The second postseason start of Tyler Anderson’s career couldn’t have gone much better. The Dodgers left-hander blanked the San Diego Padres on two hits through five innings, striking out six and walking two. He retired nine straight batters from the second through fifth innings.
His pitch count stood at 86 through five innings, with the left-handed-hitting Juan Soto, whom Anderson had struck out in the first inning and retired on a groundout in the third, due to lead off the bottom of the sixth.
Anderson had a two-run lead and plenty left in the tank, which was obvious when he was asked after a gut-wrenching 5-3 loss in Game 4 of the National League Division Series if he could have thrown one more inning.
“Yeah, I mean, I could have gone five more, who knows?” Anderson said. “I would have thrown 150 pitches if I was allowed to, if they would have let me. But you never second-guess that situation.”
Everyone else did.
Manager Dave Roberts pulled Anderson after five innings, and so began a game of bullpen roulette.
It did not end well for the Dodgers, who saw three relievers — Tommy Kahnle, Yency Almonte and Alex Vesia — get pounded for five runs and five hits in the bottom of the seventh, a meltdown that brought a sudden, stunning and inglorious end to the Dodgers’ 111-win season.
The first second-guess in the wake of the loss: Why was Anderson, who went 15-5 with a 2.57 ERA in 30 games this season and outpitched fellow left-handers Julio Urías and Clayton Kershaw in the series, pulled from a game in which he seemed to be cruising?
“I thought with where he was at with his pitch count, who was coming up, I just felt like we had enough arms to get through that,” Roberts said. “With a 2-0 lead, Soto, [Manny] Machado coming up again, I just felt that he’s going to be in the 90s at that point in time. I felt we had enough coverage.”
The Dodgers have been one of the driving forces behind the growing industry trend of pulling starters after two times through the order, but if that was the game plan Saturday night, it was news to Anderson.
Asked if he was told before the game that he wouldn’t go through the order a third time, Anderson said, “Absolutely not.”
How did he feel after five innings?
“I felt good — I felt good the whole time — but we have an unbelievable bullpen, and they’ve been so good all year,” Anderson said. “They’ve helped us win so many games this year, so you understand they’re trying to piece this thing together at the end and get us to tomorrow.”
Instead, the collection of bullpen arms that did not include a clear-cut closer collapsed in the seventh, and the Dodgers ran out of tomorrows.
While Padres players and fans celebrated deep into the night and looked forward to an NL Championship Series against the Philadelphia Phillies, the Dodgers said their goodbyes in the visiting clubhouse in Petco Park, the silence in the room pierced only by the hard slaps on the backs of players hugged by teammates.
“It’s tough,” said Anderson, who had a breakout season after signing a one-year, $8-million deal with the Dodgers. “There are 29 teams that, at the end of the year, feel like we’re feeling right now, 29 teams that have to say goodbye to everybody, and it’s a sad day. And there’s one team that doesn’t feel that way, that gets to celebrate at the end of the year.
“We obviously were all hoping to be the one team that didn’t have to end it this way. But it’s just been so much fun playing with all these guys this year, and everybody worked so hard, and whatever happened, it wasn’t for lack of effort. It’s just great to be a part of this group.”