The fans remaining at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday night, the loyal ones who had stuck around to witness the stunning end of the Los Angeles Dodgers' season, booed Dave Roberts when he finally emerged from the dugout in the 10th inning. They echoed their feelings on his walk back after the manager finally took the ball from Joe Kelly and gave it to Kenley Jansen.
It was all too late to salvage the Dodgers from elimination. The irreparable damage was done. Howie Kendrick had already smashed a fastball from the erratic Kelly over the center-field wall 410 feet away for a spine-cracking grand slam while Jansen, the reliever the Dodgers entrusted in those moments for the entire decade, watched from the Dodgers dugout, warm and ready to go.
It was the second bullpen collapse in the Dodgers' 7-3, season-ending loss to the Washington Nationals in a decisive Game 5 of the National League Division Series. The first happened two innings earlier when Clayton Kershaw, summoned to pitch in relief, allowed two solo home runs on three pitches to squander the Dodgers' lead.
The Dodgers' game plan in this series was to wait out the Nationals' vaunted starting pitchers and exploit their dismal bullpen. On Wednesday, the Nationals, the heavy underdogs in the series, used the blueprint to topple the Dodgers.
The bullpen performance spoiled a sparkling six-inning effort from Walker Buehler and sent the Dodgers to their earliest exit since 2015 while the Nationals advanced to the National League Championship Series for the first time.
Kershaw, the Dodgers' Game 2 starter, entered in relief, and didn't waste time. Kershaw struck out Adam Eaton with three pitches, finishing him off with an 89-mph slider he swung through. Kershaw released a roar. His next three pitches offered different results.
The first was a curveball to Anthony Rendon below the zone to start the eighth inning. The next was another pitch below the zone, this time a fastball, that Rendon golfed into the left field pavilion. The next was a slider up in the zone to Juan Soto. The 20-year-old wunderkind smashed it into the other pavilion. Kershaw crouched when the loud contact was made. He didn't bother to look. Moments later, he handed the ball to Roberts and walked off the field to boos. He took a seat on the bench by himself.
The Dodgers took an early lead in the first inning when Max Muncy stepped to the plate and saw three straight curveballs to begin the at-bat. None were strikes. Muncy laid off all of them to earn a 3-0 count. He was in control. Stephen Strasburg was forced to attack. Muncy took the next pitch – a fastball – for a strike before Strasburg threw another one. Muncy pounced, clubbing the 95-mph offering into the right field pavilion for a two-run home run. It was his first career hit off Strasburg in 16 plate appearances. He raised his right arm as he rounded first base. The ballpark shook.
A familiar sequence stung Strasburg to begin the second inning. The right-hander fell behind Enrique Hernandez with a first-pitch curveball down and away. The next pitch was a fastball down the middle. Hernandez swatted it for a leadoff home run and a 3-0 Dodgers lead.
The swift outburst suggested the Dodgers had cracked the Strasburg code, but they didn't. Strasburg allowed just two more baserunners – on an error and a single – over the next four innings before exiting. So the Dodgers got to the Nationals bullpen in the seventh inning ahead by two runs. They were right where they wanted to be, nine outs from a fourth straight trip to the National League Championship Series, before it all collapsed.