For the second time in three days, Josh Hader stood on the mound at Miller Park on Sunday a strike away from ending an inning and preserving a tie. There were two out in the top of the ninth. The Milwaukee Brewers’ star left-handed reliever had two strikes on Cody Bellinger. For so long, the result was a given.
But two days earlier, Enrique Hernandez had bucked the numbers and smashed a go-ahead three-run home run on an 0-and-2 pitch against Hader. The blast proved Hader wasn’t automatic in any situation. There was, however, an additional layer of difficulty for Bellinger. It was a matchup of left-handers and Hader had given up only one homer to a left-handed batter in his career.
Bellinger slugged one anyway, launching a 1-and-2 slider from Hader beyond the right-field wall for another go-ahead home run off the previously untouchable relief ace in the Dodgers’ 6-5 win.
The homer, Bellinger’s 11th this season, wrapped up the 23-year-old slugger’s personal skills showcase. Bellinger collected three hits and walked once. He stole a base and was caught trying to steal another. He robbed Christian Yelich, the only player in the National League in his stratosphere this season, of his 14th home run and fifth of the series with a leaping grab at the wall in right field in the seventh inning. He was everywhere for the Dodgers as they won three of four from one of their fellow playoff contenders.
“He’s just playing incredible baseball,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “All the way, across the board.”
The Dodgers (15-9) concluded a stretch of 17 games in 17 days with a 10-7 record. They’re off Monday before beginning a three-game series against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field to continue their run of 20 consecutive games against teams in the NL Central, regarded as baseball’s best division this season.
Kenley Jansen was summoned to replace Pedro Baez with two on and two out in the eighth inning. His four-out save endeavor began by facing pinch-hitter Eric Thames, who worked the count full after Ryan Braun and Yasmani Grandal advanced a base on an uncontested steal attempt, leaving first base open. Travis Shaw, another left-handed hitter, was on deck. Jansen chose to attack Thames. The execution was disastrous. Jansen offered a 94-mph cutter over the plate and Thames hammered it for a tying three-run home run.
“It’s just sometimes you make mental mistakes,” said Jansen, who rebounded to strike out the side in the ninth inning. “That’s the hardest thing to deal with because that’s not supposed to happen.”
Pederson celebrated his 27th birthday with his fourth career four-hit game. He slugged two home runs, giving him 10 on the season, and singled twice. Roberts even let Pederson, who is usually shielded from facing left-handed pitchers, hit against left-hander Donnie Hart in the sixth inning. Pederson reached on an infield single because Hart allowed his slow groundball to trickle under his glove. Pederson had started the season 0 for 9 against left-handers.
The quick lead came in support of Clayton Kershaw, who managed to avoid squandering it despite some early control trouble. Pitching at Miller Park for the first time since closing Game 7 of the Championship Series here in October, Kershaw allowed two runs across six innings in his second start off the injured list. His command was initially faulty — he issued four walks, including two to Yelich, in the first three innings — but he didn’t allow a hit until Orlando Arcia led off the fifth with a triple into the right-field corner. Two batters later, Kershaw served up a slider over the plate to Lorenzo Cain. It landed just over the wall in left-center field.
Kershaw struck out seven and passed Don Drysdale for the second-most strikeouts in Los Angeles Dodgers history with his 2,284th in the third inning.
“It was a grind,” Kershaw said. “It definitely wasn’t easy. I was fighting myself out there really the whole game. But in the end, you get five runs early like that, you’re just trying to protect the lead the best you can.”
With the gap down to three in the eighth inning, Yelich lifted a changeup from Baez 379 feet just over the right-field wall, where Bellinger snatched it to save a run.
“Just got to the wall as quick as I could,” Bellinger said. “I don’t know. It was so high in the air you just get to the wall and read it and try to time up the jump.”
Four batters later, Jansen gaffed. The closer walked off with his head down, dejected, as Hader jogged out from the Brewers’ bullpen to face the Dodgers for the third time in 10 days. The crowd roared. The left-hander’s performance Friday took a backseat to his immense success before it. And he appeared back on his elite track, disposing of Seager and Justin Turner with strikeouts to begin his outing before Bellinger gave it a try.
Bellinger was one for eight with three strikeouts in his career against Hader before the encounter. On Friday, Hader struck him out to leave the bases loaded in the eighth inning. Another strikeout appeared imminent after Hader slung two sliders to go up 0 and 2. A fastball high and away for a ball followed. Then he hung a slider Bellinger didn’t miss.