Comeback falls short; Nats eliminated by Dodgers in Game 5

The Nationals nearly pulled off a ninth-inning comeback, but fell short and were eliminated by the Dodgers in the NLDS.

WASHINGTON — After leading the Los Angeles Dodgers for six innings in Game 5 of the National League Division Series, the Washington Nationals saw baserunnings blunders and a bullpen implosion sink their 2016 season at Nationals Park Thursday night in a 4-3 loss. Their late comeback attempt came up just shy in the ninth inning, where they left the potential tying and winning runs on base.

It marked the third time in five years that Washington has been eliminated in the opening round of the playoffs following a National League East Championship, and the club’s second Game 5 home loss.

The game turned on back-to-back pitches — the final one of the sixth inning and first one of the seventh. With two outs and Jayson Werth at first in the bottom of the sixth and the Nationals ahead 1-0, Ryan Zimmerman lofted a double into the left field corner. Andrew Toles cut the ball off, but third base coach Bob Henley inexplicably waved Werth home, where he was thrown out by a mile at the plate, not even attempting a slide.

Max Scherzer, who had thrown six shutout innings, went back out to the mound to begin the seventh at 98 pitches. Joc Pederson sent Scherzer’s very first pitch of the frame out into the visiting bullpen in left field, tying the game at one run apiece. That ended Scherzer’s night, but not the Dodgers’ rally. Carlos Ruiz came through with a pinch-hit RBI single and Justin Turner blasted a two-run triple off the center field wall to push the margin to 4-1.

It took five Nationals relievers to record the inning’s three outs, and the club set a postseason record by using six total pitchers in the same frame.

But the Nationals immediately made the game interesting once again, as pinch-hitter Chris Heisey followed a leadoff walk to Danny Espinosa with a two-run home run off Dodgers reliever Grant Dayton, trimming the deficit to 4-3.

The score stayed there into the bottom of the ninth when, with two on and one out, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts called on Clayton Kershaw, just one day removed from a 110-pitch outing on short rest, to get the final two outs. Kershaw got Daniel Murphy to pop out and struck out Wilmer Difo, the last remaining Nationals position player.

The Nationals struck for a run in the bottom of the second inning, as Daniel Murphy singled, stole second, and scored on an opposite field single from Danny Espinosa. But the Nats stranded two runners in the frame and two more in the third.

The Dodgers didn’t have a hit off Scherzer until Josh Reddick led off the fifth with a liner to right. Los Angeles loaded the bases with one out, but Scherzer fanned pinch-hitter Andre Ethier, then got Chase Utley to ground out to escape with no damage.

But the inning stretched Scherzer’s pitch count, putting him nearly at 100 entering the seventh inning, which has been his worst this season. Scherzer had allowed six home runs in just 22 innings with a 4.91 ERA in the seventh inning this season before surrendering the home run to Pederson on his first and only pitch of the seventh Thursday night.

The Dodgers advance to face the Chicago Cubs in the National League Championship Series beginning Saturday in Chicago.

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