LOS ANGELES — Chase Utley singled home the tiebreaking run with two outs in the eighth inning after the Dodgers’ bullpen faltered in relief of Clayton Kershaw, and Los Angeles avoided elimination Tuesday with a 6-5 victory over the Washington Nationals that forced a deciding Game 5 in their NL playoff.
Kenley Jansen worked the ninth for a save one day after giving up four late runs in a Game 3 loss, preventing the Nationals from clinching a postseason series for the first time.
Game 5 is Thursday in Washington, with 20-game winner Max Scherzer expected to pitch for the Nationals. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said he will use left-hander Rich Hill and rookie Julio Urias, but did not announce which one will start.
Adrian Gonzalez hit a two-run homer for the Dodgers, who turned to Kershaw on three days’ rest to salvage their season.
The score was tied 5-all with two outs in the eighth when Andrew Toles got hit by a pitch from Blake Treinen. Pinch-hitter Andre Ethier followed with a single to left and Utley singled to right, scoring Toles from second for a 6-5 lead.
Trailing 5-2 in the seventh, the Nats had runners on first and second against Kershaw with two outs. The crowd chanted Kershaw’s name before Bryce Harper drew an eight-pitch walk to load the bases and chase Kershaw, who walked off with his head down. He sat alone in the dugout with his head resting on his right hand.
That’s when the bullpen nearly gave the game away.
Pedro Baez came in and hit Jayson Werth with his only pitch, forcing in a run to make it 5-3. Baez got booed off the field.
Daniel Murphy’s single off Luis Avilan dropped between Toles and Joc Pederson in left-center field, scoring two runs to tie it at 5. Avilan also heard boos.
Joe Blanton, who earned the win, retired Anthony Rendon on a swinging strikeout to end the inning.
Desperate to avoid another early playoff exit, the Dodgers turned to Kershaw, their three-time NL Cy Young Award winner who won Game 1 last Friday despite going just five innings and allowing three runs.
This time, he was charged with five runs and seven hits in 6 2/3 innings. He struck out 11 — equaling his second-best postseason total — and walked two.
The left-hander was limited to 149 innings while compiling a 1.69 ERA during the regular season. He missed 2 1/2 months with a mildly herniated disk in his back.
Kershaw opened the game by giving up a leadoff single and a walk before Murphy’s RBI single.
The Dodgers took a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the inning on Gonzalez’s two-run shot that scored Justin Turner, who was hit by a pitch from Joe Ross.
Werth’s RBI single tied it 2-all in the third.
Los Angeles again answered in the bottom of the inning, with Kershaw getting the rally going with a double to left field. He slid into second and clenched his fists in a rare show of emotion.
Kershaw scored on Turner’s single with two outs. Pederson got hit by a pitch from Ross with the bases loaded, forcing in Turner
Ross made his postseason debut for the Nationals, giving up four runs and three hits in 2 2/3 innings. The 23-year-old right-hander struck out three and walked two. He hasn’t pitched more than four innings since coming off the disabled list on Sept. 18.
Nationals RHP Stephen Strasburg experienced discomfort in his right elbow during a bullpen session Monday at Dodger Stadium. He threw 30 or 31 pitches instead of the scheduled 35. Strasburg has been out since tearing the pronator tendon in his elbow on Sept. 7.
Manager Dusty Baker said Strasburg was throwing the ball “very good” and he’s not concerned about his progress. Strasburg has said he would try to return this season if the Nationals advance to the NLCS.
Kershaw started on three days’ rest for the fourth consecutive postseason. He previously did so for Game 4s in the Division Series last year against the Mets, in 2014 against the Cardinals and in 2013 against the Braves.
There were pockets of empty seats in every section of the ballpark, some in full view of the television cameras. The ends of the upper deck weren’t full, the outfield sections had seats available and there were empty seats on the field and loge levels. The announced attendance was 49,617. Contributing factors could have been the rare daytime starts for both games in Los Angeles.
The Dodgers improved to 12-15 in postseason elimination games since moving to Los Angeles.
Follow 106.7 The Fan on Twitter
(© Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)