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Dodgers sweep Rockies to take their largest NL West lead this season

Dodgers sweep Rockies to take their largest NL West lead this season
Dodgers pinch hitter Yasiel Puig celebrates as he rounds the bases after hitting a three-run homer against the Rockies in the seventh inning Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018, at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. ( (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

The ball soared into the Dodger Stadium pavilion. The bat flipped skyward. The ballpark trembled. The players bounded out of the dugout, giddy about a swing that decided a game and may have decided the National League West.

And Yasiel Puig? What didn’t he do?

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As his three-run homer disappeared beyond the center-field fence Wednesday, giving the Dodgers a seventh-inning lead to complete a sweep of Colorado in a 5-2 victory, Puig was an engine of perpetual motion.

He pointed to his teammates while rounding first base. He asked the group to show him the money. He flexed his biceps. He pounded his chest. He implored the crowd to scream louder and louder before he disappeared into a blur of Dodgers, waiting out a kiss from hitting coach Turner Ward to commemorate the homer.

“We’re winning the last couple days because everybody is enjoying the moment,” Puig said. “Everybody is together. Everybody is like a family.”

Before he exited the ballpark, Puig made a proclamation that can no longer be considered bold, given the Dodgers’ 2 1/2-game lead in the division.

“We were a family from the beginning,” Puig said. “But the team was not going well. Colorado and Arizona were winning more games than us. Now it’s September, and we’re up. We’re going to win the West again and go to the playoffs.”

These are heady days for Puig and the Dodgers (85-68). Called off the bench, Puig punished Rockies reliever Scott Oberg and pushed his team closer to a division title. The Dodgers bulldozed Colorado en route to their largest advantage in the standings they’ve held in this exasperating season.

“It’s such a grind this year, dealing with injuries and the awful April,” closer Kenley Jansen said. “We really have to earn this one this year. Everything is happening at the right time. That’s what you want.”

Puig has six home runs in his last five games. The latest homer followed a tumultuous 24-hour period for Puig. He was granted permission by the team to leave Dodger Stadium on Tuesday to deal with a burglary at his home. It was the fourth time one of his two L.A. homes had been burglarized. “Everything is OK,” Puig said.

Puig remained on the bench for the start of Wednesday’s game. With a left-handed pitcher on the mound for Colorado, manager Dave Roberts saw an opportunity to renew the life in Matt Kemp’s bat. Kemp responded with a solo homer in the second inning. Puig took the spotlight in the seventh.

Walker Buehler recovered from a taxing first inning to set a career-high with 12 strikeouts. Buehler gave up two runs in the first but kept the Rockies scoreless from there while pitching six innings.

The offense made hard contact but did little damage against Colorado starter Tyler Anderson. In his previous eight outings, Anderson posted an 8.92 ERA. He managed to escape Wednesday’s game with only two runs permitted in six innings — the same amount as Buehler.

The Rockies subjected Buehler to first-inning turbulence. Colorado outfielder Charlie Blackmon led off with a walk. Justin Turner short-hopped a grounder from second baseman DJ LeMahieu but threw low to first base for an error. A walk to outfielder David Dahl loaded the bases with none out.

Buehler could not escape unharmed. He struck out third baseman Nolan Arenado and fielded a grounder for a forceout at the plate against outfielder Gerardo Parra but permitted a two-run single when shortstop Ian Desmond redirected a cutter up the middle. The Rockies forced Buehler to throw 36 pitches during the inning.

Kemp halved the deficit in the second inning. He crushed a 92-mph fastball from Anderson. Standing in left field, Parra never moved as the solo homer flew over his head and landed deep in the pavilion. Kemp became the seventh Dodger to hit 20 home runs or more this season, which eclipsed the franchise record of six set in 2017.

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Buehler rescued his evening from disaster. He struck out the side in the second. He stranded two runners in the third, when he began a streak of 10 retired batters. Through five innings, he had struck out 10.

“I got settled back in,” Buehler said. “Made some pitches.”

The Dodgers evened the score in the bottom of the fifth. After Enrique Hernandez led off with a single, Brian Dozier ripped a double into the left-center gap. As Parra played the ball off the wall, third base coach Chris Woodward wheeled Hernandez home. His helmet tumbling as he sprinted homeward, Hernandez slid across the plate in time to beat the tag from Rockies catcher Chris Iannetta.

Buehler finished his night with a flourish. He pumped a 98-mph fastball past Colorado first baseman Ryan McMahon to collect his 12th strikeout. Buehler unleashed a scream before striding into his dugout.

The lineup mashed Oberg an inning later. Max Muncy emerged as a pinch-hitter to take a walk. Yasmani Grandal pulled a double into the right-field corner. Roberts sent Puig to hit for Dozier.

With Puig torching opposing pitchers, powering his way to multi-homer games against St. Louis over the weekend, Roberts has been steadfast in keeping him on the bench against left-handed pitchers. But Oberg is a right-hander, and Puig punished him for that.

Puig fouled a first-pitch slider from Oberg. The pitcher tried to double up with the pitch. Puig laced the ball on a line into the pavilion.

Machado and Kemp led the brigade out of the dugout to greet him. Puig pounded forearms with Machado. He slapped hands with Turner. He and Kemp imitated jumpers. Roberts pulled in Puig for a hug.

The noise did not end as Puig accepted the congratulations. He raced to the top step of the dugout and flung his arms to the sky to bask in a curtain call. His teammates delighted at the sight.

“This game, this series, was emblematic of our ball club,” Roberts said. “How many people had their hands in this series to help win three games. Yasiel — to be prepared for that moment, and to come through — was huge.”

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