For three hours Wednesday night, the Dodgers were lifeless, by their manager's admission. Their new star starting pitcher disappointed in his Dodger Stadium debut. Their prolific offense managed little against one of baseball's worst teams.
Then, at once, they came alive, as they so often have in a season that increasingly defies logic. Exiled in triple A at this time last year, Yasiel Puig battled to see eight pitches with the winning run on first base before delivering the walk-off double to cap the club's ninth-inning rally. The Dodgers defeated the Chicago White Sox 5-4 and rose to an unfathomable 51 games above .500.
"I'll see you in the World Series, guys," Puig said in a television interview broadcast live to a raucous crowd.
Halfway through the two-minute, 20-second break between the sixth and seventh innings, Yu Darvish emerged from the stairway that leads to Dodger Stadium's home clubhouse. He ambled out to the mound, threw five leisurely warmup pitches, and then welcomed a visit from manager Dave Roberts and trainer Nate Lucero.
Darvish handed over the baseball and sprinted off the field. The Dodgers were granted a mysterious injury delay, which Roberts later explained was related to Darvish's back, an area the pitcher had injured six days earlier in Arizona. When he returned to the dugout after the sixth, Darvish relayed to the team's trainers and then Roberts that it had tightened.
"Right there, for me," Roberts said, "the decision was made."
Puig said he heard Roberts communicate an encouraging message to Darvish at that point: "Don't worry, you're not going to lose."
Just then, Brandon Morrow began to warm in the Dodgers' bullpen. As he was about to throw his first pitch, Logan Forsythe tapped into an inning-ending double play. So, Darvish was unearthed, sent out to the mound and quickly removed, concluding his unspectacular six-inning Dodger Stadium debut. He surrendered three runs and generally did not resemble the borderline unbeatable pitcher he sometimes is.
The back injury was minor, he and Roberts said. More concerning was his lack of strikeout stuff, but the two may prove connected.
As in Arizona, Darvish's performance was rendered immaterial by his teammates' work.
"Two runs is not enough for us," said Enrique Hernandez, who provided a fourth-inning run with a solo shot. "If you're on the other team, you better score a lot of runs, because we're coming for your pitching staff."
Until the ninth inning, the Dodgers' only other run scored in the second, when Forsythe mashed a double, moved to third on a groundout, and raced home on a wild pitch.
In the tight ninth inning, White Sox manager Rick Renteria elected to subject three of his pitchers to the middle of the Dodgers' order. The last, Jake Petricka, entered with a man on first and gave up a run-scoring double to Forsythe and a single to Austin Barnes. That brought Puig to the plate with runners at the corners and one out.
In his previous 124 career starts, Darvish had never recorded fewer than three strikeouts. He did not record his first Wednesday until Yoan Moncada missed consecutive sliders with one out in the sixth. Darvish next struck out Omar Narvaez with another slider, his last pitch of the game.
With his first, he yielded a home run. He threw a 93-mph fastball higher than intended, and Leury Garcia walloped it off of the right-field foul pole. Chicago's Tim Anderson had done the same to Dodgers starter Alex Wood the night before.
Darvish gave up eight hits in all, but the White Sox did not amass their runs by rallying. All of their runs scored via the solo shot. Nicky Delmonico supplied their second with one out in the fourth, and added a second home run in the eighth, off reliever Tony Watson.
In between, Jose Abreu led off the sixth with a homer. Darvish did not miss his spot; he had just been behind, 1-and-0, and Abreu anticipated the outside fastball.
The Dodgers (85-34) could lose every game they play between now and Labor Day and they would still be guaranteed a division lead. The White Sox are the second-worst team in the sport, and they punted this season months ago.
Only one of the other 13 major league games played Wednesday — Philadelphia at San Diego — held less potential postseason pull than this one.
And, yet, more than 52,000 fans were seated in the furthest reaches of Dodger Stadium to see Darvish's home debut. Puig sent them home happy.
"Yasiel cares as much as anyone, or more than anyone, as far as wanting to be the guy, his care and his try," Roberts said. "Sometimes, over the course of his career, you see that get in the way."
This time, it did not. In the ninth inning, Puig demonstrated the same emotion he so often has in his five seasons. When he fouled off a fastball that would have been ball four just before he won the game, he picked up the ball, bit it, and threw it away angrily. He stepped back into the batter's box and readied for another chance at glory, then became the ninth Dodger responsible for one of their 10 walk-off hits this season.
"It was very exciting," Puig said through interpreter Jesus Quinonez, "because I was unable to contribute anything the whole game."