By Jon Weisman
In the ninth inning today, the Dodgers trailed 4-3, the exact deficit they faced in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.
But this time, they had already used their pinch-hit, two-run home run. And this time, the ninth-inning home run was hit by the visitors. And that wasn’t all.
Putting its foot down with a four-run top of the ninth, Washington won, 8-3, leaving the Dodgers with no choice to save their season but to win Game 4 of the National League Division Series at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday and then Game 5 at Washington on Thursday.
Despite Carlos Ruiz hitting the first pinch-hit playoff homer by the home team in Los Angeles since Kirk Gibson, the Dodgers lost the first home playoff game since the retirement of the man who called Gibson’s homer, Vin Scully.
The Dodgers used 21 players — tying the team record for a playoff game and setting the team record for a nine-inning game — in the longest nine-inning playoff game in franchise history (4:12).
Game 4 of the NLDS will take place at 2:05 p.m. Tuesday if the Giants defeat the Cubs in San Francisco tonight, or at 5:08 p.m. if the Cubs eliminate the Giants.
For the third game in a row, the Dodgers started promisingly with Corey Seager driving in a first-inning run, this time falling short of a homer but still springing home Justin Turner from first base with an RBI double.
That lead lasted only until the third inning. Like teammate Rich Hill the day before, Maeda escaped one bases-loaded jam early (in a 28-pitch top of the first) but couldn’t avoid getting tagged for four runs soon after.
Trea Turner led off the third with a single, then sped all the way around to score on a Jayson Werth 0-2 double to right. Yasiel Puig played the ball well, but Turner was just too fast to catch at home, tying the game at 1.
Werth took third on the relay throw to the plate. He remained there when Daniel Murphy popped to Puig in shallow right, but scored the go-ahead run on Bryce Harper’s clean first-pitch single.
With Anthony Rendon at the plate, Harper landed himself at third on a stolen base and throwing error by Yasmani Grandal. The Dodgers moved their infield in. Then came the backbreaker against Maeda. Rendon hit a turn-and-watch homer well into the Left Field Pavilion, putting Washington ahead by three.
“We felt good after the double by Corey and had some momentum, but Kenta was missing, getting behind and some fastballs leaked back over the plate, and they made him pay,” Dave Roberts said.
It was of little consolation that Danny Espinosa, who reached base controversially when he was hit by a pitch in the strike zone with two out, was stranded. Maeda got the final out of the third inning, but it was his last of the game. In the bottom of the third inning, Austin Barnes pinch-hit, and the Dodgers turned the rest of the game to their bullpen.
Thanks to Ruiz, the relievers were doing more than just killing time, or so it seemed.
In the bottom of the fifth, Charlie Culberson was out by a step at first base after his grounder up the middle off Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez ricocheted off the pitcher to Murphy, who did about a 270-degree pivot to field and throw to first. But then Joc Pederson, 8 for 64 (with 11 walks) against lefties in the regular season, lined a single past a diving Murphy.
Ruiz, batting for Pedro Baez (two shutout innings), drove a 3-1 pitch into the seats, for the Dodgers’ first pinch-hit playoff homer (list via Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A.) at Dodger Stadium since Gibson’s and their first anywhere since Orlando Hudson in 2009.
Los Angeles used three pitchers — Grant Dayton, Josh Fields and Luis Avilan — to get three outs amid two baserunners in the sixth. Avilan got the first out of the seventh, and Joe Blanton finished the inning, then struck out the side in the eighth for good measure.
But in the ninth, Werth ratcheted the degree of comeback difficulty for the Dodgers, crushing Kenley Jansen’s second pitch 450 feet to left to double Washington’s lead. The Nationals would pour across three more runs against Jansen’s ledger on a walk, a hit-by-pitch and a double off Josh Reddick’s glove at the right-field wall, followed by a sacrifice fly off Ross Stripling.
In their final two innings, the Dodgers sent six consecutive left-handed batters to the plate. In a cruel twist of their ongoing struggles against left-handed pitching, none of the six reached base against Nationals right-handers Shawn Kelley and Mark Meloncon.