Dodgers Erupt in Sixth Inning, Defeat Nationals, 10-4, in Game 3 to Take a 2-1 Lead in NLDS

on Oct7
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A light wind outside of Nationals Park swayed the assembled flags located above the scoreboard in centerfield. No, they were not created by the swings and misses of the Dodgers hitters, but rather to stun the sold out stadium of Washington fans with a bitter reality—that baseball is a cruel sport.

For back-to-back games the Dodgers aces had struggled. The best offense in the National League had sputtered, and the team with the most wins in franchise history had been exposed. Ironically, it was a 35-year-old journeyman starting pitcher that humbled them.

Anibal Sanchez was a man without a home this past winter after the Atlanta Braves opted to not re-sign him. He signed with the division rival Washington Nationals instead, and after a sluggish start to the season, he suddenly soared in the second half.

For four shutout innings Sanchez stifled the Dodgers hitters with a combination of curveball, change-up, and cutter. The same pitcher the Dodgers defeated in Game 2 of the 2018 NLDS was suddenly unhittable, and a looming deficit in the series with Max Scherzer on the mound in Game 4 was staring them straight in the face.

Then Max Muncy took a mighty swing, and Russell Martin turned back the clock. Enrique Hernandez resuscitated his sleeping bat, and Justin Turner blasted a three-run home run that landed in the Dodgers’ bullpen. 

One inning was all it took to change the momentum of the game and the balance of power in the National League. One swing was all it took to flip the script, and give the Dodgers a 10-4 victory in Game 3, and a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five NLDS on Sunday night at Nationals Park. 

“He was just keeping us off balance,” said Muncy of what Sanchez was doing well to stymie them early in the game. “He wasn’t missing over the plate. He was throwing pitches he doesn’t usually throw against certain players.” 

Muncy scored the first run off Sanchez in the top of the fifth inning by smashing a fastball into the seats in right field. 

“He made one mistake over the plate and I was able to take advantage of it,”he said of the homer.

NBC4 Postgame Playoff Wrap Up NLDS Game 3NBC4 Postgame Playoff Wrap Up NLDS Game 3

Do you remember this date? It was October 19, 2009, and a lazy single to left field in the top of the fourth inning off future Dodger Joe Blanton in Game 4 of the NLCS against the Philadelphia Phillies tied the game at 2-2. That was the last time Russell Martin had an RBI in a Dodger uniform. 

Nearly a decade later, when Martin came to bat with two outs and runners at the corners in the top of the sixth inning, he had already struck out twice in the game. Facing Game 1 starter Patrick Corbin, Martin fell behind 0-2. The Dodgers had already stranded the bases loaded once in this game, and it appeared as if they were about to strand two more. Martin was 2-for-9 with four strikeouts and no extra-base hits in his career against Corbin.

“10 Years…It flies by,” said Martin. “Anytime you’re in the postseason it’s great. The energy, everything’s magnified.”

Martin worked the count back to 2-2, and then smacked a slider into the gap in left-center for a bases-clearing double, and the Dodgers had defied the odds to take their first lead of the game.

“He got ahead early and I got to see the slider first pitch,” said Martin of the at-bat with Corbin. “I got down 0-2, and then I just remember in the back of my mind, we had a meeting and we went over Corbin. And with two strikes, guys in scoring positions, he doesn’t really throw many strikes, he’s going to try and make you chase a little bit. And I got to see kind of where the ball started, like where the slider started. And the more pitches I saw the more I felt comfortable. And I had some pretty easy takes, got back in the count, and then he just left a breaking ball a little bit up. And I didn’t try to do too much, and I put a nice swing on it and scored some runs.”

Two-batters later, a struggling Hernandez hit another bases-clearing double to give the Dodgers a 5-2 lead. After an intentional walk to Muncy, and a pitching change, Turner crushed a cutter into the Dodgers’ bullpen for a three-run home run and a commanding 8-2 lead. All of the runs in the inning came with two strike counts and two outs, and the seven runs scored were the most in a postseason inning in Dodgers franchise history. 

“It started with Bellinger, and it just seemed like that kind of got the ball rolling,” Turner said of the seven-run, sixth inning rally. “The whole inning, two-strike hits, I think every guy was down 0-2 at one point that came through and got a hit. Offense is definitely contagious and I think we all caught it that inning. So just the grind of the AB’s, that inning was really nice to see and I thought we took really good at-bats from that point on the rest of the game.”

Dodgers Take 2-1 Series Lead With 10-4 Win Over NationalsDodgers Take 2-1 Series Lead With 10-4 Win Over Nationals

Los Angeles starter Hyun-Jin Ryu had the best ERA in baseball this season. He’s an NL Cy Young award candidate, and an experienced postseason pitcher. Nonetheless, he was still nervous just hours before the game.

“I think every player gets nervous, but it’s how you control that nervousness that matters,” said Ryu of his nerves before the game. “I try and make it a positive thing. If you don’t get nervous, I think that’s a bad thing as well. I wanted tension and I was able to channel that into results later in the game.”

Maybe it was the nerves, but he did not look like his dominant self to start the game. He issued a one-out walk to Adam Eaton, and then missed with a fastball to Juan Soto that sent the 43,423 at Nationals Park into a frenzy. As Soto’s home run flew majestically 408-feet to the deepest part of the park, the stadium roared and Washington had an early 2-0 lead. 

“Soto hit a mistake,” said Martin of Ryu’s pitch to Soto. “Ryu doesn’t really make too many, doesn’t really throw too many pitches away from where he’s trying to throw it. That was a fastball supposed to be in, pulled it across a little bit, and Soto didn’t miss it.”

Ryu relaxed after the rough first inning, and pitched four scoreless frames from then on, leaving with the lead for a pinch-hitter in the sixth inning. Ironically, with Ryu not on the mound for Game 3, Dave Roberts might have never started Martin, who replaced Will Smith in the starting lineup after catching Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw in Games 1 and 2.

Martin made Roberts look like Albert Einstein with his decision to start him in Game 3, and the veteran catcher rewarded his manager with a heroic performance. Martin added a two-run insurance homer in the ninth and finished the game with four RBI and two runs scored.

“His insight, his experience, and now you talk about when he does get an opportunity to play, just his toughness, his compete, and obviously the at-bat quality,” said Roberts of Martin following the victory. “He’s got some big hits for us this year, but none bigger than the one tonight.”

The Dodgers’ bullpen took over from there, but not without a few hiccups along the way. Relief pitcher Joe Kelly, much maligned early in the season, showed the same erratic behavior that bothered him through April and May. Kelly walked three of the first four batters he faced, and threw two wild pitches, allowing a run to score, before leaving without recording a single out in the sixth inning. 

Thankfully, a baserunning mistake by former Dodger Howie Kendrick helped the Dodgers escape without allowing the Nationals to further put a dent in their armored lead. 

Julio Urias, Adam Kolarek, Kenta Maeda, and Kenley Jansen combined to pitch four scoreless innings of relief to give the Dodgers a chance to clinch the series on Monday. A win in Game 4, and the Dodgers advance to the NLCS. A loss, and a date with destiny in a winner-take-all Game 5 is upon them.

Early on, it looked as if the baseball Gods might banish the Dodgers back to the basement to battle with their postseason demons. But baseball is a cruel sport, and all it took was one transformative inning for the winds to change, and the tide to turn back towards the Dodgers favor.

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