WASHINGTON — The Nationals had been waiting almost a game and a half for someone to deliver that “big hit” teams always talk about in the postseason.
They did not expect it to come from this player. Not in this way.
Backup catcher Jose Lobaton, who had one hit all season against lefthanded pitching, smashed a go-ahead three-run home run off Rich Hill in the fourth inning Sunday and the Nationals went on to beat the Dodgers, 5-2, to tie their National League Division Series at one game apiece.
The Nationals are without No. 1 catcher Wilson Ramos, who tore the ACL in his right knee Sept. 26. Lobaton, a switch hitter, had been 1-for-15 this season against lefties, with his lone hit a home run against Scott Kazmir on July 19.
Lobaton’s long ball was the first non-solo homer allowed by Hill all season.
“You need some untimely heroes during these playoffs,” Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. “This is how teams win.”
After the game, there was as much talk about the wind as the win. Lobaton’s drive cut through a stiff breeze that made every fly ball an adventure all day long.
“I remember the inning before, I was talking to the umpire,” Lobaton said. “I was telling him, ‘Wow, that wind is really bad for hitters now.’ And then when I hit the ball, I was like, ‘I think I hit it really good. I just don’t know if it’s going to go out.’ And then when it went out, I was like, ‘Wow. That’s pretty cool’ . . . Maybe that moment wasn’t windy. Maybe that moment it stopped and gave me something extra.”
Said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts: “The wind was blowing in and you’ve really got to click it to get it out. It was an elevated breaking ball and he put a good swing on it.”
Hill, who struck out seven in the first three innings, walked Daniel Murphy (3-for-3, two RBIs) to open the fourth before getting two outs on fly balls. Hill then hit slumping Danny Espinosa in the knee with a pitch to bring up Lobaton, who did not start Game 1.
Lobaton, batting with the pitcher on deck, hammered a hanging 1-and-1 curveball over the wall in left to erase a 2-0 Dodgers lead. It was the Nationals’ first lead in the series.
“It’s a massive swing,” Murphy said. “I can’t speak to how big it is because we’re down all day in Game 1 . . . and then for him to get that blast right there and put us out in front, it gave us the chance to extend the lead and is the first time we were able to play from in front instead of behind.”
The Nationals, who were 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position in Friday’s 4-3 loss in Game 1, loaded the bases in the second inning with one out, but Lobaton grounded into a 1-2-3 double play. The sellout crowd of 43,826 at Nationals Park was getting a little antsy.
The Dodgers had taken a 2-0 lead on Corey Seager’s first-inning home run off Tanner Roark and Josh Reddick’s third-inning RBI single.
This time it was the Dodgers who failed in the clutch. They went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position and left 12 men on base.
Roark lasted only 4 1⁄3 innings. Blake Treinen got the win as five Nationals relievers threw 4 2⁄3 innings of shutout ball.
“We had Roark on the ropes,” Roberts said. “We stressed him, and we really had a chance to put him away early.”
Murphy singled in a run in the fifth and another in the seventh amid chants of “MVP” from the red-clad Nationals fans.
Game 3 is Monday afternoon in Los Angeles after Saturday’s rainout compressed the schedule.