As Game 2 between the Nationals and Dodgers got underway Sunday, it would’ve been reasonable to believe that Los Angeles was feeling good about themselves and their chances of going back to the West Coast with a 2-0 lead. After all, they’d managed to snatch a victory in Game 1 when the Battle of the Aces fizzled into a bullpen duel. So, it didn’t come as much of a surprise when the Dodgers stormed out of the blocks early against Tanner Roark and Washington.
It was even less of a surprise that the man who put the Dodgers ahead in the very first frame was, once again, Corey Seager. He delivered a first-inning home run in Game 1, and wasted no time adding a second dinger to his playoff resume in Game 2. At that point, Roark had only thrown five pitches–the first was a harmless fly ball, the second went over Seager’s head and to the backstop, the next two were both balls, and the fifth pitch eventually landed in the seats in right-center field. It was extremely early, but things were looking promising for the Dodgers.
Corey Seager is the first shortstop with two dingers in an LDS since Stephen Drew in 2007. Only one SS — Nomar in '98 — has hit three.
— AJ Cassavell (@AJCassavell) October 9, 2016
Unfortunately for Los Angeles, the second inning brought about a trend that ended up being one of a few factors that ultimately cost them this game. After Roark got Josh Reddick to fly out, the next three Dodgers reached base. None of them reached home after Roark struck out Rich Hill and got Chase Utley to ground out to end the inning.
The third frame ended similarly for the Dodgers, but they at least had to have been encouraged by the fact that they did manage to bring in a run. This came before the bases were loaded, and it was a result of Justin Turner managing to motor his way from second base to home plate on a single from Reddick. It was 2-0 at that point, and the Dodgers had a chance to add on with the bases loaded after Joc Pederson was intentionally walked. However, the setup for the double play worked out for Washington, and LA’s second opportunity with three runners on was squandered.
Meanwhile, Rich Hill sauntered through the first three innings with relatively little incident. In fact, he made it through the third inning with three strikeouts, and the last two strikeouts of Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth were rung up thanks to Hill’s nasty curveball coming to the forefront once again. Hill had six strikeouts at that point, and the Dodgers were cruising.
Although the Nats had two on with two outs in the bottom of the fourth, LA was still one out away from escaping the inning unscathed and making sure that we’d be talking about how both teams were less-than-stellar when it came to cashing in their baserunners. With a 1-1 count against Jose Lobaton, Hill once again went to his devastating curveball. The twist this time was that he left the curve hanging high and in the zone, and Lobaton made no mistake with it and gave Hill’s teammates in the bullpen a souvenir ball to take back to California. The Nationals were now in the lead after being dominated for the first three innings, and all of a sudden the Dodgers were on the back foot.
The fifth inning brought about a chance for the Dodgers to turn things around and get on the front foot again. Following singles from Turner and Reddick, the Dodgers had two runners on with just one out and things got even more promising when Roark exited the game in favor of Marc Rzepczynski. Rzepczynski promptly walked Yasiel Puig to load the bases, and the Dodgers had a golden opportunity to make up for their previous failures with the bases loaded. The first chance slid past the bat of Yasmani Grandal for the second out, and then the final chance landed safely in Jayson Werth’s glove. If you’re keeping track at home, that made the Dodgers 0-for-6 with the bases loaded. They wouldn’t get another major chance like that for the rest of the afternoon.
If the missed scoring opportunities didn’t haunt the Dodgers enough at this point, then the looming specter of postseason tormentors from the recent past made things even worse. That came in the form of Daniel Murphy, who helped end Los Angeles’ 2015 season at this stage as a member of the Mets. One year later, Murphy struck the Dodgers in the Divisional Series again as he delivered two insurance runs in the fifth and seventh innings to pad Washington’s lead and put things in the capable hands of their bullpen.
Blake Treinen got four Dodgers out between the seventh and eighth inning, then Oliver Perez cleaned up the rest of the eighth inning to set the table for Mark Melancon to hopefully send Washington to Dodger Stadium with a 1-1 split. The Dodgers did get a runner in scoring position, but it wasn’t enough and the Nationals salvaged the split.
This was clearly a game of opportunities, and it simply came down to which team could take advantage of the cards that they were dealt. Los Angeles had three golden opportunities to take complete control of the game, but they failed to do so. On the other hand, the Nationals took their chances and instead of being forced to play for with their backs at the wall, they have a shot at seizing control of this series as it heads west.