Why the Dodgers won, and Dusty didn’t lose it


Faced with the choice of using Clayton Kershaw in Game 4 or Game 5, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts had the perfect answer: both.

Roberts used Kershaw on short rest to start Game 4 and brought him back on shorter rest to finish Game 5. It’s a good thing, too, because otherwise the Dodgers and Nationals might still be playing.

It took four hours and 32 minutes to complete the final game of the divisional series, so long that Red Sox and Yankee fans were wondering what the delay was.

It was worth every minute of it after two plain American League series. Thursday’s Game 5 was full of nuance and tension, dramatic buildups from Justin Turner’s 13-pitch walk in the fourth to Julio Urias throwing over and over and over to first before picking off Bryce Harper in the fifth, to the Nats changing pitchers a Giants-like five times in the seventh, with similar results, to Kershaw being summoned in the ninth.

The only downside was it meant four hours and 32 minutes of Harold Reynolds. All those critics who cheered Tim McCarver’s departure should have to listen to Reynolds’ voice blather in their heads all winter long.

In the end it was redemption for Kershaw, who has been the best pitcher in baseball over the last half decade  — in the regular season. In the postseason it’s been another lefthander, Madison Bumgarner, but Thursday Kershaw made like Bumgarner and threw the last seven pitches just two days after he threw 110, which was just four days after he threw 101.

Kershaw threw 218 pitches in three games, won one, would have won another but for his bullpen, and saved the last. His 5.84 ERA in the series belied his worth.

The Dodgers won because Dave Roberts managed Game 5 like a guy juggling credit card payments, hoping next month’s bill would take care of itself. He brought in setup man Joe Blanton in the third inning, long man Julio Urias in the fifth and closer Kenley Jansen in the seventh with nine outs to go.

You would have thought the 1960’s live-for-the-moment style of managing would have been the province of the Nats’ Dusty Baker, who said he was at Monterrey in 1967 and once smoked a joint with Jimi Hendrix on the streets of San Francisco. Cubs fans think that might explain a few of Baker’s decisions over the years.

Roberts understood there would be nothing to save Jansen for if he didn’t act in the seventh, his 4-1 lead trimmed to 4-3, Clint Robinson on first and the Nats’ best hitters coming up. Sometimes games need to be saved in the seventh, not the ninth.  Putting the shutters on the window after the storm has passed won’t lessen the damage.

It was brilliant if untraditional maneuvering, though, as Baker said, “They won the war, but (we’ll) see the effects of Jansen and Kershaw when they get to Chicago.”

(Were I a Cub fan, I think I’d have preferred a Nationals’ win, despite Dusty’s forewarning. There’s no telling what Kershaw might do over a seven-game series.)

And alas poor Dusty. He’s now lost his last 11 games when his teams — four of them — could have won a series (Nats: two in this series; Reds: the wild-card game in 2013 and three more against the Giants in the 2012 NLDS; Cubs: three in the 2003 NLCS; Giants: two in the 2002 World Series).

This one wasn’t even his fault. Baker was criticized both for leaving Max Scherzer in to start the seventh inning and taking him out.”In one moment,” wrote Deadspin’s Tom Ley, “Baker was handing the fate of his team’s season to Scherzer, and in the next he was snatching it away despite the fact that nothing had really changed.”

Joc Pederson’s home run wasn’t nothing, nor was it an anomaly. Scherzer led the NL with 31 of them allowed this season, and Dusty had a reason to be paranoid. It wasn’t the dope he smoked with Hendrix.

Five of the last 11 batters had hit safely off Scherzer when Baker removed him. The Nationals’ left-handed relievers hadn’t allowed an earned run in the series’ first four games, and the Dodgers were last in MLB in OPS against left-handed pitching. It hardly seemed unreasonable to start the left-handed procession, but sometimes reason loses.

Ley: “Who the hell knows what Scherzer would have made of the rest of that inning if Baker had decided to leave him in after Pederson’s dinger. Maybe he would have gotten the next three outs in 15 pitches; maybe he would have walked a few guys and coughed up the game himself; maybe he would have spontaneously combusted.”

So maybe it’s just easier to blame Baker out of habit. Everybody carping about Baker doesn’t mention that he sent Chris Heisey to pinch-hit and pitcher Joe Ross to pinch-run at the right times.

The Nationals lost because their bullpen failed again, just like 2010, and because third-base coach Bob Henley sent Jayson Werth home when Werth would have had a better chance of scaling the Washington Monument than scoring. It might have been the worst third-base coaching decision since Milt Stock sent Cal Abrams and the NL pennant to be snuffed out at home on the last day of the 1950 season.

No maybes about that.

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