By Jon Weisman
The cut on Rich Hill’s non-pitching hand looked small. The bruise on his psyche looked large.
On a day that the Dodgers — baseball’s No. 2 offense in 2016 with the bases loaded — couldn’t take advantage of five such at-bats, Hill saw a promising start derailed by a three-run home run from Nationals catcher José Lobatón, lifting Washington to a 5-2 victory that evened the best-of-five National League Division Series at 1-1.
Game 3 of the NLDS takes place at Dodger Stadium on Monday at 1:08 p.m.
Following Lobatón’s homer, Hill was shown on the Fox Sports 1 broadcast with the small mark on his right hand after banging it in the dugout in anger. It was not the only time today a Dodger would hit something hard in vain.
At the outset, the Dodgers looked like they’d be very much rewarded for their efforts. Shortly after the first ball he saw from Nationals starter Tanner Roark came wildly at his head, Corey Seager knocked a 3-0 pitch 395 feet for his second first-inning homer in as many games, becoming the first Dodger to homer in back-to-back playoff games since Carl Crawford and Juan Uribe each did in Games 3 and 4 of the 2013 NLDS.
“Big mistake,” Dave Roberts could be heard saying in the dugout on the broadcast, though it wasn’t clear if he was referring to the head-high pitch or the 3-0 fastball.
The Dodgers would extend the lead to 2-0, but they burned a lot of kindling in the process.
- In the second inning, they loaded the bases on a Joc Pederson single, Yasmani Grandal walk and Andrew Toles hit-by-pitch, but Hill struck out and Chase Utley grounded out.
- In the third, Justin Turner walked, went to second on an Adrián González single and scored on Josh Reddick’s single to right, thanks to a great slide and catcher Lobatón’s inability to handle Bryce Harper’s throw home. But after an intentional walk to Pederson, Grandal hit into a double play.
- In the fourth, Hill bunted for a hit and went to second on a hard Utley grounder to first baseman Ryan Zimmmerman. Seager hit a full-count pitch 108 mph — but right on the ground to Zimmerman.
To this point, Hill had been dominant, becoming the first Dodger playoff pitcher ever to strike out seven in his first three innings, and escaping the only threat against him when he started a bases-loaded, 1-2-3 double play on a comebacker — by Lobatón — in the bottom of the second.
But two outs after walking Daniel Murphy to start the bottom of the fourth, Hill hit struggling Nationals shortstop Danny Espinosa (three strikeouts in Game 1) with a pitch for the second consecutive at-bat. Lobatón, the switch-hitting catcher who entered the game 1 for 15 against lefties this year — a homer off Scott Kazmir — came to the plate.
With the count 1-1, Hill threw a curveball that had none of its usual magic, and Lobatón jumped on it for a three-run home run, giving the Nationals their first lead of the series.
The Dodgers almost immediately got Hill off the hook in the fifth, when singles by Turner (2 for 3 with two walks) and Reddick and a walk to pinch-hitter Yasiel Puig loaded the bases a third time. But after Grandal struck out, pinch-hitter Howie Kendrick hit a 107 mph liner to left but straight at Jayson Werth.
Hill would get only one more out, a Werth pop-out after Trea Turner and Harper led off the bottom of the fifth with singles to put runners at the corners. Murphy (3 for 3 with a walk) came through with an RBI single to drive in Turner, on Hill’s 82nd and final pitch.
Pedro Baez entered the game, and this particular crisis ended one batter later. Anthony Rendon hit a fly ball to left that the wind blew back toward the infield. Kendrick kept running in, caught up with it and then threw home to eliminate Harper trying to score.
The Dodgers’ last good threat came in the sixth. Utley and Turner were on first and second with two out thanks to walks, but González flied to left. Murphy, who went 7 for 21 with three homers and a double against the Dodgers in the 2015 NLDS, raised his OBP in the first two games of this series to .750 with a seventh-inning RBI single off Grant Dayton, the only run against the Dodger bullpen in 7 2/3 NLDS innings so far.