October 9, 2019
Monday was an unusual situation in that all four playoff games posed the threat of elimination to the home teams. Three of them actually rose to the occasion and survived -- the Nationals, Cardinals, Rays -- while the Minnesota Twins failed.
In Washington, the Nationals had their backs against the wall, after another meltdown by the "relief" pitchers on Sunday night. That game started on a buoyant note, as Juan Soto smacked a two-run homer in the first inning. Starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez truly rose to the occasion, throwing four scoreless innings before the Dodgers got on the scoreboard. But for some reason, manager Dave Martinez decided to replace Sanchez with Patrick Corbin in the sixth inning, and all hell soon broke loose. Corbin had two outs with one runner on base, but then seemed to flinch every time he had two strikes on a batter. He was either just missing the strike zone for a walk, or else lobbing an easy pitch which the Dodgers batters eagerly swung at. Before you knew it, the Nats' slim 2-1 lead had turned into a 5-2 deficit, and Corbin's confidence was shattered. So, Dave Martinez brought in the extremely unpredictable Wander Suero from the bullpen, and almost immediately Justin Turner smashed a three-run home run to make it an 8-2 game. It appeared that once again, Nationals Park was the scene of an agonizingly cruel, sudden twist of fate. The Nats' rallied in the bottom of the sixth, but a base-running blunder by Howie Kendrick stopped it at just two runs scored. Hunter Strickland pitched in the top of the ninth inning, and gave up [a home run to Russell Martin, scoring] David Freese. (Old Nats fans like me remember the role Freese played in the ninth-inning horror show in the 2012 NLDS Game 5 against the Cardinals.) Final score: Dodgers 10, Nationals 4.
On that somber note, down two games to one in a five-game series, the Nationals' vaunted starting pitcher Max Scherzer had his postseason MLB career on the line in Game 4 on Monday night. Nats fans soon cringed when he gave up a solo home run to Justin Turner in the first inning, exposing his weak spot for all the world to see. But contrary to my fears, he settled down after than and seven complete innings, giving up just three more hits and no more runs. The Nats tied it in the third inning on a sac fly by Anthony Rendon, and then took the lead in the fifth inning when Rendon hit an RBI single. Three batters later, with two runners on base, Ryan Zimmerman stepped up to the plate and hit one of the biggest home runs of his 14-year career. And the crowd went wild! An inning later, Rendon hit another RBI sac fly, and leading 6-1, the Nats could shake their anxiety and cruise through the late innings. And that's how they evened the series two games apiece.
As Game 5 of the NLDS approaches in Los Angeles this evening, with Stephen Strasburg on the mound, the Nats have every reason to feel confident that they have a better-than-even chance to prevail over the Dodgers and make it to the National League Championship Series for the first time. Tune in tomorrow, sports fans!
In my October 3 blog post, I had a montage of faces of some of the Nationals and Indians players who were conspicuous that day. Here are some other Nats players, most of whom did not play that day but were participating in the postgame autographed jersey lottery. Included here are four of the pitchers in the top starting rotation in the major leagues this year, measured by strikeouts at least:
In Saint Louis, the Braves took Game 3 by a score of 3-1, and were in position to win the series in Game 4, except that they blew a precious opportunity in the late innings. Ronald Acuña hit a leadoff triple, but the next three batters were out, stranding the go-ahead run on third base. Simply inexcusable. In the tenth inning, the Cardinals won the game on a sac fly to left field, and the home town fans exulted at the comeback. Cards 5, Braves 4. In the first inning of the Game 5 in Atlanta tonight, ... Well, let's not go there. What an agonizing disappointment.
In Saint Petersburg (across the Bay from Tampa), the Rays exploded (figuratively speaking), and cruised to a 10-3 win over the seemingly invincible Astros. To the surprise of many, the Rays evened the series with the Astros the next day, winning 4-1. Somehow they got to [Justin] Verlander, who was replaced during the fourth inning, but the Rays held on to their lead until the end. Game 5 will be tomorrow night.
And finally, in Minneapolis (more or less across the Mississippi River from Saint Paul), the Twins tried to bounce back against the New York Yankees, but just couldn't get going. They succumbed to the Yankees in three straight lopsided games.
All the scores are on the Postseason scores page.