WASHINGTON – Leave it to little-used, light-hitting Jose Lobaton to change the complexion of the Washington Nationals’ N.L. Division Series with one big swing.
Getting a rare chance to play because of starting catcher Wilson Ramos’ late-September injury, backup Lobaton hit a three-run homer through a strong wind to erase an early deficit Sunday. Daniel Murphy provided more-expected production with two RBIs, and Washington’s bullpen threw 4 2/3 scoreless innings, leading the Nationals past the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-2 in a rain-postponed Game 2 to even the series at 1-all.
“I’ve got to try to do something for the team,” said Lobaton, who had one hit off a left-handed pitcher all season before connecting with a curveball that stayed up from lefty Rich Hill with two outs in the fourth inning.
“And I’m not saying that I’m going to be like Willy and hit a homer and hit .300. Play hard every day, no matter who is in and who is not,” he said.
After dropping Game 1, the Nationals trailed 2-0 when Hill allowed No. 8 hitter Lobaton to put the hosts ahead for good.
“One bad pitch to a guy that I don’t think anybody really thought was going to be that guy to hurt us,” said Josh Reddick, who drove in a run for L.A. in the third off Tanner Roark after Corey Seager hit his second first-inning homer of the NLDS. “But that’s what happens, and anybody can be the guy in the postseason.”
Hard to imagine Lobaton would be The Guy, though.
He didn’t even start the playoff opener, sitting behind rookie Pedro Severino, who had played all of 18 games in the majors.
Plus, Lobaton batted only .232 in 99 at-bats in 2016 overall, although his lone hit in 15 at-bats against left-handers coming into Sunday was also a homer, and also against the Dodgers – off Scott Kazmir in July.
This one put the Nationals ahead 3-2, finally getting to Hill – who went 4 1/3 innings – in the unlikeliest of ways. After a walk and two quick outs, he plunked Danny Espinosa for the second time; Washington’s shortstop has struck out in his other five NLDS plate appearances.
That mistake proved costly when Lobaton came through, leading to chants of “N-A-T-S! Nats, Nats, Nats, Woooo!” from a sellout crowd of 43,826.
What made this big bop all the more surprising was that it went over the wall in left, where wind that topped 30 mph was blowing in much of the afternoon.
“When he hit it, there was a bunch of people in the dugout who were, like, cussing, because we didn’t think he could get it out. All kinds of expletives were being thrown around,” Nationals left fielder Jayson Werth said. “And then it snuck over for us. That was the game, right there.”
Nationals slugger Bryce Harper’s take?
“If Mother Nature wanted to keep it in the yard, then I guess she would have,” the 2015 N.L. MVP said, “but the baseball gods overran her, I guess.”
Murphy has been Washington’s best hitter all season, considered a top contender for league MVP honors this year. Indeed, fans chanted those three letters after each hit as he went 3 for 3, including RBI singles in the fifth and seventh.
Five relievers made it stand up, with Mark Melancon working around a single in the ninth – the lone hit allowed by Washington’s relievers – to earn the save.
Blake Treinen went 1 1/3 innings and got the win, while lefties Marc Rzepczynski, Sammy Solis and Oliver Perez combined for seven outs as manager Dusty Baker mixed and matched his bullpen just right.
“The old man knows what he’s doing, I think,” Werth said with a smile.
And after the N.L. East champion Nationals wasted plenty of opportunities to score in a 4-3 loss on Friday, it was the N.L. West-winning Dodgers’ turn to come up short in the clutch: Los Angeles left the bases loaded three times.
In the fifth, pinch hitter Howie Kendrick sent a sinking liner to left that Werth managed to grab while sliding – then celebrated by popping up and throwing an uppercut.
“The wind pretty much had an effect on every ball that was hit out there,” Werth said. “That was ball was diving, knuckling, doing all kind of stuff. Part of why I was so excited was because I was surprised I caught it.”
The best-of-5 series shifts to Los Angeles for Game 3 on Monday afternoon, with Game 4 there on Tuesday, creating an unusual three-consecutive-days setup in the playoffs, thanks to the loss of a travel day.
“This was pretty much a must-win game for us,” Werth said. “Definitely don’t want to head West down two.”
In Game 3, the Dodgers will have RHP Kenta Maeda (16-11, 3.48 ERA) on the mound against Nationals LHP Gio Gonzalez (11-11, 4.57).
Both pitchers were scheduled to fly to Los Angeles ahead of the rest of the teams’ players, so they could be in place, instead of waiting for Sunday’s game to end. The Nationals are hoping Gonzalez can take advantage of the Dodgers’ worst-in-the-majors batting average against left-handed pitchers. Maeda led L.A. pitchers in wins, innings (175 2/3), strikeouts (179) and starts (32).
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