The bundle of youthful exuberance that is Alex Verdugo thrust both arms into the air and soared around the bases on Saturday night after his 11th-inning home run cleared the right-field wall to give the Dodgers a 5-4 walk-off victory over the Colorado Rockies.
As he approached home, with a Dodger Stadium crowd of 53,096 roaring its approval and his rollicking teammates ready to celebrate a second straight walk-off win, Verdugo turned his helmet into a basketball, going through his legs with a crossover move and slam dunking it before leaping onto the plate.
“The NBA Finals just finished and basketball is still fresh in my mind,” said Verdugo, who also homered in the fifth inning as part of a four-hit night. “I was just messing around. It kind of happened naturally. I was in the moment.”
It was the kind of spotlight-garnering moment that Verdugo has already shown he lives for, even though he’s a 23-year-old rookie who made his first big league opening-day roster in March. He and Matt Beaty are the first rookie teammates with walk-off homers in consecutive games, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
“This guy loves the big moment, he really does,” manager Dave Roberts said. “He doesn’t run from it. He wants to be the guy who gets showered with Gatorade after games. To have a young player with that kind of confidence, who’s not afraid to fail, with his talent and energy … it couldn’t have ended better for us.”
This game did not start well for the Dodgers. Hyun-Jin Ryu was good, but not great, at least by his lofty standards, needing 107 pitches to complete six innings in which he gave up three runs — one earned — and six hits, striking out five and walking one.
A usually air-tight defense made two costly mistakes in the third inning, one by shortstop Chris Taylor and one by outfielder-turned-first-baseman Joc Pederson, that led to the Rockies scoring two unearned runs.
Beaty was picked off second base after a leadoff double in the fourth.
Reliever Caleb Ferguson made one costly mistake in the seventh, leaving an 0-and-2 curve up to pinch-hitter Raimel Tapia, who smacked it for a solo homer to give the Rockies a 4-3 lead. The Dodgers failed to score after putting two on with one out in the ninth and two on with no outs in the 10th.
But some dominant relief work by Dylan Floro, Kenley Jansen, Pedro Baez and Joe Kelly, who combined for four hitless innings, with Kelly’s fastball hitting 100 mph in the 11th, and a clutch tying hit by Beaty in the eighth gave Verdugo a chance to end it in the 11th.
“We didn’t play a good game today,” Roberts said. “We didn’t catch the ball. We gave them extra outs. But to find a way to win says a lot about those guys in that room.”
With the Dodgers trailing 4-3, Cody Bellinger led off the eighth with a double to right and took third on Max Muncy’s grounder to the right side. The Rockies brought their infield in for Taylor, who battled reliever Bryan Shaw to a nine-pitch at-bat before striking out on an 81-mph slider.
“The result didn’t work out for Chris, but he took a really good at-bat,” Roberts said. “He spoiled some good pitches. Then you see cutter up in the next at-bat, and Matt took a good swing. I think after a nine-pitch taxing at-bat, it definitely bled into that next at-bat.”
Ryu, who gave up one earned run in 27 2/3 innings of his previous four starts, yielded a run in the first when Ian Desmond doubled and scored on Nolan Arenado’s single.
The Dodgers evened the score in the second when Muncy doubled, took third on Taylor’s single and scored on Beaty’s single.
Taylor’s drop of an exchange on a force out and Pederson’s bobble of a relay throw on a potential double play were costly in Colorado’s two-run third.
Verdugo doubled in the third and scored on Justin Turner’s single to make it 3-2, and he tied it in the fifth with a solo homer to right-center off Rockies starter Peter Lambert, a 22-year-old rookie.
When Verdugo stepped to the plate against Colorado reliever Jesus Tinoco in the 11th, he admitted the thought of a Gatorade bath “is definitely in the back of your mind.” Then, he quickly switched mental gears.
“As soon as I get up on the box, I try to flush it all out, get rid of any emotion,” said Verdugo, batting .303 with an .847 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, seven homers and 32 RBIs on the season. “We call it black out. Just black out up there because when you do that, good things usually happen.”