LOS ANGELES — When Carlos Ruiz cracked the Dodgers’ first postseason pinch-hit homer in Los Angeles since a guy named Kirk Gibson did it a generation ago, the hallowed stadium shook with the possibilities.
In that moment, Dodgers fans figured their team was ready to end the October doldrums currently bedeviling a franchise that has won four straight NL West titles, but just one playoff series.
Instead, the Dodgers never scored again in their 8-3 loss to the Washington Nationals on Monday, dropping them into a 2-1 deficit in the best-of-five Division Series.
Reliable starter Kenta Maeda flopped in his rookie season’s biggest moment, and vaunted closer Kenley Jansen was tagged for four more runs. Aside from Ruiz’s two-run shot, the Dodgers couldn’t slug with the Nationals’ potent lineup. Los Angeles lost for the 12th time in 18 playoff games since beating Atlanta in the 2013 NLDS.
Starting with Game 4 on Tuesday at Chavez Ravine, the Dodgers will need back-to-back wins on both sides of the continent to avoid a fourth straight postseason disappointment.
“We’ve missed the big hit for the last two games, but it happens,” said rookie shortstop Corey Seager, who hit an RBI double in the first inning. “We’ve got to move on and find that big hit.”
Nobody managed two hits for the Dodgers, who are on the brink of losing their third consecutive division series and their fourth straight playoff series. They haven’t been to the World Series since 1988, when Gibson hit his iconic homer off Oakland’s Dennis Eckersley to propel Los Angeles toward its most recent championship.
The Nationals haven’t won a playoff series since they were the 1981 Montreal Expos, but they might have found an opponent with even more deep-seated postseason problems.
“We’re not afraid of this,” first-year Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “It’s been a long season. It’s been a lot of highs and lows. But I know that there’s no quit in our guys.”
The Dodgers never recovered after Washington chased Maeda with four hits and four runs in the third inning. Ruiz’s homer trimmed the Dodgers’ deficit to 4-3 in the fifth, but the Nationals’ bullpen continued its utter mastery over Los Angeles with 4 2/3 scoreless innings of two-hit ball.
The collapse was psychologically capped when Jansen entered a one-run game and gave up four more, retiring just one of his five batters in the ninth. Jansen yielded Jayson Werth’s massive homer and got chased when Josh Reddick botched Ryan Zimmerman’s catchable fly to right, scoring two more runs.
“We can’t lose another one, so we’ve just got to compete,” Jansen said in a subdued clubhouse. “We still have a shot to win two, and why not?”
Maeda was the unexpected stalwart this season in the Dodgers’ patchwork rotation, which lost Clayton Kershaw to injuries and Zack Greinke to Arizona’s $206.5 million largesse.
Maeda led Los Angeles with 16 victories, 175 2/3 innings, 179 strikeouts and a career-high 32 starts while the Dodgers gave extra rest to the 28-year-old rookie to get close to his usual weeklong gaps between starts.
He was the only starter to remain in the injury-plagued rotation all season, but perhaps the longest and most draining year of his baseball career finally caught up to him: Maeda needed 28 pitches just to escape the first inning on a brilliantly sunny afternoon, fanning Zimmerman with the bases loaded to end it.
His real trouble came in the third when Trea Turner led off with a single and scored on Jayson Werth’s double. Bryce Harper delivered a one-out RBI single, and Rendon brought him home with his first career postseason homer.
Roberts pulled Maeda for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the third.
“I was very regretful that it didn’t turn out to be a good outing,” Maeda said. “I understand it was a very big situation. I went in there as a must-win situation. I wasn’t nervous at all, but I just didn’t have my day.”
Roberts attempted to counteract the Dodgers’ struggles against left-handed pitching by inserting Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson and Charlie Culberson, but the trio went 1 for 10 with Pederson’s fifth-inning single before Ruiz’s homer.
The Dodgers won 53 home games this season, tied for the second-most in the majors. They’ve lost four of their six home playoff games over the past three division series, however.
The teams left the park not knowing when Game 4 will start on Tuesday, thanks to television’s control of the schedule. Both teams also were initially cagey about their starting pitchers. The Dodgers must choose between Kershaw on short rest or youngster Julio Urias (5-2, 3.39 ERA). The Nationals are likely to use Joe Ross (7-5, 3.43) or Reynaldo Lopez (5-3, 4.91), keeping 20-game winner Max Scherzer in reserve for a Game 5 or the NLCS.
The game will start at 5:05 p.m. EDT. The teams had to wait until San Francisco’s 13-inning win over the Cubs ended just before 3 a.m. EDT to find out when first pitch would be — Los Angeles and Washington would have begun at 8:08 p.m. EDT if Chicago had won.