Rich Hill clutched the cardboard sign and walked into the Dodgers dugout. The crowd at Dodger Stadium was sitting on its hands in the seventh inning on Saturday, minutes after a five-run lead over Arizona had shrunk to two. The second game of the National League division series was no longer a party, a lark, a celebration of the Dodgers’ might. The 54,726 fans assembled at Chavez Ravine wore the scars of the past and suffered the tension of the present.
October is a cruel month. The highs feel fleeting. The lows feel eternal. Hill sought to counteract the encroaching dread with a hand-crafted message: “Make Some Noise.”
“It was a little subdued atmosphere,” Hill said. “We wanted to see everybody get into it a little more.”
The crowd caught Hill’s drift. The cheers gathered in volume as the Dodgers mounted a rally. As if on cue, a grounder from Chris Taylor rolled through the legs of Arizona shortstop Ketel Marte. A run scored, the stadium popped, and the Dodgers had enough to hang on for an 8-5 victory to capture a 2-0 lead in this series.
After four years of postseason heartbreak, perhaps these Dodgers are different. The offense has reduced the Diamondbacks pitching staff to dust over the last 18 innings. Arizona has launched six home runs, but remains on the verge of elimination.
Hill could not hold the sign forever. Bench coach Bob Geren informed him it was illegal. Hill stowed the cardboard. The crowd no longer needed the encouragement, not after Kenley Jansen arrived in the eighth for a five-out save. Jansen bulled over the five men he faced and set the stage for a potential sweep on Monday in Arizona.
“The regular season doesn’t matter anymore,” outfielder Enrique Hernandez said. “But we were the best team in baseball for a reason. We feel that way again. It was just about getting our swagger back.”
On Friday, they bruised the Diamondbacks for nine runs. A day later, the offense toppled Arizona left-hander Robbie Ray, a man who entered the game with an ownership deed for the Dodgers in his back pocket. Ray lasted 4 1/3 innings, yielded four runs and exited on the hook for a defeat.
Maligned for so much of September, the back half of the lineup carried the Dodgers. Logan Forsythe scored three runs. Yasiel Puig collected three hits. Curtis Granderson hopped off the bench to extend a four-run blitz with a single in the fifth inning. Austin Barnes scored twice and roped a critical two-run double in the fifth.
“We’re not giving away at-bats," Jansen said. "We’re not making any mistakes. We’re grinding out there, and that's what's great."
On the mound, Hill absorbed a first-inning haymaker, a two-run homer by Arizona slugger Paul Goldschmidt, but did not permit another run across four innings. The bullpen strung together the final 15 outs, surviving a seventh-inning hiccup for manager Dave Roberts and reliever Brandon Morrow.
A dynamic outing from Kenta Maeda lasted only three batters. Roberts wanted to keep Maeda away from the left-handed hitters in Arizona’s lineup, so he replaced Maeda with Tony Watson in the sixth inning. Watson lasted into the seventh, when he yielded a pair of singles. Asked to douse the flames, Morrow fanned them. The first pitch he threw was clobbered for a three-run homer by Arizona infielder Brandon Drury to cut the Dodgers’ lead to two. “Brandon made one bad pitch,” Roberts said.
The homer chilled the crowd, and led to Hill’s cheerleading. The atmosphere fit the fears of this fanbase, who have not seen the Dodgers reach the World Series since 1988. A historic franchise awaits another chapter in glory.
A bevy of legends assembled before the game. Puig huddled with Don Newcombe during batting practice. Maury Wills threw the first pitch to Roberts. Magic Johnson grabbed a third-row seat next to Sandy Koufax near the Dodgers dugout.
Johnson and Koufax had barely settled in when Arizona took the lead. Hill spun a full-count curveball to outfielder A.J. Pollock. The pitch crossed the plate near the top of the strike zone, close enough to raise Hill’s hopes. Umpire Phil Cuzzi called it a ball. Pollock took first base. The walk set the tone for the evening, as Hill squabbled over calls with Cuzzi.
“There were some pitches there I thought were strikes,” Hill said. “It is the playoffs. I think everybody’s going to be tightened up this month. It’s something to expect. I understand it.”
There was no debate, no doubt, no ambiguity about what followed. Hill flung a 1-0, 90-mph fastball over the plate. Goldschmidt unleashed a titanic shot. The baseball disappeared in the early-evening air, reappearing as it clanged across the railing behind the Dodgers’ bullpen in left field. Hill needed 27 pitches to finish the inning, and booted a water cooler when he returned to the dugout.
The homer handed Ray a two-run lead. The Dodgers saw him five times during the regular season, and scored more than two runs against him just once. His 94-mph fastball upsets the timing of opposing hitters and his slider defangs them.
Ray entered the night under unorthodox circumstances. Three days earlier, he threw 34 pitches as a reliever in the National League Wild Card Game. The appearance made him unavailable for Game 1, when the Dodgers squashed overmatched starter Taijuan Walker in one inning. The Dodgers hoped the lack of rest would dilute Ray’s arsenal.
“Tonight,” Forsythe said, “we got him.”
As they plotted how to counter Ray, the Dodgers settled on patience. They hoped to avoid quick outs, force Ray to pump strikes and elevate his pitch count. The strategy paid off in the second inning. The team scored a run before they collected a hit.
After a pair of walks, Ray lost control of a fastball while facing Puig. The runners moved into scoring position. Puig plated Hernandez with a groundout to halve the deficit.
Ray walked four of the first 10 batters he faced. The Dodgers did not produce a hit until the fourth inning. Forsythe chipped a single into left field. Barnes dunked another into right. Puig splashed one into center, flipping his bat and clapping his hands as he ran to first.
“If you hit, the people will yell your name,” Puig said. “If you strike out, who’s going to yell your name?”
The hits did not score a run with the bases loaded. Ray took care of that. He lost a slider in the dirt for his third wild pitch of the game, and Forsythe scored.
After a strikeout by pinch-hitter Kyle Farmer, who replaced Hill and opened up the Dodgers bullpen, Taylor smacked a fastball to the left side of the infield. Marte sprawled to snare it, but two-hopped a throw to first. Taylor gritted his teeth and sprinted through the bag for a go-ahead RBI single.
The hammer fell on Ray and his teammates in the fifth. Arizona manager Torey Lovullo ignored Ray’s volatility and kept him in the game. Ray rewarded his manager by drilling Justin Turner to start the frame. One batter later, Ray was out of the game, and Roberts called upon Granderson to face reliever Jimmie Scherfy.
Scherfy faced three batters and threw 10 pitches. The Dodgers battered him. Granderson roped a single into right field. Forsythe pulled a curveball into left for an RBI single. Forsythe swiped second base. With two runners in scoring position, Barnes fell behind in the count after a pair of curveballs. Scherfy tried a third. Barnes had studied the break of the pitch and felt prepared. He sliced an 0-2 double into the left-field corner to bring home both runners.
“When we’re doing that as a unit,” Barnes said, “we can be pretty special.”
Scherfy left the field. The onslaught did not cease. Puig capped the four-run flurry with an RBI single.
The party stopped when Drury’s ball took flight. But Morrow retired the next three batters he faced. After Fields gave up a double in the eighth, “California Love” blared on the loudspeakers and Jansen jogged to the mound. The Diamondbacks did not challenge again.
Now the Dodgers have three chances to end this series, one which loomed as such an obstacle on Friday. As the fans departed Dodger Stadium on Saturday night, they did not require encouragement from Hill or any cardboard. Their voices echoed through the concourse.
“Let’s go Dodgers! Let’s go Dodgers!”