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Clayton Kershaw's performance was simply great theatre

Clayton Kershaw's performance was simply great theatre

The two greatest games I’ve ever witnessed came about four and a half years apart. In May 2012, Chris Davis threw two innings, the 16th and 17th, to beat the Boston Red Sox in Fenway park. 

Thursday night, I saw a fine closer, Kenley Jansen nearly throw three innings, only to be bailed out by arguably the best pitcher of our time, Clayton Kershaw, who retired the final two Washington Nationals to clinch the Division Series for the Los Angeles Dodgers. 

Both games featured creative moves by managers, Buck Showalter knowing that Davis had pitched in college, and Dave Roberts knowing that he had little chance to win otherwise. 

The aggressive move by Roberts could well hurt the Dodgers since they have only a day to regroup before the National League Championship Series begins. 

The Chicago Cubs look to be a very difficult out, and Los Angeles will have to be very fortunate to beat them. 

Some fans chided Showalter during and after last night’s game, saying that if only Showalter had been as aggressive as Roberts, the Orioles’ wild-card game might have had a different result. 

I’m not going to rehash that game, but there were major differences. 

The Dodgers had a lead they wanted to protect. If the Orioles had a lead, they would have brought in Zach Britton, and he certainly could have thrown two innings, perhaps more. 

The Orioles bullpen is a lot more reliable than Los Angeles’. Brad Brach, Mychal Givens and Darren O’Day were far better alternatives than any of the others that Roberts had. 

In the National League game, there are double-switches, and there were plenty of them, forcing Jansen to hit. 

And while Jansen is a fine closer (1.83 ERA and 47 saves), he’s not in Britton’s class. 

The Dodgers-Cubs series that begins on Saturday will likely have more national interest than the American League Championship Series, which starts Friday. 

It will continue to be painful for many Orioles fans to watch the Toronto Blue Jays, and those that tune in will probably root for the Cleveland Indians. 

The Orioles won five of six against the Indians this season. 

This captivating postseason, which is only 10 days old, is really just getting started, and the story has been the use of bullpens — with the Britton decision, last night’s machinations and Cleveland manager Terry Francona’s use of Andrew Miller early and often. 

The guess here is that the Blue Jays will be just too powerful and too skilled for the Indians, and that the Cubs will roll over the Dodgers. 

Perhaps the most wonderful thing about baseball’s postseason is that it’s different from any other sports’. Every NFL game is a one-off, and Super Bowl strategy isn’t any different from in the regular season. It’s just magnified. 

In the NBA, rotations may be shorter and half-court play more prevalent, but it’s the same game — only more intense. 

Anyone attending last night’s game in Washington felt the intensity and could appreciate the seeming improvisation. Before the game, Roberts ruled out an appearance by Kershaw — even for an out. 

It wasn’t a surprise when Kershaw walked out to the bullpen in the eighth inning to warm up. It was great theatre. 

For a time, the boos that accompanied the announcement that the Metro would close — which turned out to be an hour before the game finally concluded — would be the high point of the night. 

Instead, it was the game’s finest pitcher getting two final outs. 

Four hours, 32 minutes never seemed so short. 

RELATED: Nats struggle to appreciate craziness of Game 5

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Nationals win 6-2 after Stephen Strasburg leaves in second inning

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USA TODAY Sports

Nationals win 6-2 after Stephen Strasburg leaves in second inning

PHOENIX -- Stephen Strasburg left after struggling with his control in the second inning, and the Washington Nationals wrapped up a successful nine-game trip with a 6-2 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Sunday.

There was no word from the Nationals during the game explaining the standout right-hander's departure.

Strasburg, 10-3 with a 3.31 ERA entering the game, uncharacteristically walked the No. 8 and No. 9 batters in the second inning before departing with a 5-0 lead. He threw 51 pitches, 29 strikes.

Brian Goodwin's leadoff homer ignited a four-run first inning off Robbie Ray (9-5), who lasted five innings, allowing five runs.

Bryce Harper singled in the first to extend his hitting streak to 16 games.

Wilmer Difo hit his second home run of the season off reliever T.J. McFarland in the seventh.

Joe Blanton (1-2) got two outs and earned the win.

The NL East-leading Nationals took two of three in Arizona to go 7-2 on the trip.

Nine players batted for Washington in the opening inning. Goodwin started it with a booming shot high above the home run line across the batter's eye in straightaway center.

Difo and Harper singled and Ryan Zimmerman's sacrifice fly made it 2-0. Daniel Murphy walked and Anthony Rendon singled in a run. Jose Lobaton capped the scoring with a two-out RBI single before Strasburg bounced into a fielder's choice to end Ray's 39-pitch inning.

Arizona broke through with two runs in the fifth.

Chris Iannetta had a pinch-hit single with one out and David Descalso walked before Ketel Marte and David Peralta each singled in a run. With runners at first and third and one out, Blanton came on to strike out Paul Goldschmidt and got Chris Owings to ground into a fielder's choice.

The Diamondbacks had runners at second and third with one out in the sixth but Enny Romero struck out A.J. Pollock and Descalso bounced out to second. Romero left the game in the seventh with an apparent injury.

Arizona, 3-6 since the All-Star break, stranded 11 runners.

Washington's Andrew Stevenson, called up from Triple-A Syracuse, was 0 for 2 in his major league debut.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: Washington placed OF Chris Heisey on the 10-day DL. Heisey strained his left groin in Saturday night's 4-3 victory. Additionally, OF Ryan Raburn was placed on the bereavement list.

Diamondbacks: J.D. Martinez appeared in his first game in Arizona as a Diamondback after missing three games with a bruised wrist, the result of being hit by a pitch in his Diamondbacks debut. He walked as a pinch hitter in the seventh.

UP NEXT

Nationals: Washington has Monday off and hosts Milwaukee on Tuesday. RH Edwin Jackson makes his second start for the Nationals.

Diamondbacks: Arizona begins a three-game home series against Atlanta on Monday night. Zack Greinke (11-4, 2.93 ERA), 9-0 with a 2.41 ERA in 11 home starts, goes for the Diamondbacks. R.A. Dickey (6-6, 4.14) counters for the Braves.

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Bryce Harper powers Nationals past Diamondbacks

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Bryce Harper powers Nationals past Diamondbacks

PHOENIX -- The newest additions to the Washington bullpen came through when called upon to help deliver a victory to their new team.

Sean Doolittle stranded the potential tying run by escaping a jam for his second save for Washington, and Ryan Madson tossed a scoreless eighth inning as the Nationals held off the Arizona Diamondbacks 4-3 on Saturday night.

"The game can really speed up on you once you start getting guys on base," said Doolittle, who with Madson arrived in a trade with Oakland earlier in the week. "The crowd and the energy of the stadium can kind of take over and ... you have to be mindful enough to step off the mound, slow the game down a bit, kind of press reset."

Bryce Harper homered and drove in two runs, and starting pitcher Tanner Roark struck out a season-high 11. Roark (8-6) gave up two runs and three hits in seven innings for the NL East-leading Nationals.

"Curveball felt good. Just keep the hitter guessing," Roark said.

Harper hit his 25th home run on a full-count offspeed pitch from Anthony Banda (0-1), who lost in his major league debut.

Chris Iannetta hit a two-out RBI double in the bottom half, but the Nationals opened a 4-1 lead with a three-run sixth.

Harper hit a run-scoring double and scored on Ryan Zimmerman's double, and Anthony Rendon beat out an RBI single that sent Zimmerman home.

"They had a young guy out there that throws the ball really hard, has good command. He's going to be really good in the next couple of years for sure," Harper said of Banda. "Just got him this time and got a few runs up there."

A.J. Pollock tripled in the bottom half and scored on Jake Lamb's groundout, and Arizona reliever Jorge De La Rosa got out of bases-loaded trouble in the seventh when he struck out Harper and Zimmerman.

Doolittle, acquired from Oakland last weekend, walked Lamb leading off the ninth. Iannetta hit a broken-bat grounder to third, and Rendon's throw to second went into right field for an error that put runners on the corners.

Paul Goldschmidt hit a sacrifice fly, Chris Owings flied out and Doolittle struck out Ketel Marte for his second save with the Nationals.

"Madson's been great for us. Doolittle ... he never panics. It was great to see. It's a lot of fun to have a back end like that," Harper said.

Banda allowed four runs and seven hits in 5 2/3 innings, struck out five and walked none. He was optioned back to Triple-A Reno after the game.

"I felt confident. I threw the ball in the zone and kept attacking hitters," Banda said. "I made a couple of mistakes, Harper and the middle of the lineup."