LOS ANGELES -- When a two-run rally in the ninth inning came to an end on Thursday night, the Dodgers could only look up at the scoreboard and wonder what might have happened if they had simply kept it close in an 8-4 loss to the Cubs in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series.
For the second straight day, the defense made misplays and the bullpen unraveled, this time in slow motion thanks to Pedro Baez, until the game was well out of reach. A five-run eighth inning left quite the hypothetical when the final deficit turned out to be four runs.
"It has been a battle. Those guys over there, they compete and they don't give many at-bats away," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "They spoil pitches, they run counts. So when you do make a mistake, these guys can slug."
The trouble began when Addison Russell reached base to lead off the eighth after Baez bobbled a throw to first from Adrian Gonzalez. A single from Willson Contreras in the next at-bat put two on with none out, and Baez was soon slowing the game down as he has infamously done this season.
The scene was striking. The Fox Sports 1 crew measured the time it took for Baez to gather himself between pitches and throw with a stopwatch graphic. Andrew Toles was shown on camera with his head resting on his arms and his eyes closed. Baez was unavailable for comment after the game, leaving before reporters were allowed in the clubhouse.
"You know, Pedro's very methodical," Roberts said. "But we've talked about the pace of play and trying to kind of speed that up. I think our guys make no excuse about how fast or slow a guy works."
After a sacrifice bunt from Albert Almora Jr., the Cubs began adding on to their 3-1 lead when Dexter Fowler beat Gonzalez in a foot race to first. Gonzalez had slickly fielded Fowler's grounder but was caught on his heels after faking a throw to home plate in an attempt to hold back Russell.
Another run was scored when Kris Bryant beat Justin Turner's throw from third base. The Dodgers challenged that Bryant was out, but the safe call was upheld after replay review. The Dodgers got some luck on the next play when a line drive from Anthony Rizzo went straight to Kiké Hernandez, who seemingly threw out Fowler at second to end the inning. The Cubs challenged the call and Fowler was ruled safe, continuing an inning that wouldn't end.
Baez's day ended after he walked Ben Zobrist on five pitches, as Roberts opted to bring in Ross Stripling to face Javier Baez. Stripling was a day removed from allowing five runs, four earned, in a 10-2 loss to the Cubs, and he didn't do much to redeem himself on Thursday.
Javier Baez ripped a double to the left-center wall to clear the bases and put the game out of reach.
"Threw a quality pitch, slider down and away, and he just went with it," Stripling said. "Obviously put a good piece of bat on it. Upsetting that two days in a row, I've come in with a chance to keep it close and I haven't been able to. That stinks, but he's just on the game right now. That's where I wanted to throw it, and he was all over it."
As in Game 4, the Dodgers' bullpen and defense turned a close game into one that sent many Dodger Stadium fans to the exits early. As the series moves back to Chicago, they can only hope they can improve their support behind Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill, the Games 6 and 7 starting pitchers.
"We're just not executing," shortstop Corey Seager said. "We've got to make the plays, we've got to get the outs when they give them to you. We're not right now."
Jack Baer is a reporter for MLB.com based in Los Angeles. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.