Max Scherzer believes the Washington Nationals were one hanging curveball away from beating the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 1 of their NL Division Series.
Scherzer hung a curveball to Justin Turner that became a two-run home run and gave up a home run to Corey Seager as the Nationals lost to the Dodgers 4-3 on Friday night. Nationals hitters decried the missed opportunities of going 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position, but Washington's ace took the blame for "mistakes" that proved costly.
"Giving up those two home runs, I really feel like that was the difference in the ballgame," said Scherzer, who allowed four runs and five hits in six innings. "I'm accountable for that, and I'll shoulder that, and I'll take the blame for that. I know I'm capable of executing pitches at a higher level and I've got to do it."
Scherzer (0-1) allowed a solo shot to Seager on a first-pitch fastball in the first inning that the rookie shortstop drilled to center field. Seager said the Dodgers "were looking for any runs" they could get off Scherzer, a 20-game winner and NL Cy Young Award candidate.
In the third, Los Angeles scratched across another run on an RBI single by Chase Utley; then Utley broke up a potential double play and set the stage for Turner to go deep to left.
Scherzer said the third inning will keep him up late at night. He settled down and didn't allow a run from that point on, but Turner's blast loomed large.
"We were pretty aggressive, and that kind of affected the way Max pitched to us," said Turner, who had 27 home runs during the regular season. "The second time through, he went through all the secondary stuff even more than we saw him do on tape. That's what you have to do; you have to make adjustments on the fly and see what other teams are doing and attacking, and you have to try to make adjustments with them."
The Nationals got to Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw (1-0) for three runs on eight hits in five innings. Anthony Rendon had a two-run single in the third, and rookie Trea Turner drove in another run with a sacrifice fly in the fourth.
But shortstop Danny Espinosa struck out three times -- with two runners on each time -- and Washington got only one hit in four innings against L.A. relievers Joe Blanton, Grant Dayton, Pedro Baez and Kenley Jansen. Manager Dusty Baker acknowledged Espinosa "didn't have a very good night," but teammates shared the responsibility for the offensive futility.
"We're a great team," said reigning NL MVP Bryce Harper, who went 1-for-5 with a double and a run scored. "When we get guys on base, we usually have pretty dang good at-bats and usually get those guys in. Definitely tough scoring three runs tonight."
MURPHY CAUGHT STEALING
Of all the Nationals' missed opportunities, no bad decision loomed larger than one in the seventh inning when second baseman Daniel Murphy walked and took off to try to steal second off Baez. Murphy was coming off missing time with a strained glute, had the green light to go because he thought Baez's delivery was slow, and was thrown out by catcher Yasmani Grandal.
"There's only two choices on that play: It's either be safe or don't run, and I can't get thrown out right there," Murphy said. "It cost me an at-bat in the ninth inning as well, running into an out on the bases."
Nationals: RHP Stephen Strasburg threw a bullpen session hours before Game 1 -- his first time on a mound since he hurt his right elbow a month ago. He was ruled out for the NLDS, but the Nationals hope he can return if the team advances. ... All-Star C Wilson Ramos, out for the season with a torn knee ligament, threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
In Game 2, RHP Tanner Roark (16-10, 2.83 ERA) starts for the Nationals, taking the assignment that likely would have gone to Strasburg if he were healthy. LHP Rich Hill (3-2, 1.84 ERA in six starts after a trade from Oakland) will pitch for the Dodgers. He was let go from Washington's Triple-A Syracuse affiliate last year.