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Nats knock Kershaw out early, but drop Game 1 of NLDS vs. Dodgers

Nats knock Kershaw out early, but drop Game 1 of NLDS vs. Dodgers

Max Scherzer's fearless aggression on the mound is part of what places him among the absolute elite of his craft. He lives and dies by that never-back-down approach, a motto well-illustrated by the fact he led the majors in strikeouts this season, yet also topped the National League in home runs allowed. He prefers going right after those who step in the box to challenge him, knowing full well the danger of swimming in those waters.

That attitude, which has served him well so many times over the years, and so many times this year, was his downfall in the Nationals' 4-3 Game 1 loss to the Dodgers to begin the NL Division Series on Friday night in Washington. Scherzer got bit twice on first pitch strikes thrown right down the heart of the plate to dangerous hitters seeking just what he offered them.

Scherzer's first homer was on the initial pitch of the second at-bat of the game, as Dodgers rookie Corey Seager wasted no time making his presence felt with a towering shot to center field. Scherzer's second took place in the third inning, a two-run bomb launched by Justin Turner into the visitors bullpen in left. That made it 4-0 and spotted Clayton Kershaw a healthy early lead, one that he nearly let slip through his hands.

RELATED: Baker, Roberts on being first pair of opposing black managers in postseason

“I made some mistakes, and they cost me," Scherzer said. "Giving up those two home runs, I really feel like that was the difference in the ballgame. I take ownership of that, and I’m accountable for that.”

The Nationals chipped away, beginning with two runs in the third inning brought home on a single by Anthony Rendon. Bryce Harper sparked the rally with a one-out double, and Jayson Werth followed with a walk. The two then moved over on a double steal helped by a Kershaw ball in the dirt to set up Rendon's two-run knock. 

The rally was halted by a Danny Espinosa strikeout, as he went down swinging on a pitch thrown about a foot above the strike zone. Espinosa also whiffed to end the fifth inning with runners on the corners. The Nats shortstop struck out in each of his three at-bats and left six total men on base.

"His swing was long tonight," manager Dusty Baker said. "That's what's kind of frustrating when... he was swinging at balls out of the zone, and then balls in the zone he wasn't catching up to."

Washington got one more run in the fourth keyed by two rookies. Trea Turner sailed a sacrifice fly to center field to score Pedro Severino, who reached with a leadoff double and moved to third on a groundout by Scherzer. The Nats then cut the Dodgers' lead to one and upped Kershaw's pitch count to 83 through four.

One of the Nats' most enticing opportunities off Kershaw came in the bottom of the second when an error at second base by Chase Utley loaded the bases with two outs. The rally was started with singles by Daniel Murphy and Ryan Zimmerman, who had two on the night. It was Severino who smacked a grounder right to Utley and used his plus-speed — by catcher standards — to reach first. That brought up Scherzer, who worked a full count against Kershaw, only to pop out on a bloop flyball to shallow left field, a swing that came on a would-be ball four.

Scherzer made it six innings on 91 pitches with four total earned runs allowed. He was replaced by rookie Wilmer Difo, who pinch-hit as the first player summoned off the bench by Baker. Lefty Sammy Solis took over on the mound and got them through the top of the seventh. 

In the bottom half of that frame, Murphy drew a one-out walk but was thrown out attempting to steal second. Murphy was out of the starting lineup for the final 14 games of the regular season with a left buttock strain, yet he was given the go-ahead to steal in a big spot with the Nats down a run.

"I was surprised," Baker said, noting it was not a direct call from the dugout for him to run in that moment. "Our guys have a green light, if they think a guy is slow to the plate, which [Pedro] Baez is. I guess the leg felt better than I imagined."

"I thought he was slow enough for me to get, unfortunately he wasn't," Murphy said. "I can't get thrown out right there. It cost me an at-bat in the ninth inning as well, running into an out on the bases."

The Dodgers called on closer Kenley Jansen shortly thereafter hoping for a five-out save. He saw a host of pinch-hitters in the eighth, including Clint Robinson, who doubled with two outs. Chris Heisey, however, then struck out looking on a cutter that clipped the bottom edge of the zone. That out pushed the Nats to 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position.

Jansen would then bat in a critical spot for the Dodgers, who loaded the bases with two outs in the top of the ninth off Nationals closer Mark Melancon. Melancon quickly got rid of his counterpart with a swinging strikeout. Jansen, however, then went out and shut the door by dispatching Turner, Harper and Werth in order. That finished off five straight scoreless innings for both teams.

"That's just baseball," Harper said. "A hit there or blooper there and it's a different outcome. You've got to tip your cap to how their bullpen threw and how they played. Sometimes that happens."

The Nats did some damage against Kershaw with three runs off eight hits and a walk. That qualifies as an off-night for the three-time Cy Young winner, who allowed more than two runs just twice in 21 starts during the regular season. They battled his pitch count to places he didn't want it to go, and Kershaw showed fatigue at times. The sellout crowd of 43,915 did their best to rattle him with chants of his name.

It wasn't Kershaw's best day, but Scherzer didn't have the stuff required to take advantage and because of that, the Nationals may have let the Dodgers off the hook in a game they know was winnable, a game that could foster regret as this series moves on.

RELATED: Does Clayton Kershaw get away with balks?

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Report: Nationals OF Adam Eaton out for season with torn ACL

Report: Nationals OF Adam Eaton out for season with torn ACL

Nationals outfielder Adam Eaton has a torn ACL and will miss the rest of the season, Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reported Saturday.

Eaton sustained the injury in Friday night’s 7-5 loss to the Mets when he stepped awkwardly on the bag while beating out a throw to first in the ninth inning. He then collapsed and needed assistance off the field.

The Nationals initially announced earlier Saturday that Eaton would go on the 10-day disabled list with a left knee strain. They also have since called up outfielder Rafael Bautista from Triple-A Syracuse.

The Nationals acquired Eaton in a trade with the White Sox in December in exchange for pitching prospects Luca Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning.

The 28-year-old Eaton was hitting .297 with a .393 on-base percentage and 24 runs scored for the 16-8 Nationals.

Michael A. Taylor replaced Eaton in centerfield during the Nationals’ 5-3 loss to the Mets on Saturday.

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Bullpen falters again as Nationals drop 2nd straight to Mets

Bullpen falters again as Nationals drop 2nd straight to Mets

WASHINGTON -- The New York Mets wobbled into Nationals Park this weekend with a six-game losing streak, beset by injuries and lined up to face Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and the team with the best record in the majors.

Two days later, things don't look quite so bleak.

Michael Conforto hit two home runs and slumping Jose Reyes also connected, leading the Mets over the Washington Nationals 5-3 Saturday.

"It feels great because they've got a great club and they're red-hot," Mets manager Terry Collins said.

"When you face arguably two of the best pitchers in the game two days in a row and come out with two wins, that's huge for us," he said.

After being swept at home by the Nationals last weekend the Mets have a chance to flip the script on Sunday and even the season series at three games apiece. Even though it's still April, the importance of this series wasn't lost on the Mets skipper.

"We know we've got a long track, we've got to try and get back in the hunt, and that's what we're trying to do, put some wins on the board and try and get back in this thing," Collins said.

The Nationals were still steamed over a no-call involving a steal by Jayson Werth in the fourth inning.

Werth swiped second as Jose Lobaton struck out, and got up and tangled with shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera when the throw skipped away. Werth kept heading to third and was thrown out by a wide margin.

Werth argued along with Washington manager Dusty Baker that he should've been awarded the base because of the block.

"I saw him point obstruction, and then he gave some jive explanation that really didn't make sense to me," Baker said of second base umpire Angel Hernandez.

Werth saw the same thing that his manager. When asked after the game about how an umpire can point and not get the bag, Werth responded: "You're asking the wrong person at this point. I clearly don't know the rule."

A request to talk to the umpires was submitted too late to get comment.

Conforto's two-run homer in the fifth gave the Mets a 3-1 lead and his sixth home run of the season made it 4-2 in the eighth. It was Conforto's second multihomer game in the majors -- as a rookie, he did it in Game 4 of the 2015 World Series against Kansas City.

"It's huge," Conforto said about winning the first games of series against Washington's two star pitchers.

"But you know, we had a feeling that this was coming. We have a lot of faith in ourselves. Things were going bad for a bit, but there's no panic in here," he said.

Hansel Robles (4-0) came in to start the sixth and retired five of the six batters he faced, striking out four. Jerry Blevins then took over and fanned Bryce Harper.

Jeurys Familia, pulled Friday night in the ninth while Washington tried to rally, retired three straight hitters to earn his first save of the season.

Familia, who led the majors with a team-record 51 saves last year, began this season serving a 15-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball's domestic violence policy.

Strasburg (2-1) gave up three runs in seven innings. He has gone exactly seven innings in all five of his starts this season.

Ryan Zimmerman hit a home run in the eighth to cut the deficit to 4-3. Zimmerman, who also had two singles, drove in all three Nationals runs and now has 11 homers this season to go along with 27 RBIs.

Zimmerman's shot broke a tie with Andre Dawson to move into second place on the Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals franchise list with 226.

Reyes hit a solo shot in the ninth, his second of the season.

Michael A. Taylor had three hits in his first game since replacing the injured Adam Eaton in center field for the Nationals. Taylor doubled in the first and added singles in the third and fifth.

Mets starter Zack Wheeler pitched 4 2/3 innings, giving up five hits and allowing one earned run while striking out four.

RELATED: ADAM EATON OUT FOR SEASON WITH TORN ACL