth inning on and we were able to today," Rzepczynski said. "This gives Dusty more opportunities. ... With those guys and the guys behind us, it's just the key. Anybody can get anybody out."
Rzepczynski faced seven of the nine spots in the Dodgers lineup, maneuvering around the right-handers he faced and getting a big strikeout of Corey Seager, who had homered for the second time in as many games to give the visitors a 1-0 lead in the first.
"That was a big part of the game and a big part of the lineup," Baker said of stretching out Rzepczynski, who threw more than an inning only once in the 14 games after the Nats acquired him from the A's on Aug. 25. "We stretched him out further than we usually do."
Treinen got four outs to earn the victory via official scorer's decision, and after he fanned Howie Kendrick looking to start the eighth, Baker called on Oliver Perez, the third lefty out of the 'pen. Perez got pinch-hitter Carlos Ruiz to ground weakly to first and then induced a grounder to second off the bat of Utley.
"Our bullpen's been really strong this year, and it's fun facing a bullpen like this because their bullpen's really strong," Treinen said. "We don't try to overthink a situation. When the ball's given to us, we just pitch and do our job. Our team did a really good job putting up runs and taking the pressure off us to hold the lead."
It didn't hurt that the weapons at Baker's disposal included a variety of different looks. Rzepczynski and Solis may be left-handed, but aren't carbon copies. Treinen can throw 98 mph and can be a groundball machine. What Perez lacks in velocity, he makes up for with a veteran's guile. Using Melancon at the end of the game after Perez makes the closer's stuff appear even harder.
"The lineup card probably looks a little wacky with so many guys scribbled out and written in," Solis said. "But we'll do whatever it takes. At this point, everyone's ready to go no matter what situation. We're stretching in the third and fourth just to be ready because the leash can be short now. There's no room for error."
Baker has been around postseason baseball long enough to know there's no perfect script for a victory. In October, you do whatever you need to get outs. Even if it means taxing your bullpen for 14 outs when you're facing a cross-country flight and another ballgame in less than 24 hours.
"I don't think it's the new normal, but ... that is how the game has evolved," Baker said.
Seeing a manager make the walk from the dugout to mix and match for more than an inning or two is nothing new to Rzepczynski. He remembers longtime Cardinals skipper Tony La Russa doing the same in the 2011 World Series. In Game 3 of that Fall Classic, the Cardinals got only three innings out of starting pitcher Kyle Lohse, but the bullpen worked its magic, benefiting from a big offensive explosion from the fourth inning on in a 16-7 victory over the Rangers.
"The last time that happened, I won a World Series," Rzepczynski said. "That was in 2011. ... Hopefully, this is the start of something good."