Dodgers-Na­tion­als Game 5 shows base­ball at its best — and worst

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - SPORTS - By PAUL NEW­BERRY AP Sports Colum­nist

It was one of the most com­pelling post­sea­son games in base­ball his­tory.

Too bad much of the na­tion had surely dozed off by the time it ended.

Sim­ply put, the Los An­ge­les Dodgers beat­ing the Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als in the de­ci­sive con­test of the NL Divi­sion Se­ries epit­o­mized every­thing that’s great about the play­offs — and every­thing that’s wrong with a na­tional pas­time that drags on far too long.

When Dodgers ace Clay­ton Ker­shaw im­prob­a­bly ended the in­ter­minable clas­sic with a strike­out for his first ca­reer save, Thurs­day had be­come Fri­day. The clock showed 41 min­utes past mid­night on the East Coast — a lu­di­crous time to con­clude a sport­ing event when most fans surely had to be at work or school just a few hours later.

“One of the best games in his­tory” is how Dodgers first base­man Adrian Gon­za­lez de­scribed it for those still awake, and there’s no ar­gu­ing that point. If noth­ing else, you’ve prob­a­bly seen a cou­ple of re­play high­lights by now.

But it shouldn’t have taken 4 hours and 32 min­utes to com­plete, mak­ing this the long­est nine-in­ning game in post­sea­son an­nals. The sev­enth in­ning alone was like its own lit­tle game, tak­ing up 66 min­utes as the Na­tion­als pa­raded one pitcher af­ter an­other to the mound, six of them in all, in a des­per­ate at­tempt to get three outs.

The drama was un­de­ni­able.

Too bad it was in­ter­rupted by all those trips to the mound, all those pitch­ers trot­ting in from the bullpen, all those req­ui­site warmup tosses, all those bat­ters step­ping out of the box be­tween ev­ery pitch, all those com­mer­cials fill­ing up the dead air time for those watch­ing at home.

As good as this game was, it raised a ques­tion that base­ball has been grap­pling with for years: Why is this tak­ing so long?

Let’s start with Wash­ing­ton’s Dusty Baker, who pro­vided a text­book ex­am­ple of Over­manag­ing 101 in the sev­enth.

He’s got his best pitcher on the mound, 20-game win­ner Max Scherzer, and a 1-0 lead as the in­ning be­gins. Granted, Scherzer had shown some signs of tir­ing, pitch­ing out of a base-loaded jam in the fifth and giv­ing up an­other hit in the sixth.

When Scherzer sur­ren­dered a lead­off homer to Joc Peter­son in the sev­enth on his 99th pitch of the night, Baker de­cided that he no longer wanted his best pitcher in a 1-1 game. Who could blame him? This has be­come stan­dard prac­tice in an era of bloated pitch­ing staffs filled with far too many guys play­ing spe­cial­ized roles — an in­ning here, a bat­ter there, all of it lead­ing to end­less pitch­ing changes, dou­bleswitches and other time­con­sum­ing mat­ters.

Af­ter­ward, Baker didn’t have to de­fend whether he yanked Scherzer too soon. Just the op­po­site. “With Max at 98 pitches go­ing into the sev­enth and a lefty at the plate in Ped­er­son, did you at all con­sider pulling him then?” a re­porter asked, re­flect­ing the way the game is played these days, to its detri­ment.

“No, I didn’t think about pulling him then,” Baker said. “Max said he was still good. We were hop­ing to get an­other in­ning out of him . ... It’s easy to say af­ter the fact. If some­body had told me and Max that the guy was go­ing to hit an op­po­site-field home run, we’d have taken him out then. But how do you take out your (best pitcher) ... in a 1-0 game? And Max is ca­pa­ble of go­ing 100-some-odd pitches.”

Af­ter one bad pitch, he was done.

Marc Rzepczyn­ski walked the next guy on four pitches and quickly got yanked. He prob­a­bly didn’t even need to shower. Blake Treinen faced two bat­ters and re­tired one of them be­fore he was pulled. Sammy So­lis also faced two hit­ters, giv­ing up the go-ahead hit to Car­los Ruiz. Shawn Kelley was sum­moned next, a move that to­tally back­fired when Justin Turner tripled to the deep­est reaches of cen­ter field, bring­ing in two more runs. Af­ter Kelley hurt his arm, it was left to Oliver Perez to get the third out.

The Dodgers took a to­tally dif­fer­ent ap­proach.

Less was more on this night.

In the bot­tom half of the sev­enth, af­ter Wash­ing­ton scored a pair of runs, Los An­ge­les man­ager Dave Roberts went against the book — ku­dos for that — by go­ing to his closer, Ken­ley Jansen, two in­nings ear­lier than nor­mal.

Jansen made it to the ninth with a 51-pitch out­ing, the long­est of his ca­reer, be­fore Roberts went to­tally off script by bring­ing his best pitcher out of the bullpen to get the fi­nal two outs.

Just 48 hours af­ter throw­ing 110 pitches in Game 4, Ker­shaw fi­nally ended the se­ries by whiff­ing rookie Wilmer Difo, the last po­si­tion player re­main­ing on Wash­ing­ton’s bench.

“The cra­zi­est game I’ve ever been a part of,” a down­cast Scherzer said.

No one would dis­agree with that.

This was base­ball at its best.

And its worst.

PABLO MARTINEZ MON­SI­VAIS — AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

As Na­tion­als’ Bryce Harper walks from the field, Dodgers cel­e­brate their Game 5 Na­tional League Divi­sion Se­ries win

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