The Dodgers arrived at Nationals Park on Monday night hoping to punch their ticket to a fourth consecutive National League Championship Series.
Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer had other ideas. So did Ryan Zimmerman and Anthony Rendon.
Scherzer pitched seven innings, Zimmerman launched a home run to center field in a four-run fifth inning and Rendon had three RBIs in the Nationals’ 6-1 victory in Game 4 of their best-of-five NLDS.
Game 5 is in Dodger Stadium on Wednesday night with Walker Buehler the starting pitcher for Los Angeles against Stephen Strasburg of the Nationals.
Buehler, right-hander out of Vanderbilt, has pitched 16 2/3 consecutive scoreless postseason innings, including six shutout innings in the Dodgers’ Game 1 win. He’s getting used to the pressure of elimination games.
“This will be my third of those scenarios, so it’s something I’m familiar with,” Buehler said. “And getting to do it at home certainly helps. There’s not a lot to it. We got to win or go home.
“I think in those kinds of games, it also helps to know what you’ve got everybody behind you. It’s all hands on deck. You go as long as you can as good as you can. We’re excited. I think that it gets lost in playoff baseball is that’s its really fun. If you spin it the right way, we can make it more fun.”
Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw, who stirred and stretched in the bullpen during Game 4, will be ready in a relief role, just as he was for Game 5 of the 2016 NLDS when the Dodgers beat the Nationals in D.C.
Kershaw would have pitched in a closer game Monday night, but he’s preserved for Wednesday.
“Whatever we need from him for Game 5 is certainly a good thing, to be piggybacked at some point with Walker,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said after Monday’s game. “That’s the thought.”
Scherzer, who hadn’t pitch seven complete innings since July 6 against the Royals, gave up a home run in the first inning to the Dodgers’ Justin Turner, but that was it.
He retired 10 consecutive batters in one stretch. He struck out the side in the fifth and pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the seventh, striking out pinch-hitter Chris Taylor and getting Joc Pederson on a grounder.
“Scherzer had a good heater and his changeup off that heater was effective,” Dodgers outfielder Cody Bellinger said. “He mixed it up really well.”
Dodgers catcher Will Smith was seeing Scherzer for the first time. He was impressed.
“He had good stuff,” Smith said. “He had his slider going, his changeup going and his fastball was really good. You can see why he’s one of the best pitchers in the game. You can see why the Nationals want him pitching in game like that.”
Roberts said the good news is that his team will not see Scherzer in Game 5: “You can’t just say enough about him. He wills his way to getting outs. He minimizes damage. He punches out a lot of guys. I can’t see anyone better. The one solace is that we don’t need to see him in Game 5.”
The seventh inning was the Dodgers’ best chance to rally back. With one out, Scherzer gave up a single to Matt Beaty and walked Gavin Lux and Will Smith to load the bases.
Taylor struck out a 3-2 pitch. Pederson, after missing a big hit that was inches foul down the right field line, grounded out. The hit that went foul could have been a three-run double.
Roberts said the way Pederson hit the ball, he thought it would stay fair.
“Typically when you get a bead on a ball, it pretty much stays fair,” Roberts said. “Maybe the wind was blowing it a bit, pushed it a little foul. It was a matter of inches. And that could have flipped the inning. You never know what would have happened.”
Dodgers reliever Pedro Báez gave up the home run to Zimmerman. Báez said that his job is to come into sticky situations and get outs, but it didn’t work this time.
“I got a fastball up and he was able to make good contact,” Baez said through an interpreter.
The Dodgers are trying to be the first NL team since the 1942-44 Cardinals to play in three consecutive World Series. The Dodgers lost to the Astros and Red Sox in the previous two. (The Cardinals beat the Yankees in ‘42 and lost to them in 1943. The Cardinals beat their in-city rivals, the Browns, in 1944.)
The only good news for the Dodgers on Monday night was that Game 5 will be at home.
“We know we can win at home,” Bellinger said. “It’s better to be at home than on the road for Game 5.”