The Nationals looked defeated for most of NLDS Game 5 against the Dodgers, but they staged a late comeback against the Dodgers’ bullpen to pull out a 7-3 victory in 10 innings on Wednesday night.
The Dodgers jumped on Stephen Strasburg early as Max Muncy swatted a two-run home run in the first inning and Kiké Hernández followed up with a solo shot in the second, staking Walker Buehler to a 3-0 lead. Strasburg would settle down from there, but Buehler outmatched him.
Buehler didn’t get into hot water until the fifth inning when Kurt Suzuki drew a leadoff walk and Michael A. Taylor grounded a single to center field, putting runners on first and second with no outs. Buehler, however, wriggled out of the jam by striking out Strasburg and Trea Turner, then getting Adam Eaton to fly out.
Buehler got into more trouble in the seventh, leading off the inning by hitting Suzuki with a two-seam fastball that ran too far inside. Buehler, however, would strike out Taylor and get Asdrúbal Cabrera to line out. Turner drew a walk to extend the Nationals’ rally and with Buehler at 117 pitches, manager Dave Roberts decided to bring lefty Clayton Kershaw in as a reliever to face Eaton. The decision paid off as Kershaw struck out Eaton on three pitches to escape the seventh inning.
Buehler finished the night allowing the one run on four hits and three walks with seven strikeouts across 6 2/3 innings. Strasburg served up his three runs on six hits and a walk with seven strikeouts in six innings.
Kershaw returned to the mound for the eighth inning in what would be neither his Roberts’ finest hour. Rendon immediately greeted Kershaw with a solo homer to right field to make it 3-2. Soto followed up with a solo homer to right-center to tie the game. Roberts brought in Kenta Maeda, who proceeded to strike out the side.
Patrick Corbin worked a scoreless bottom of the eighth for the Nationals. Roberts sent Joe Kelly to the mound in the ninth. He worked a 1-2-3 inning. Daniel Hudson kept the game deadlocked at 3-3 with a scoreless bottom of the ninth to send the game into extra innings.
Roberts sent Kelly out for a second inning of work, another decision that would come back to haunt him. Kelly walked Eaton to start the frame, then Anthony Rendon hit a ground-rule double to left field. With first base open, Soto was intentionally walked, but Kendrick followed up by swatting a tie-breaking grand slam to center field, putting the Nationals up 7-3.
Sean Doolittle took the mound in the bottom half of the 10th. He struck out pinch-hitter A.J. Pollock, got Muncy to ground out, and Justin Turner to fly out to shallow center field on a nice diving play from Taylor. The play was reviewed but the call on the field was quickly upheld. The Nationals officially won their first playoff series.
For the first time since 1981, and for the first time since moving to D.C. and shedding the Expos name in 2005, the Nationals are in the NLCS. The Cardinals, who won Game 5 convincingly against the Braves earlier today, will have home field advantage, so the series will begin on Friday in St. Louis. The two sides last matched up in the postseason in the 2012 NLDS, which the Cardinals won in five games.