LOS ANGELES — Even after Blake Treinen gave up the Los Angeles Dodgers’ tiebreaking run in the eighth inning of Game 4, the Washington reliever wasn’t discouraged by his performance or the Nationals’ painful loss.
Win or lose, Treinen and the Nationals recognize the stellar quality of baseball being played in this NL Division Series.
“I didn’t make a bad pitch,” Treinen said of the down-and-in slider that Chase Utley smacked for a single to drive in the go-ahead run. “He just made a really good swing. We got a groundball. It just wasn’t where we wanted it. Tip your cap.”
Two division champions with reputations as postseason underachievers have been largely outstanding in this series. Although the Nationals lost 6-5 on Tuesday in their first shot to clinch, they claim they’re actually looking forward to the grand finale.
“The emotion here is so high,” said Max Scherzer, who will start Game 5 on Thursday at Nationals Park. “This is such a competitive series, and both sides are playing extremely well. Every little thing matters. Everything can go to one pitch, one play, one call. That’s why the postseason is the best. Everything matters.”
The Nationals will have their ace on the mound when they try again to win a playoff series for the first time since the team relocated to Washington before the 2005 season. The franchise has won one postseason series — the Montreal Expos beat Philadelphia in 1981.
Washington nearly got it done on the West Coast, but the Nationals realized they didn’t lose Game 4 as much as the Dodgers won it.
Los Angeles got to inexperienced Nats starter Joe Ross for four early runs, but Washington pounded out a thrilling rally to tie it against Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers’ vaunted bullpen in the seventh.
Kershaw battled Bryce Harper through a memorable eight-pitch at-bat, walking the Washington star on his 110th and final pitch to load the bases.
“Man, that’s what baseball is all about right there,” Washington manager Dusty Baker said. “A matter of will. And Kershaw was on empty there. We knew it. They knew it. Everybody knew it. That was some battle.”
Baker turned over the seventh to Treinen, who gave up one run in 12 September appearances. A consummate groundball pitcher, Treinen got grounders from Andre Ethier and Utley — but they both found holes .
Utley then made a nifty defensive play at second when Harper grounded out against Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen to end it.
“You still lost, so it’s not fun to look back and go, ‘Oh, what a competitive game,'” said Harper, who went 0 for 3 with two walks.
GAME 5 HISTORY
The Nationals played a decisive fifth game at home in the 2012 Division Series against St. Louis, and it didn’t go so well.
Washington led by six runs early and 7-5 going into the ninth, only to lose 9-7 to the Cardinals. The Nationals were one strike from finishing it off, but became the first team to lose after leading by more than four runs in a winner-take-all playoff game.
Harper, who homered in that game as a rookie, shrugged off the memory.
“You never dread another day of playing baseball,” he said. “You don’t want to have another offseason, so we’ve got a great guy going, and we’re excited to get back to our fans. … Hopefully we’re slammed and jam-packed, and everybody is wearing their red.”
The Nationals chose the 23-year-old Ross to make his postseason debut in Game 4, hoping he wouldn’t be adversely affected by 11 days off and three months without much game action. He made just three appearances in September after missing 66 games with right shoulder problems.
Ross wasn’t terrible, but he struggled with control — and the Dodgers hit with appropriate desperation. Adrian Gonzalez delivered a two-run homer in the first inning after Ross hit Justin Turner with a pitch to keep the inning going.
Los Angeles got a leadoff double in the third from Kershaw, but the ace was nearly stranded before Turner delivered a two-out RBI single . Ross then fell apart, walking consecutive batters and hitting Joc Pederson with his final pitch to force in Los Angeles’ fourth run.
Ross gave up four runs, three hits and two walks.
“I felt good out there, but I just didn’t really execute in the third inning,” Ross said. “Hopefully, I get another chance to get out there.”
Scherzer, the Nats’ 20-game winner and Cy Young Award contender, is expected to face Dodgers lefty Rich Hill on Thursday. Scherzer’s tendency to give up homers was the biggest flaw in his stellar regular season, and he served up gopher balls to Corey Seager and Justin Turner while taking the loss in Game 1. “This is the biggest start of my career,” Scherzer said. “Biggest start of my life. I’m not going to shy away from it.”