Utley’s hit forces Game 5 in Dodgers-Nationals series
Los Angeles — Clayton Kershaw left with a lead in the seventh inning and the bases loaded. After the bullpen faltered, veterans Chase Utley and Andre Ethier rescued the Dodgers.
Utley singled home the tiebreaking run with two outs in the eighth, and Los Angeles avoided elimination Tuesday with a 6-5 victory over the Washington Nationals that forced a deciding Game 5 in their NL playoff.
Kenley Jansen worked the ninth for a save, one day after giving up four late runs during Los Angeles’ loss in Game 3.
“I got out there and focused and fought,” he said.
Game 5 is Thursday in Washington, with 20-game winner Max Scherzer set to pitch for the Nationals.
“Man, this is going to be a heck of a ballgame,” Scherzer said. “The effort from both sides over the first four games has been incredible. Great pitching, great hitting, defense, everything.”
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said he will use left-hander Rich Hill and rookie Julio Urias, but did not announce which one will start.
“If anyone gives up on this team, they haven’t seen us play a whole lot this year,” Roberts said, “and it starts with what Clayton did — short rest and leaving it all out there. Everyone fed off that.”
After failing to close out the Dodgers on the road, Washington will get one more chance Thursday to win a playoff series for the first time since the franchise relocated from Montreal. NL East champions in three of the past five years, the Nationals were unable to advance during their two previous trips to the postseason.
“That’s why we fought so hard for the home-field advantage,” manager Dusty Baker said. “This year, it’s coming to fruition.”
Adrian Gonzalez hit a two-run homer for the Dodgers, who turned to Kershaw on three days’ rest to salvage their season.
The score was tied 5-all with two outs in the eighth when Andrew Toles got hit by a pitch from loser Blake Treinen. Ethier followed with a single to left and Utley singled to right, scoring Toles from second for a 6-5 lead.
Trailing 5-2 in the seventh, the Nats had runners on first and second against Kershaw with two outs. The crowd chanted Kershaw’s name as he and Bryce Harper battled through eight pitches before Harper drew a walk.
“Man, that’s what baseball is all about right there: a matter of will,” Baker said. “Kershaw was on empty. We knew it. They knew it. Everybody knew it.”
Harper’s walk loaded the bases and chased Kershaw, who walked off with his head down. He sat alone in the dugout with his head resting on his right hand.
“Kershaw was outstanding,” Baker said. “That’s one of the best performances I’ve seen, especially on three days’ rest.”
But the Dodgers’ bullpen nearly gave the game away.
Pedro Baez came in and hit Jayson Werth with his only pitch, forcing in a run to make it 5-3. Baez got booed off the field.
Daniel Murphy’s single off Luis Avilan dropped between Toles and Joc Pederson in left-center field, scoring two runs to tie it at 5. Avilan also heard boos.
Joe Blanton, who earned the win, retired Anthony Rendon on a swinging strikeout to end the inning.
“Our bullpen has been unbelievable,” Kershaw said. “Joe did what Joe’s been doing all season. He’s been through a lot in his career but he came in and shut them down.”
Desperate to avoid another early playoff exit, the Dodgers went with Kershaw, their three-time Cy Young Award winner who won Game 1 last Friday despite going just five innings and allowing three runs.
This time, he was charged with five runs and seven hits in 6 2/3 innings. He struck out 11 — equaling his second-best postseason total — and walked two.
The left-hander was limited to 149 innings while compiling a 1.69 ERA during the regular season. He missed 2 1/2 months with a mildly herniated disk in his back.
Kershaw opened the game by giving up a leadoff single and a walk before Murphy’s RBI single.
The Dodgers took a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the inning on Gonzalez’s two-run shot that scored Justin Turner, who was hit by a pitch from Joe Ross.
Werth’s RBI single tied it 2-all in the third.
Los Angeles again answered in the bottom of the inning, with Kershaw getting the rally going with a double to left field. He slid into second and clenched his fists in a rare show of emotion.
Kershaw scored on Turner’s single with two outs. Pederson got hit by a pitch from Ross with the bases loaded, forcing in Turner
Ross made his postseason debut for the Nationals, giving up four runs and three hits in 2 2/3 innings, equaling the shortest playoff start in the history of the Montreal-Washington franchise. The 23-year-old right-hander struck out three and walked two. He hasn’t pitched more than four innings since coming off the disabled list on Sept. 18.