WASHINGTON -- Short-handed, short-rested, the Dodgers don't care. They've been finding a way all season, and on Thursday night, they found a way to Chicago.
With Clayton Kershaw on one day of rest getting the last two outs for the save, they barely held on in an epic battle to beat the Nationals, 4-3, and win the decisive Game 5 of the National League Division Series. The Dodgers advanced to the NL Championship Series against the Cubs that starts Saturday at Wrigley Field (8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on FS1) with a typically gritty, bench- and bullpen-emptying wild scramble.
• Did you know? NLDS Game 5
:: NLDS: Dodgers vs. Nationals coverage ::
"One of the best games in history," said Dodgers first baseman Adrián González afterward as the Dodgers celebrated reaching their fourth NLCS in the past nine seasons, and first since 2013.
"That's probably one of the craziest, if not the craziest, games I've ever been a part of in my career," Nationals right-hander Max Scherzer said. "Man, this is a tough one to be on the wrong side of."
Held scoreless through six innings by Scherzer, the Dodgers won the game with a four-run seventh. Joc Pederson slugged a rare home run to left field (second this year) on the first pitch of the inning to tie the game and chase Scherzer, but Nats manager Dusty Baker defended his decision to let Scherzer keep pitching after already throwing 98 pitches.
"No, I didn't think about pulling him then," said Baker. "It's easy to say after the fact. If somebody had told me and Max that the guy was going to hit an opposite-field home run, we'd have taken him out then. But how do you take out your -- a guy in a 1-0 game? And Max is capable of going 100-some-odd pitches."
Marc Rzepczynski walked a slumping Yasmani Grandal on four pitches, Howie Kendrick singled and pinch-hitter Carlos Ruiz pulled a clutch two-out RBI single off lefty Sammy Solís to break the tie. Justin Turner's two-run triple off Shawn Kelley served as essential insurance.
Ruiz's single had a Statcast™ exit velocity of 106 mph. He only hit the ball harder on four occasions all year, and his top exit velocity of the year actually came in Game 3 on his home run, which left the bat at 107.8 mph. Baker used Scherzer and five relief pitchers to get through the seventh.
The Dodgers overcame their usual share of obstacles. Rich Hill, starting on short rest for the first time, didn't get out of the third inning, but Joe Blanton cleaned up his mess. Winning pitcher Julio Urías, at age 20, became the youngest Dodgers pitcher in the postseason and youngest in the Major Leagues since 1970. He pitched two eventful innings, with a double and pair of walks, but the Nationals ran out of both of the innings, Bryce Harper getting picked off first to end the fifth inning and Jayson Werth thrown out at the plate by 30 feet when sent home by third-base coach Bobby Henley on Ryan Zimmerman's double to end the sixth.
"As we came off the field after that, Adrian said, 'We're going to make them pay,'" said Turner.
The Nationals didn't quit, forcing the Dodgers to go with closer Kenley Jansen in the seventh inning after cutting the 4-1 lead to 4-3 on former Dodger Chris Heisey's pinch-hit home run off a Grant Dayton 0-2 pitch. That made Dodgers manager Dave Roberts go way out of the box with nine outs needed, turning to his closer Jansen, who had not pitched as early as the seventh inning since 2013. Jansen ultimately threw a career-high 51 pitches to get seven of those outs.
"When that happened in the seventh, I want that ball," said Jansen. "I'm not thinking about the ninth, I want to come out there and try to get some shut-down innings, and I did that.
"Funny thing was, when I was in the tunnel watching on TV and I saw Kersh warming up, and I'm like, wait a minute, am I dreaming? Is this true? Kersh is warming up? So then I had to ask, 'Do I still have the ninth?' And they said the ninth is still your inning. I went out there and Kersh gave me that boost, gave me that fighting spirit, just knowing he had my back."
With runners on first and second in the ninth, Kershaw emerged from the bullpen, two days after he started Game 4 of this series, to protect a one-run lead after Jansen ran out of gas and walked Harper and Werth with one out. Kershaw got Daniel Murphy to pop out and struck out Wilmer Difo to seal the victory. He stood on the mound with his arms extended in the air as the out was recorded at first, and the Dodgers emptied the dugout to celebrate.
"It's only fitting for Clayton to get the last couple of outs right there," said Roberts.
"With Kenley sticking his neck out there going out in the seventh, I want to have his back, so I feel like I wanted to get out there at least for a little bit just to give us an option," said Kershaw. "Kenley did more than he's ever done in his career. I just wanted to have his back."
Jansen was Kershaw's catcher in Kershaw's only Minor League save, against the Gulf Coast Nationals in 2006.
The Nationals won the NL East for the third time in five years, with aspirations of advancing even further, but for the third time they are headed for an early offseason.
"You know, you have to persevere," said Baker. "That's the story of life. You know, it's how you deal with the down times and how you deal with pain. And if you just keep persevering, then something will happen, something good will happen. You can't stop trying. You can't stop trying to reach your goal."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Costly send: Henley has had an aggressive green light all season long, but a costly send in the sixth inning ended a Nationals' rally prematurely. Zimmerman roped a two-out double into the left-field corner with Werth at first base, and Werth was waved home, despite the ball having reached the cutoff man, Corey Seager, and Werth was thrown out easily.
"I think after the fact, hindsight, do I wish I could have it back? Well, yeah, sure," Henley said. "That's just human nature. But I've tried to be aggressive all year. It's our style of play. Does it hurt? Sure, it hurts."
Said Baker: "Well, [Henley's] aggressive and there's two outs, and with the hitters we had coming up after, he feels terrible about that, because it didn't work. But [Andrew Toles] got to the ball very quickly, got rid of it, and you know, did what he was supposed to do, hit the cutoff man."
Reddick misfires: Dodgers right fielder Josh Reddick, with a reputation for a strong throwing arm, had a real chance to get Murphy in the second inning when the Nats' second baseman scored from second on Danny Espinosa's single. But Reddick's throw took catcher Grandal up the third-base line, and Murphy tap-danced around the tag to score standing up.
"It was as intense a game as I've ever been a part of." -- Andrew Friedman, Dodgers president of baseball operations.
"It all stings. It's the end of the year. We've been together since February and we've all worked hard. We achieved a lot of goals, obviously. Not the ultimate goal, not goals that we sat down and wanted to achieve, but we did a lot of good things." -- Zimmerman
Dodgers: This club's probable starters are always subject to change, but Roberts said Kenta Maeda will start Game 1 in Chicago on Saturday. In his only postseason start, on Monday in Los Angeles, Maeda allowed four runs on five hits in only three innings vs. the Nationals, including a home run by Anthony Rendon.
Nationals: The Nationals' season is complete. They open the 2017 season on April 3 against the Marlins at Nationals Park.