WASHINGTON, D.C. — The home clubhouse doors at Nationals Park opened around a quarter past 5 p.m., Eastern Standard Time on Sunday evening, and inside every television displayed reminders of the schedule ahead in the District…
…and for Monday morning in Los Angeles, three time zones away:
PLAYER BUS 8:00
FIRST PITCH 1:08
“A crazy turnaround,” outfielder Jayson Werth said, even for major leaguers accustomed to baseball’s pitiless pace. But since inclement weather had erased their scheduled travel day by pushing Game 2 of the NLDS until Sunday afternoon, which hosted a howling wind that Werth described as “some of the worst conditions” he’s ever played in at Nationals Park, and since Game 3 of Boston-Cleveland also got postponed due to rain, the Nationals and Dodgers suddenly found themselves facing a five-hour flight, a 23-hour turnaround, and a 1–1 series after Washington’s 5–2 win.
“[After a] game like this, emotions are running high, so it’s going to be tough to eat here,” Werth said. “We’re going on a plane, going to get in late, so we have to stuff some food down and hydrate. It’s going to be challenging, but they have to go through the same stuff. Hopefully we’ll get in, get some sleep and get right back at them tomorrow.”
Had catcher Jose Lobaton not clobbered the go-ahead, three-run homer through stiff gusts in the fourth inning, or had the Dodgers not stranded a dozen runners, or had five Nationals relievers not combined for 4 2/3 innings of one-hit aid, Werth and his teammates might’ve held different outlooks.
Instead, they could enjoy their first home playoff win since the 2012 NLDS, when Werth walked off against the Cardinals. They could celebrate only the second hit in 18 at-bats against left-handed pitching this year by Lobaton, who was pressed into duty because of Wilson Ramos’s torn ACL. And the 4 1/3 innings hurled by Tanner Roark in his first career playoff start, made in light of Stephen Strasburg’s elbow injury. And the two lead-padding RBIs in another sterling October outing from second baseman Daniel Murphy.
They could—unlike the Red Sox, Rangers and Giants, who all fell behind 2–0 in their respective divisional series—jet cross-country reassured that one more loss won’t bring elimination.
“I think everybody going to feel great now,” Lobaton said. “That’s what we want, do something good for the team, so the team can get that little push that we need. And hopefully what we did today, the way that we played today…can be good for the team to go to L.A. happy.”
Down the hallway, outside the visiting clubhouse, blue trunks and bags were being quietly loaded onto a truck labeled, “OFFICE RELOCATION DIVISION.” For the second straight game, a first-inning solo homer from rookie Corey Seager had staked the Dodgers an early lead, and remade starter Rich Hill was dominant with seven strikeouts through three.
But even after chasing Roark in the fourth and subsequently loading the bases against reliever Marc Rzepzynski, catcher Yasmani Grandal struck out swinging and pinch-hitter Howie Kendrick lined out to Werth in left. Altogether Los Angeles’s batters went 0 for 5 with runners on first, second and third.
“The first, we looked good, we felt good, got ahead of them,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “I think it’s just one of those things where the momentum shifted after that Lobaton at-bat.”
Indeed, after Hill hung a curveball high and Lobaton’s answer soared toward the visiting bullpen, the sellout crowd and Nationals’ dugout sprung to life at the 3–2 lead, their first of the series. The next inning, speedster Trea Turner singled, stole second, and scored off Murphy’s single to center. In the seventh, Murphy then drove home Werth, who slid past Grandal and sprung up with pumping fist.
In the ninth, once closer Mark Melancon induced the final out from Josh Reddick, fireworks exploded and a siren blared, while the Nationals reveled at the mount and Dodgers retreated into their clubhouse. The series was tied. The buses idled in the loading dock. Game 3 between Washington lefty Gio Gonzalez and L.A. righty Kenta Maeda—who both flew west ahead of their teams to maximize rest—lurked around the corner. The clocks were ticking.
“It’s playoff time,” Roark said. “Anything goes. You don’t have time to sit and make excuses. It’s time to go for it.”