In the Washington Nationals’ 5-2 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 2 of the NLDS, to even the series at one game apiece, we really saw the benefit of carrying three lefty relievers in the bullpen against the lefty-heavy Dodgers.
We also got to see a career backup thrust into the limelight come up through big when the team needed it most.
Everyone in baseball will be talking about Jose Lobaton’s three-run home run that made all the difference in the Nats’ win. It wasn’t remarkable for its length or height — it barely made it over the left field fence, cutting through 20 mph winds blowing left to right at Nats Park, remnants of Hurricane Matthew.
But it doesn’t matter by how much, only that it did.
Dodgers’ starter Rich Hill, who had been baffling Nats hitters earlier with his assortment of breaking balls and sneaky fastball, ran out of gas early. He walked Daniel Murphy to lead off the fourth, and after a couple of fly balls, he hit Danny “HBP” Espinosa to put two on for Lobaton with two out and pitcher Tanner Roark — struggling on the mound himself — on deck.
In fact, if they Dodgers had elected to put Lobaton on, manager Dusty Baker would’ve hit for Roark in that situation. I’m sure that played into Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts thinking: “We’ll pitch to the .226 career hitting lightweight backup catcher instead of a pinch-hitter,” or some such logic.
Even the most reasonable decision-making process gets fouled up on occasion.
Hill’s curve is his greatest weapon, but he left one hanging right in the middle of the plate and Lobaton hit it as hard as he possibly can. Instant hero.
The other heroes on the day were the parade of relievers that followed Tanner Roark after his lackluster performance. If someone had told you Sunday morning that Roark would allow seven hits and three walks in 4 1⁄3 innings, you probably wouldn’t have bothered showing up to the stadium or watching on the TV.
Despite all the base-runners, Roark wiggled out of jams and the Dodgers flailed with RISP (nice to see that on the other side once in a while). The Nats nominal No. 2 somehow gave up just two runs, but it was a long day for the pen, with Game 3 less than 24 hours (and three time zones) away.
Baker used all three lefties — Marc Rzepczynski, Sammy Solis and Oliver Perez — along with Blake Treinen and closer Marc Melancon to perfection.
Well, “Scrabble” had his struggles with three walks, but also had a couple of Ks and got out of a huge one-out, bases-loaded spot.
Solis got a huge out to end the sixth when Scrabble walked a pair. That’s the luxury of carrying a third lefty. If you only have two lefties, you’re more likely to roll the dice and let Rzepczynski — in his second inning of work — face lefty Adrian Gonzalez there instead of burning Perez.
Instead, Solis does his job and Ollie is saved for later.
Treinen went 1 1⁄3 with two Ks (to “earn” the win). Perez then made L.A. burn pinch-hitter Andre Ethier, then got a pair of ex-Phillies — Chooch and Utley — on easy grounders. And Melancon did what he does in the ninth.
It’s a tough road to ask five relievers to all do their jobs on the same day, but it got done on Sunday.
Now, it’s off to Chavez Ravine, for the biggest start of the series. It was always going to be on Gio, regardless of the situation. If the Nats had taken both in D.C., then yeah, you take a little pressure off. But Game 3 is pivotal, and it comes down to the Nats’ most enigmatic pitcher.
Playoff baseball, huh?