Any playoff run that includes five come-from-behind victories in elimination games is going to have a few moments, innings and even games that are forgotten over time. The Nationals’ 2019 World Series run included just as many heart-wrenching moments as it did those that sent the team and its fans into a frenzy, so it’s no surprise Game 2 of their first-round series against the Dodgers doesn’t stand out.
But one year after the Nationals picked up their first win over Los Angeles in the NLDS, it’s worth revisiting one of the more underrated games of the team’s championship run.
The first thing that stood out about the contest going into Game 2 was the pitching matchup. Stephen Strasburg was set to make his first playoff start since tossing three scoreless innings against the Brewers in the NL Wild Card Game. Facing him would be future Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw, who had not been seen in a postseason game since taking the loss in Game 5 of the 2018 World Series.
Los Angeles won Game 1 by a score of 6-0, as Walker Buehler shined in his playoff debut and the Dodgers scored four runs off the Nationals’ bullpen to jump out to 1-0 series lead. Washington started Game 2 looking for a spark on offense and they got one immediately courtesy of Trea Turner. The speedy leadoff man hit the first pitch of the game down the left field line for a double. He scored four batters later on an RBI single off the bat of Howie Kendrick to give the Nationals an early lead.
Adam Eaton and Anthony Rendon each drove in a run off Kershaw in the second, putting Washington in front 3-0 to give Strasburg room to work with. It proved to be more than enough for him, as the right-hander would face the minimum through the first four innings. He didn’t allow a runner to get past second base until the sixth, when the Dodgers manufactured a run for his only blemish of the night.
Strasburg’s final line: six innings, three hits, one run, no walks, 10 strikeouts. Not expected to go deep into the game after pitching in the Wild Card Game two days prior, Strasburg exited the game at 85 pitches and turned things over the bullpen — well, sort of.
As Nationals manager Davey Martinez showed against Milwaukee, he wasn’t afraid to dip into his deep rotation for the later innings to compensate for the lack of reliable set-up men he had in front of Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson. After Doolittle gave up a solo home run to Max Muncy in the seventh to make it a 4-2 game, Martinez turned to Max Scherzer to get them through the eighth.
It wasn’t the first time Scherzer had pitched as a reliever in the postseason. The last time he did before that Game 2, he was hit with the loss in Game 5 of the Nationals’ 2017 NLDS against the Cubs. He did his best to make up for the performance by striking out the side, throwing 11-of-14 pitches for strikes as he set down Gavin Lux, Chris Taylor and Joc Pederson in order.
The ending, however, was still to be full of drama. Hudson got the ball for the ninth, his second opportunity at securing the save that postseason after he did so in the Wild Card Game. He gave up a ground-rule double to Justin Turner to open the frame, but retired A.J. Pollock and Cody Bellinger to bring up Muncy with one to go.
That prompted Martinez to make one of his most puzzling moves of the playoffs, walking Muncy to bring up Corey Seager representing the winning run. While it did give Hudson the platoon advantage in a right-on-right matchup, the pressure only grew with so much at stake in the at-bat. But Hudson prevailed, striking Seager out on a 2-2 pitch to give the Nationals their first win of the series.
It wasn’t a flashy win, nor did it advance the Nationals to heights that their franchise had never reached before. But it was nonetheless an important one, inspiring confidence in their clubhouse that they could beat this 106-win team. There was also plenty of drama and a strong pitching performance to boot, which fell in line with the Nationals’ recipe for success throughout their entire World Series run.