WASHINGTON – A graying Chase Utley looked behind and saw Carlos Ruiz walk toward the on-deck circle. They are two men in the twilight of their careers who have shared so many bonds in red pinstripes that will never be broken, but this was a first.
Ruiz appeared as a pinch-hitter late Thursday night to replace Utley for the Dodgers in the seventh inning of Game 5 at Nationals Park. The go-ahead run stood at second base. Ruiz slashed the fifth pitch he saw, a change-up, to left field for a run-scoring single. The Dodgers, winners in a 4-3 classic over Washington, never trailed again.
And the 2008 Phillies lived to see another October day.
This Game 5 was so memorable, a game that defied baseball logic and drove both managers to empty their benches and bullpens. It was the longest nine-inning postseason game ever. The seventh inning lasted 1 hour, 6 minutes. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts inserted his closer, Kenley Jansen, to the seventh inning with no outs.
Then, with one out in the ninth inning, Clayton Kershaw emerged. The same Clayton Kershaw who pitched on short rest two days earlier in Game 4 with a bad back.
“Absolutely not,” Roberts said before the game, when asked if Kershaw could relieve.
He pitched with Ruiz behind the plate for the first time ever. The game ended with them, together at the mound, in an embrace with their arms raised.
Washington, which held a one-run lead until the epic seventh inning, succumbed in a stunning reversal. The Nationals will languish for another winter without a postseason series triumph. No Washington baseball team has won a playoff series since 1924.
Still, Los Angeles’ win aligns what should be two compelling league championship series. Of the four remaining teams, the last to win it all was Toronto in 1993. The Dodgers captured a championship in 1988. Cleveland is without a World Series ring since 1948. And, of course, 1908 defines every single day for the Cubs.
Chicago will face a Dodgers team that has endured more injuries than a team among the final four standing ever should. Game 1 is Saturday at Wrigley Field.
The disappointment is incalculable for Washington. This, arguably, was the Nationals’ most important game since they returned to D.C. and the towel-waving crowd tasted bitterness yet again. Washington has the second-highest win total in the regular season since the start of 2012. But its postseason haul is barren.
Washington had assembled this team and played six months for this scenario. The two teams’ pitching plans were disparate. The Nationals put forth Max Scherzer, their $210 million ace, signed for these exact moments. Los Angeles opted for Rich Hill, who was a Long Island Duck last summer, on three days’ rest. Hill recorded eight outs. Scherzer no-hit the Dodgers for four innings. He survived six tense and scoreless innings with a darting change-up.
The Dodgers somehow pieced it together. Former Phillies postseason hero Joe Blanton, who has adopted the Larry Andersen all-slider strategy to become a shutdown bullpen arm, relieved Hill for four stressless outs. Julio Urias, 20 became the youngest pitcher in a postseason game since Don Gullett in 1970. He added two more zeroes.
Then, madness ensued. Jayson Werth was out by 20 feet at home when trying to score on a double to left to end the sixth inning. Joc Pederson crushed Scherzer’s first pitch of the seventh inning into the Dodgers bullpen to tie the game.
That prompted Washington manager Dusty Baker to remove Scherzer. The next two Dodgers reached, and after a strikeout, Utley loomed until Baker made another move for a lefthanded reliever. Roberts countered with Ruiz, who had stroked a pinch-hit homer in Game 3 at Dodger Stadium.
Ruiz did not start in any of the five games. Hours before his crucial at-bat, he surveyed a quiet stadium before batting practice. He knew what awaited.
“I have to be ready,” Ruiz said. “I know it will be big.”
The 37-year-old Panamanian, a veteran of these tense Octobers, knew too well.
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Published at Fri, 14 Oct 2016 04:57:07 +0000