Everything was going according to plan for the Washington Nationals in Game 3 of the NLDS on Sunday night (GameTracker). Starter Anibal Sanchez sat in his rocking chair and lulled the Los Angeles Dodgers to sleep with Bugs Bunny changeups for five innings, holding them to one run on a Max Muncy solo homer. He struck out nine.
The Nationals would've signed up for five innings and one run from Sanchez in a heartbeat prior to Game 3. Sanchez getting through five innings with a 2-1 lead allowed them to go to Game 1 starter Patrick Corbin, and eventually closer Daniel Hudson. It didn't work. The Dodgers mounted a huge sixth-inning rally against Corbin and reliever Wander Suero.
The Dodgers' 7 runs in the 6th inning were their most in any inning in postseason history.— Sarah Langs (@SlangsOnSports) October 7, 2019
The Dodgers scored seven runs in the sixth inning in Game 3 after scoring nine runs total in their first 22 innings of the NLDS. They did it with patient at-bats, timely hits, and shrewd pinch-hitting decisions. Let's break down the half-inning that flipped the script in Game 3 for the Dodgers, shall we?
Bellinger finally got a hit
Going into Game 3, NL MVP candidate (favorite?) Cody Bellinger was 0 for 6 with two walks and four strikeouts in the NLDS, and he went 0 for 2 with a strikeout against Sanchez on Sunday. Once he fell behind in the count 0-2 against Corbin, it was easy to assume another strikeout was coming. Consider:
- Corbin vs. LHB: .190/.260/.248 with a 39.7 percent strikeout rate
- Corbin in two-strike counts: .142/.223/.240 with a 52.7 percent strikeout rate
Rather than go down quietly, Bellinger worked the count back full, then lined a hanging slider to right field for a leadoff single. It was his first hit of the NLDS and it got the rally started in that sixth inning. The inability to put Bellinger away with two strikes -- Corbin has one of the best sliders in the game -- was the first sign Corbin was not sharp.
Corbin followed the Bellinger hit with back-to-back strikeouts of Corey Seager and A.J. Pollock. Up to that point, Pollock was 0 for 11 with nine strikeouts in the series, tying the franchise record for strikeouts in an NLDS. Corbin was one out away from escaping.
With one on and two outs, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts sent pinch-hitter David Freese to the plate rather than lefty-hitting rookie Gavin Lux, which was about as obvious as it gets in terms of pinch-hitting decisions. Look at Freese's numbers against lefties:
- 2019: .287/.385/.515
- Career: .303/.381/.472
Freese crushes lefties, it's pretty much the only thing he does at this point of his career, and sure enough he shot a single to right field to put runners on the corners with two outs. If nothing else, Freese pushed Corbin's pitch count up to 22. Of course, it turned out the Dodgers did much more than push up Corbin's pitch count that inning.
Martin gets off the schneid
Going into his sixth inning at-bat Dodgers catcher Russell Martin was in a 3 for 35 (.086) postseason slump that dated back to the 2015 ALCS with the Blue Jays. He was also in a 4 for 22 (.182) slump dating back to the regular season.
As with Bellinger, Corbin jumped ahead in the count 0-2 on Martin. And, like with Bellinger, Corbin was unable to put Martin away. Martin banged a 2-2 slider off the left field wall for a two-run go-ahead double. Check it out:
Heck of a time for Martin to snap his 3 for 35 postseason skid, huh? The double came on Corbin's 26th pitch of the inning. He threw 107 pitches in Game 1 on Thursday, remember. Fatigue was clearly starting to become a factor.
"As we have seen Corbin all year, it's tough. His slider looks like a fastball to the last minute," Nationals manager Dave Martinez said following Game 3. "And he threw a pretty good one to Martin. It was down, and he was able to put the bat on it."
Two more pinch-hitters
At this point Corbin was running on fumes. It was plainly obvious. Chris Taylor pinch-hit for starter Hyun-Jin Ryu and Corbin walked him on five pitches, only one of which was in the neighborhood of the strike zone:
The Taylor walk put runners runners on first and second with two outs, and pushed Corbin's pitch count over 30. Martinez had two options after that:
- A tired Corbin against Enrique Hernandez (.261/.335/.423 vs. LHP)
- A fresh Suero against Joc Pederson (.252/.349/.571 vs. RHP)
Martinez decided to stick with Corbin and Roberts pinch-hit Hernandez. Corbin again got ahead in the count 0-2 on Hernandez, but was unable to put him away. He left a slider right out over the plate and Hernandez sent it to deep left field for a two-run double.
Corbin went up 0-2 on Bellinger (single), Martin (double), and Hernandez (double) in that sixth inning, and they all came through with important hits. As noted earlier, Corbin held hitters to a .142/.223/.240 batting line with a 52.7 percent strikeout rate in two-strike counts during the regular season. That put-away slider was nowhere to be found in Game 3.
"Yeah, it was frustrating. The 0-2, we couldn't put the guys away, that's tough," Martinez said. "I'm not taking nothing against those guys. Those guys are pretty good hitters. But some pretty good pitching. We had guys 0-2 and we just couldn't finish them off tonight."
Turner piles on
Corbin faced eight batters and threw 35 pitches in the sixth inning, and he recorded two outs. He allowed four straight Dodgers to reach base with two outs and was finally -- and mercifully -- pulled after intentionally walking Muncy.
In came Suero and, sticking with the theme of the inning, he got ahead in the count 0-2 on Justin Turner. Turner worked the count back full 3-2, then unloaded on a cutter that leaked middle-middle. The three-run home run broke the game open and gave Los Angeles a (seemingly) comfortable 8-2 lead.
Bellinger followed the Turner home run with a double, his second hit of the inning and second hit of the NLDS, which meant seven consecutive Dodgers reached base with two outs. Seager grounded out to second base -- he made two of the three outs in the inning -- to finally end the sixth.
The Dodgers scored seven runs on six hits and two walks (one intentional) in the sixth inning. Four of the six hits came in two-strike counts, and four of the six hits were extra-base hits. All seven runs scored with two outs. Roberts used three pinch-hitters in the inning (Freese, Taylor, Hernandez) and all three reached base. Los Angeles went 3 for 3 with two walks with runners in scoring position in the sixth after going 1 for 12 in those situations in Games 1-2.
For five innings Sunday, Sanchez flummoxed the Dodgers with a steady diet of upper-80s fastballs and dead fish changeups, but his pitch count was elevated and the middle of the order was due up a third time. It was time to go Corbin, which I contest was the correct move. He's one of your best pitchers, so use him in a big spot. It didn't work out, and the Dodgers took control of Game 3.
"You don't plan for seven-run innings," Roberts said following Game 3, "but it was good to see."