Dodgers on Brink of Elimination after Meltdown in Game 3 of NLDS

The Washington Nationals only needed two innings to dispatch of the Dodgers, scoring four in the third and four more in the ninth as they crushed Los Angeles, 8-3, in Game 3 of the NLDS at Dodger Stadium on Monday.

It feels like déjà vu all over again.

The Los Angeles Dodgers find themselves in a familiar place: on the brink of elimination in the NLDS.

The Washington Nationals only needed two innings to dispatch of the Dodgers, as they bookended two, four-run frames en route to an 8-3 beating of Los Angeles in Game 3 of the NLDS at Dodger Stadium on Monday.

Washington scored four runs in the third inning thanks to a two-run homer by Anthony Rendon, and four more in the ninth after a homer by Jayson Werth and a two-run double by Ryan Zimmerman.

"We exploded," Washington manager Dusty Baker said after the game. "We exploded i the third and then we didn't explode again until the ninth. We really, really, really needed those runs."

Carlos Ruiz hit a pinch-hit, two-run homer, in the fifth inning, but it was not enough to complete the comeback for the hapless boys in blue. 

"Big hit by Chooch [Ruiz] and it was a good game til the ninth," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "I felt bringing Kenley in, in the ninth would keep it close and give us a chance in the bottom half, but that's baseball."

For the third straight game, the Dodgers struck first against Washington thanks to the heroic efforts of rookie Corey Seager.

"You'd like to get on the board early and I've gotten it the past three games," said Seager. "It's luck or whatever it is."

Seager nearly missed his third consecutive first inning postseason home run when he hit an RBI double off the wall in right-center to give the Dodgers the early 1-0 lead.

"It felt good after that double by Corey," Roberts said of the team's start. "We had some momentum, but couldn't keep it."

The likely Rookie of the Year in the NL has only three hits in the series, but each one has drove in a run including homers in Games 1 and 2. 

Kenta Maeda made his MLB postseason debut and melted down under the bright lights of the playoffs after he allowed four runs in the third inning.

"Kenta was missing, getting behind and some fastballs leaked over the plate," Roberts said of his starter. "They made him pay."

After a leadoff single to Trea Turner—one of the fastest players in the league—he hung an 0-2 fastball to Werth who promptly doubled to right field, scoring Turner from first.

Things only came unraveled from there as Werth would later score on an RBI single by Bryce Harper and Rendon followed with a backbreaking two-run homer to left field and before you knew it, the Nationals were in the driver's seat with a 4-1 lead.

"I'm just trying to stay within myself, not do to much, and just trying to put the barrel on the ball," Rendon said of his approach at the plate. "I've been taught to stay within myself ever since I was young."

The deep blast into the bleachers in left field was the first home run of Rendon's postseason career in seven previous games with the Nationals.

Maeda did not come back out to the mound for the fourth inning and overall had a miserable day in his first postseason start. The Japanese rookie allowed four runs on five hits with two walks and four strikeouts in just three innings. 

"In the third inning I made a lot of mistakes and they took advantage of it," Maeda said through a translator after the game. "I thought I had my stuff today, but it didn't turn out to be a good outing."

Maeda made 32 starts this season, but his last two outings have been the worst in terms of innings pitched, runs allowed and command of the plate. His three innings on Monday was the second shortest start in Dodgers postseason history (Odalis Perez 2.2IP in 2004).

The Dodgers found themselves in a three-run hole and turned to their newest teammate for help in the fifth inning.

Carlos Ruiz came off the bench to face a familiar foe in Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez. The Dodgers backup catcher faced Gonzalez when he was with the Phillies in the National League East for the better part of five seasons.

"Sometimes when you face a pitcher like him, you feel comfortable at the plate," Ruiz said of facing Gonzalez who he also homered off of on April 27. "He threw me a bunch of pitches off the plate and then threw me a fastball over and I hit it."

Entering the game, Ruiz had faced Gonzalez a team-high 29 times, with seven hits, three doubles, a home run and five RBI against him.

Chooch crushed a 3-1 fastball into the left field pavilion to bring the Dodgers within one and knock Gonzalez from the game.

But the Nationals bullpen and plenty of left-handed pitching in their arsenal and threw two different southpaws at the Dodgers before relying on right-handers Shawn Kelley and Mark Melancon.

"If I knew the answer, I would have already changed it," first baseman Adrian Gonzalez said of the team's struggles with left-handers. "They haven't done anything different, they've just outplayed us."

Jayson Werth annihilated a 95 MPH cutter from Kenley Jansen in the top of the ninth and the collapse of the Dodgers' closer continued as the wheels fell off the bus, leading to four runs before Jansen left the game for Ross Stripling.

"That one felt pretty good," Werth said of his mammoth home run in the ninth. "I played a lot of games here and I've always wanted to hit one out of the stadium. I never thought it was possible and I still feel the same way. If that ball didn't get out, I don't think I'll ever be able to do it."

Melancon pitched a scoreless ninth for the second straight game. 

Los Angeles is now in jeopardy of yet another early playoff exit after they were eliminated from the NLDS in each of the last three postseasons.

Manager Dave Roberts will be forced with the uncomfortable decision to pitch Clayton Kershaw on three days rest facing elimination—something he already said was doubtful—or throw 20-year-old Julio Urias into the fire for Game 4 with the 29-year-old hopes of a city resting on his shoulders.

"It's a possibility," Roberts said of throwing Kershaw out there on three days rest. "You look at Julio at home or Kershaw on short test at home. As an organization we've got to figure out what gives us the best chance tomorrow."

Players of the Game:

Anthony Rendon: Two-run homer.
Carlos Ruiz: Pinch-hit, two-run home run.
Nationals Bullpen: No runs allowed for third straight game. 

Three Takeaways:

1. The Pinch Hitter: Carlos Ruiz hit a pinch-hit, two-run home run in the bottom of the fifth to bring the Dodgers within a run of the Nationals. Chooch's homer was the first by a Dodger pinch-hitter since Orlando Hudson hit one out in out in Game 5 of the 2009 NLCS against Ruiz's Phillies. It was the first pinch hit home run at home since Kirk Gibson's memorable walk-off in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.

2. Lights Out: The Washington Nationals bullpen has been brilliant thus far in the NLDS. Through three games, the pen has pitched 13 scoreless innings and Dodgers hitters are a paltry 5-for-33 against them.

3. Time is on your side: According to ESPN Stats & Info, the NLDS series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Washington Nationals is the first postseason series in history in which the first three games each lasted longer than three hours and 45 minutes.

Up Next:

Dodgers (1-2): As of now, 20-year-old Julio Urias is the Game 4 starter as Los Angeles faces elimination square in the eye.

Nationals (2-1): Washington will roll with Joe Ross in Game 4 as they try to win the series and advance to the NLCS on 2:08  (or 5:08) PM PST.

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