Inside the at-bats that decided an epic game

Dave Roberts could celebrate because three plate appearances went his way at important points in the game. Rob Carr/Getty Images

The story of the epic four-and-a-half-hour clash between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Washington Nationals was not fully written until Clayton Kershaw struck out Wilmer Difo to end the game, the series and end the Nationals' hopes of advancing to the National League Championship Series.

But there were so many great battles leading up to that. Let’s run through three of them.

Justin Turner vs. Max Scherzer, fourth inning

The situation: This at-bat didn’t decide the game, but it foreshadowed some of what was to come. With two outs in the fourth inning, Turner worked a 13-pitch walk, which ran up Scherzer’s pitch count. Scherzer was pulled after Joc Pederson hit his 99th pitch for a game-tying home run in the seventh inning.

That resulted in the entrance of the Nationals' bullpen, which had the lowest ERA of any of the 10 teams in the postseason (1.02). But on this day, they would not come through for Dusty Baker, yielding three runs. Turner would drive in two. He finished the series with a .400 batting average, .591 on-base percentage and .733 slugging percentage, with six hits, five walks and two hit by pitches.

The nitty gritty: Turner has done this sort of thing before. On May 26, 2014, he drew a 16-pitch walk against Johnny Cueto in the seventh inning of a game between the Dodgers and Reds. That started a three-run inning in a 4-3 Dodgers win. It’s the longest plate appearance of his career. He also drew a 13-pitch walk in the ninth inning to bring in the tying run of an eventual win against the Marlins in 2012.

Anthony Rendon vs. Kenley Jansen, seventh inning

The situation: The Nationals would rally from a 4-1 deficit to cut the Dodgers lead to 4-3, with the bases loaded and two outs in the seventh inning. Jansen, who hadn’t pitched in the seventh inning of a game all season, had to finish the inning against Anthony Rendon.

It was a favorable matchup for Jansen. Rendon entered 0-for-5 against him.

Jansen threw four straight cutters and Rendon fouled off the first three, but missed the fourth.

That resulted in the fourth instance in which a pitcher struck out a hitter with the bases loaded to end the seventh inning of a winner-take-all postseason game in which the hitter’s team was trailing by a run.

That could be known as a “Grover Cleveland Alexander” in honor of the first and most famous pitcher to do that, against Tony Lazzeri in Game 7 of the 1926 World Series. The other two instances were by Derek Lowe against Terrence Long to advance the Red Sox past the Athletics in Game 5 of the 2003 American League Division Series and Joaquin Benoit of the Tigers against Nick Swisher of the Yankees in Game 5 of the 2011 ALDS.

The nitty gritty: Jansen was gutsy to throw inside pitches on the first and last pitches of the at-bat. If he missed his spot, he would have been in trouble. Rendon hit .362 and slugged .595 against fastballs, sinkers and cutters on the inner-third of the plate (or off the corner) from right-handed pitchers.

Daniel Murphy vs. Clayton Kershaw

The situation: With two Nationals on and one out in the bottom of the ninth, Dave Roberts made a move in the tradition of former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, circa 1988, turning to his ace, Clayton Kershaw, to be his ultimate closer for the last two outs. Lasorda had done the same in Game 4 of the 1988 NLCS, bringing in Orel Hershiser to get the final out of a one-run win against the Mets (a bases-loaded flyout from Kevin McReynolds) on the way to a championship.

The first task was to get Murphy, who was 8-for-24 with two home runs against Kershaw. Murphy entered the at-bat 7-for-15 in the series.

He was eager, perhaps a bit too eager, and he popped up a high, inside fastball on 1-0 for the second out. Difo then struck out to end the series.

Kershaw joined Alexander and Lowe as the only starting pitchers to finish out a series in relief on one day’s rest in a winner-take-all game (we’d call them saves, but Alexander’s game pre-dates the save rule).

The nitty gritty: Kershaw also was fortunate that he threw a pitch to just the right spot. One of Murphy’s two home runs against him in the 2015 NLDS came on a high fastball.