WASHINGTON — They sat at their lockers in a funeral hush.
A room so full of life for 162 games was rendered mute as the Nationals contemplated the end of their long season. There were red eyes and stifled sobs and a silence only grief produces.
They had played well enough for five games in the National League Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. There were mistakes, to be sure. But Washington could have won it. That only intensified the pain after a 4-3 loss at Nationals Park in the decisive Game 5 on Thursday night.
“Words are not really coming to me to describe the moment,” outfielder Jayson Werth said. “This is pretty heavy.”
A few feet away starting pitcher Max Scherzer, who carried a shutout into the seventh inning, hugged a sobbing Pedro Severino. The 23-year-old rookie catcher spent most of his season at Triple-A Syracuse, but made his major-league debut, too, and contributed in the postseason.
All around the locker room players and coaches exchanged hugs and handshakes and a few quiet words. Scherzer told Severino how proud he was of him. Pitching coach Mike Maddux briefly snapped reliever Marc Rzepczynski out of a thousand-yard stare. It was his walk in the seventh inning with no one out that snowballed into three runs.
“Right now, everybody’s kind of numb,” manager Dusty Baker said. “Everybody’s probably thinking about what we all could have done to change the outcome of the game.”
Scherzer had entered that seventh inning with a 1-0 lead and made what he thought was a great pitch to Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson. Instead it was lofted over the left-field wall to tie the game.
Rzepczynski walked the only batter he faced. Howie Kendrick singled off Blake Treinen. Carlos Ruiz, the former Phillies catcher who tormented Washington for so many years, beat a pinch-hit single into left field for the go-ahead run. Justin Turner, the swarthy, red-bearded outfielder who would look at home with an axe in his hands, launched a double to deep center off Shawn Kelley to put Los Angeles ahead 4-1 in one catastrophic inning that lasted 66 excruciating minutes.
“It’s the craziest game I’ve ever been a part of,” Scherzer said. “We just didn’t get it done. No one’s a goat. No one made a crucial misplay.”
That’s not entirely accurate. Third-base coach Bob Henley, with his team ahead 1-0 in the sixth inning, decided to send Werth home on a double by Ryan Zimmerman. It didn’t work. Left fielder Andrew Toles got to the ball before it could rattle around in the corner. He hit the cut-off man, shortstop Corey Seager, and the throw beat Werth to home plate by 30 feet. He never had a chance.
But that was one of many Washington didn’t take advantage of. It had the bases loaded and one out in the second inning and managed just a single run. The Nats had runners at first and second in the next frame. In the seventh inning they did score two runs on a Chris Heisey pinch-hit homer, but again left the bases loaded. It was that kind of day.
Back in the locker room injured pitcher Stephen Strasburg spoke with teammate Gio Gonzalez. Daniel Murphy, who had an MVP-caliber year but popped out in the ninth when the Dodgers brought in ace starter Clayton Kershaw to close the series out, sat with his head in his hands. He didn’t seem to want to move or peel his uniform off one final time in 2016. Murphy wasn’t alone.
“This was some of the best baseball I’ve ever been a part of. I’m proud to be a National,” Werth said. “It stings right now to be in this situation and be heading home when you feel like you’ve got so much left in you to play. Sometimes that’s the way the ball bounces. You’ve got to tip your cap. The Dodgers played great. Well-managed team, got a bunch of talent over there, as well. But it’s moments like these it’s tough to swallow.”
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