WASHINGTON -- The Washington Nationals were on the way to their first-ever playoff series win. Then the seventh inning happened.
Thanks to a 1-hour, 6-minute nightmare frame that started with Max Scherzer serving up a first-pitch homer to the Los Angeles Dodgers' Joc Pederson, ended with Anthony Rendon whiffing with the bases juiced, and featured just about anything you could imagine in between, the Nats went from leading 1-0 to trailing 4-3. That's how the seventh inning -- and their season -- ended.
Through six full innings Thursday night, Washington was leading 1-0 over the Dodgers behind ace Scherzer in the fifth and final game of the National League Division Series. But on the first pitch of the frame, at precisely 10:36 p.m. ET, Dodgers outfielder Pederson served a 95-mph fastball from Scherzer over the left-field wall to tie the game and quiet the sellout crowd down. But that was just the beginning.
Actually, it wasn’t the beginning. If you really must know, the first couple lugnuts popped off the first wheel of the cart (assuming wheels on carts have lugnuts) at the end of the sixth inning. That’s when, with two out and Jayson Werth on first base, Ryan Zimmerman lined a double into the left-field corner. Third-base coach Bobby Henley made a decision to send the runner that was questionable at best -- outfielder Andrew Toles had the ball before Werth even got to third -- and Werth was out by a mile. Like, he was literally out by 5,280 feet. Give or take 5,250 feet. As for the rest of the lugnuts and their respective wheels, they soon followed.
After allowing Pederson’s leadoff homer, Scherzer got the hook from Dusty Baker, a curious decision given that (A) the Nationals gave him $210 million to be The Man, (B) he had pretty much been The Man for six-plus innings, and (C) said six-plus innings had required him to throw only 99 pitches up to that point. Nevertheless, Baker yanked Scherzer and replaced him with Marc Rzepczynski, the first of five Washington relievers used during a 36-minute top half that featured (D) fans booing a sign on the giant video screen announcing that the 11:39 p.m. metro would be the last train of the evening, (E) Nats all-time home run leader Zimmerman getting double-switched out of the game, and (F) reliever Shawn Kelley, a two-time Tommy John surgery patient, exiting the game after feeling numbness in his pitching hand. Did I mention it was a weird inning?
But wait, there’s more.
The bottom of the seventh, which started with Washington down 4-1, was just as surreal, if not more so than the top. After a Danny Espinosa leadoff walk, pinch hitter Chris Heisey hit a two-run bomb that just barely got out over the left-field fence. After a single by Clint Robinson, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts went to the bullpen and brought in Kenley Jansen. As in, closer Kenley Jansen. In the seventh inning. Jansen got Trea Turner to fly out, then gave up a line single to Bryce Harper. On the play, pitcher Joe Ross -- who was pinch running for Robinson -- went from first to third, because of course he did. Werth struck out, but Harper stole second on the last pitch of the at-bat, leaving first base open with Daniel Murphy coming up. Naturally, the Dodgers put Murphy on (his second intentional walk of the game) to load the bases, leaving the fate of the free world as we know it -- or at least the fate of one really crazy inning -- in the hands of Rendon ... who whiffed.
By the time most absurd inning in the history of baseball was over, 66 minutes had passed. Thirty-five in the top, 31 in the bottom. Together, the Nationals and Dodgers brought new meaning to the term “seventh-inning stretch.”
More important, the supersized seventh was the inning that put the Nationals’ champagne-on-ice dreams on ice. They went into it doing cartwheels over the possibility of that first playoff series victory, and came out of it looking to put wheels back on carts.
“You feel like you get right there and you get it taken away from you right at the last second,” Werth said. “This one’s tough, it hurts. It was a crazy series. We battled, they battled. It was right there. Right there for us to get. Didn’t get it done, man. It sucks.”
“Never in my career, never in my life,” Scherzer said when asked if he has ever experienced such a freaky frame. “I mean, you knew something one-in-a-million was going to happen tonight. That was it. We weren't able to overcome that seventh inning.”