Bullpen clutch after Scherzer pulled in 5th

October 8th, 2021

LOS ANGELES -- Plan A for the Dodgers in the National League Wild Card Game was, of course, to have their prized Trade Deadline acquisition, starter , pitch deep into the night.

When that didn’t happen, Plan B ended up working out pretty well for Los Angeles, which got 4 2/3 scoreless innings from five relievers in a 3-1 walk-off victory over the Cardinals on Wednesday night at Dodger Stadium to advance to the NL Division Series.

“They have been our backbone all year long,” third baseman said of the bullpen, which ranked second in MLB with a 3.16 ERA this season. “And for them to go out and give us four-plus shutout innings and give the offense a chance to keep coming up and take a big swing, you can’t say enough about those guys.”

Scherzer was effective in pitching around traffic, holding St. Louis to one run on three hits in his 4 1/3 innings. He was not particularly efficient, though. Scherzer needed 94 pitches to get that far, and his characteristic sharpness was missing, as he struck out four batters while issuing three walks. He also had three-ball counts on seven batters, tying his high mark for a game this season.

So when the first two batters reached in the top of the fifth inning, manager Dave Roberts gave Scherzer one more, Tyler O’Neill, whom Scherzer struck out swinging. Roberts then opted to bring in right-hander . On the way out, rather than hand off the ball, Scherzer instead shook Roberts’ hand, one final attempt to stay in a bit longer before making his exit.

“A lot of your pitches that you’re trying to execute when you’re on pins and needles, [you’re] trying to make sure you’re not making a mistake and give up a homer,” Scherzer said of needing to empty the tank earlier than expected. “You just go out and grind, no matter what the situation is, no matter what’s in front of you. … It is what it is -- we won the game, that’s all that matters.”

The Dodgers’ Wild Card Game roster included only 10 pitchers, Roberts having opted to bring a fuller bench into the elimination game. He ended up needing more than half of those pitchers. And on a night when the offense was mostly quiet, Roberts needed his bullpen to be essentially perfect -- and it came pretty close to it.

Five Dodgers relievers combined to allow just four baserunners -- two hits, one walk and a hit-by-pitch -- while striking out six. There was Kelly, who got Nolan Arenado to ground into a forceout before fanning Dylan Carlson to end his inherited threat. worked around a HBP of Harrison Bader to put up his zero. , arguably L.A.’s best reliever this year, provided some length with 1 2/3 innings before finished off the eighth by getting Bader swinging.

And then there was closer for the ninth. Coming off a September in which he allowed just one earned run across 14 appearances, Jansen had electric stuff, surrendering a hit but striking out three to keep the game tied heading to the bottom of the frame.

“Tonight, clearly, we didn't have any margin, and starting with Joe coming in in that big spot, [it was the] changing point of the game,” said Roberts, who called this current relief corps the “deepest” of his time as the Dodgers' manager. “Throughout the other guys, everyone else did their job tonight, and Kelly held it down.”

The bullpen’s effort set the stage for ’s walk-off home run, and for an NLDS matchup with the Giants that opens Friday in San Francisco. Taylor’s homer also helped the Dodgers avoid extra innings and, consequently, saved them from needing an appearance from , who was warming in the bullpen and would have been asked to provide L.A. with some length in relief -- something he did on several occasions during last year’s title run.

Instead, Urías is now set to start Game 2 of the NLDS on Saturday on six days’ rest, which could be significant given that he has shouldered by far the heaviest workload of his career this season.

“[The relievers have] been doing this all year, [and now] they did it on the big stage, so a lot more people could see,” said center fielder . “Just props to them for being able to do it, and to continue to do it. It’s not easy.”