The tension was palpable at Dodger Stadium on Thursday night. Teetering between excited and terrified, the sold out crowd of 53,095 was ready to embark upon another postseason journey. Hoping against hope that this one wouldn't end like the last six consecutive have…in heartbreak.
So needless to say, when the Dodgers went the first three innings without a hit, the widespread panic reached a fever pitch. That's when a former Dodger came to the rescue.
Howie Kendrick made two small mistakes. One of them costly, and it helped the Los Angeles Dodgers take Game 1 of the National League Division Series, 6-0.
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Los Angeles put together a small, two-out rally in the bottom of the fifth. Cody Bellinger walked. Chris Taylor singled, and Max Muncy hit a groundball to first base that went through Kendrick's five-hole for an error, and the second run of the game.
"You see some weird things in the playoffs,” Kendrick said of the mistake. "But sometimes things just happen."
It was the second error of the game for Kendrick, and as it often is in baseball, it was damming. Not only because it gave the Dodgers an insurance run, but because Washington never seemed to be able to overcome it.
"You try to make every play, and tonight it didn’t work out," Kendrick said following the loss."Unfortunately it’s in the postseason, but I wouldn’t change anything about the way I tried to make that play. Just one of those times you miss it. You try to suck it up and hope you make it up on the other end. We weren’t able to do that."
Suddenly, the team that was celebrating their first ever playoff victory in a winner-take-all game just two nights ago, was silent as the sheeted dead, staring at a series deficit straight in the face.
Sure, it was just one game, but in the postseason when everything is magnified, mistakes, be them large or small, will impact the outcome, especially in a short series.
Fresh off vanquishing their October ghosts, and removing the proverbial monkey off their back, the Nationals looked like the doe in the headlights on Thursday night.
In his first taste of postseason action, Washington starter, Patrick Corbin, walked four of the first seven batters he faced to hand the Dodgers the extraordinary rare gift of an early run without allowing a single hit.
"In the first inning I think he got a little amped up," said Nationals' manager Davey Martinez of Corbin. "His front side was opening up a little bit and he couldn't get the ball. He was spiking a lot -- when he starts spiking his sliders like that, I mean really bad, and his fastball's just running all over, it's usually because he's opening up. He did the first inning and then he settled down."
Corbin became just the second pitcher in MLB history to issue four walks in the very first inning of his first career postseason game since St. Louis Cardinals' pitcher Art Reinhart did in the 5th inning of the 1926 World Series.
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Dodgers' starter Walker Buehler danced around some damage in the fourth inning when he walked the bases loaded before inducing a weak ground ball back to the pitcher to escape the jam.
In all the years Buehler has been pitching, he's often encountered moments where he momentarily lapses and the next thing you know the bases are loaded. In those moments, the 25-year-old would say he just needed a second to compose himself and he would regain his confidence.
Dodgers' pitching coach Rick Honeycutt sensed the magnitude of the moment as well, and came out of the dugout for a mound visit. Exactly what Buehler needed to get out of the inning unscathed. Buehler would exit the game after six innings, allowing no runs, one hit, with three walks and eight strikeouts.
"Obviously I have a lot of trust in Honey and Will," said Buehler of the meeting on the mound. "There's a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes that we do that kind of leads to decisions we make and I'm not going to go into the details of it, but we felt good about it, so I made a pitch and got out of it."
For the first six and a half innings, the opening game of the NLDS resembled exactly what Buehler predicted it would be before the series began: old school baseball.
No openers started the game, and there was no talk of "juiced" baseballs. Just a good ol' fashioned pitcher's duel between two of the game's best. Corbin and Buehler combined for 17 strikeouts and just four hits allowed.
"There's guys that want those opportunities and like those big moments and want to be the guy," said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts about Buehler. "That's a really good lineup over there and for him to go six it was really -- we needed that one."
Despite being handed two runs, the Dodgers had a quiet confidence that at some point they would find the big hit and break the game open. They knew the Nationals' bullpen was nowhere near bulletproof, and once Corbin was chased from the game, the floodgates opened.
"We did a good job of making him work and getting guys on base," said Taylor of the game plan against Corbin. "We grinded him out, and got his pitch count up. We got him out of the game and got into their pen, and that's what we wanted to do. It took us a little bit to get that big hit, but we finally got it when Muncy stepped up."
Muncy finally provided the first big hit in the bottom of the seventh inning with a two-run single off Fernando Rodney to give the Dodgers a 4-0 lead.
"The biggest changes I made was mental attitude towards the game," said Muncy. "To me it's kind of been one of the biggest things is these are big games, they're big moments and you got to try to go out there and enjoy them as much as possible because you don't know how many there are going to be, and when you do that you tend to relax and just play the game."
Muncy finished with three RBI, and became just the second player in baseball history to start the playoffs with three or more RBI in back-to-back years.
One inning later, in his first career postseason at-bat, 21-year-old rookie Gavin Lux hit a pinch-hit, home run to right-center to give the Dodgers a 5-0 lead.
"I didn't even have enough time to think about anything," admitted Lux who ran from the dugout straight to the batter's box when he was called to pinch-hit. "It was a surreal moment. This is what every kid dreams about. It was a special moment."
At 21 years old, Lux became the youngest player in Dodgers history to hit a pinch-hit home run in the playoffs, and the second youngest player to homer in his first plate appearance of the postseason.
"If you had told me four months ago that I would be playing in the postseason I probably wouldn't believe you," said Lux who found out he made the NLDS roster just 24 hours earlier.
Two batters later, Joc Pederson crushed a pitch off the right field foul pole and the Dodgers comfortably had a 6-0 lead, and a 1-0 lead in the NLDS overall.
If Washington was the upset special that experts were predicting, then the Dodgers certainly did not get the memo. They are on a mission 31 years in the making, and they will take down anyone standing in their way.
"We’re built for this moment," said Muncy to ESPN following the victory. "We’re built for October. We went out and showed it tonight."