LOS ANGELES -- Chase Utley saved the Dodgers' season on Tuesday, his tiebreaking RBI single with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning giving Los Angeles a 6-5 win over the Nationals. The National League Division Series heads back to Washington for a decisive Game 5 on Thursday (8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on FS1).
"If anyone gives up on this team, they haven't seen us play a whole lot this year, and it starts with what Clayton [Kershaw] did -- [starting on] short rest and leaving it all out there," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "You know, everyone fed off that."
"That was a hard-fought game on both sides," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "You know, that's why we fought so hard for the home-field advantage. You don't think it's going to come into play, but most of the time, it does."
The winning rally started with two outs when Andrew Toles was hit on the foot by a Blake Treinen slider. Pinch-hitter Andre Ethier, who spent most of the season healing from a broken leg, singled to advance Toles to second. Utley bounced a single sharply into right field to score Toles with Ethier taking third.
"Obviously it was a big hit for us, but there were a lot of great at-bats today," said Utley, who was down 1-2 in the count.
Trailing 4-2 after three innings and 5-2 after five, the Nationals loaded the bases against Kershaw with two outs in the top of the seventh. After throwing 101 pitches over five innings in a 4-3 Game 1 victory, Kershaw was pitching on short rest for the fourth consecutive postseason. He struck out 11 and was removed after throwing 110 pitches, but the usually reliable Dodgers bullpen couldn't hold the lead.
The rally started when Kershaw allowed Danny Espinosa to record his first hit of the series leading off the seventh. With two outs, Espinosa was safe at second on Trea Turner's infield single, and Bryce Harper battled for an eight-pitch walk to load the bases. Kershaw was replaced by Baez, who hit Jayson Werth with his first pitch. Avilan came on to allow a two-run single to Daniel Murphy that tied the game and left Kershaw with a no-decision, charged with five earned runs, a misleading final line.
"I felt really good about it until the last four minutes," Kershaw said of his start. "It's a weird feeling. But you've just got to swallow your pride a little bit and realize we won the game and be excited about it and get ready to go back to D.C."
The Dodgers chased Washington starter Joe Ross after scoring four runs in 2 2/3 innings, including a two-run homer by Adrian Gonzalez in the first. Ross issued a pair of walks and hit Joc Pederson with the bases loaded before being removed. Pederson also doubled in a run in the fifth inning off Reynaldo Lopez, the first run the Dodgers scored off the Washington bullpen in the series.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Kershaw vs. Harper: A matchup of two of baseball's biggest stars came at one of the most crucial moments of the game, with Harper representing the tying run in the seventh inning against Kershaw. With the crowd of 49,617 fans at Dodger Stadium on their feet, Harper fell behind in the count, 1-2, but battled back to draw a walk. More >
"That's what baseball is all about right there, a matter of will," Baker said. "Kershaw was on empty. We knew it. They knew it. Everybody knew it. That was some battle."
The Dodgers' Turner: Ross drilled Justin Turner in the back with a 96-mph fastball with two outs in the first inning, and it cost Washington when Gonzalez followed with a homer. Ross faced Turner again with two outs in the third and a runner on second after Kershaw led off the inning with a double, and his line-drive single fell between outfielders Werth and a diving Turner to give Los Angeles a 3-2 lead.
Ross struggles in postseason debut: The Nationals said they did not make their decision until the night before to start Ross in this game, even though the Dodgers presented a terrible matchup for him. He has struggled this season against lefties, allowing them to post an .824 OPS, and the Dodgers' lineup was loaded with eight left-handers. He also had not thrown more than four innings in any of his three starts since returning from right shoulder inflammation. It was the third straight start of fewer than five innings for the Nationals this NLDS.
"It's put a lot of pressure on my 'pen and on us to make the decisions, on both sides," Baker said. "It puts a lot of pressure on you to try to figure out who is the strongest, who is the most rested, and you try to do matchups the best you can, but sometimes it comes down to who is the most rested."
Blanton, reinvented: A World Series winner as a starter with Philadelphia in 2008, Blanton struck out Anthony Rendon with runners on the corners to put out the seventh-inning fire, then retired the Nationals in order in the eighth for the win.
"It's been a long road for a while, but everything happens for a reason and I'm enjoying the ride," said Blanton.
"I'm thankful that we pulled it out. It's a combination. I'm exhausted, for one. Physically and mentally drained. We get to live another day. Overall, exhaled a little more than anything." -- Kershaw
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All six of Gonzalez's postseason home runs have come as a Dodger. He's tied for third-most in franchise history with Ron Cey and Washington first-base coach Davey Lopes, behind Duke Snider (11) and Steve Garvey (10). More >
WHAT'S NEXT Nationals: The Nationals return to D.C. to host Game 5 of the NLDS, where they will turn to right-hander Max Scherzer on an extra day of rest to take the mound for what he called the biggest game of his life. Scherzer allowed four runs on five hits in six innings in Game 1 with five strikeouts.
Dodgers: Game 2 starter Rich Hill will return on short rest in Game 5 on Thursday. Hill, plagued by finger blisters over the second half of the season, pitched 4 1/3 innings on Sunday and allowed four earned runs.