Andrew Toles rounded the bag as Dodgers third base coach Chris Woodward held up his hands, the universal sign to stop, a message that Toles did not recognize in time. He paused between third base and home plate, hung up without an exit strategy in the sixth inning of a 7-2 victory Saturday, before the bumbling of the Cardinals and the swiftness of his legs created an opening.
St. Louis first baseman Matt Adams cut off the throw from the outfield and swiveled toward the plate. An RBI single from Joc Pederson looked like it would still result in an out. Toles sprinted homeward, and hit the brakes as Adams spiked a throw in the grass. Toles accelerated as catcher Alberto Rosario crouched to retrieve the ball. The Cardinals had no chance. Toles swept across the plate for his second run of the day and his team’s seventh.
“That element of speed is something that we don’t have,” Manager Dave Roberts said. “So to have that dynamic, it’s fun, especially for me, to see that.”
A few years ago, Toles played at Chipola College under Jeff Johnson, a man who coached future big leaguers like Jose Bautista, Russell Martin and Adam Duvall. Toles, Johnson said, “is one of the most talented players I’ve ever had the opportunity to coach.”
“I felt like it was just a matter of time for him getting dialed up correctly before he got to the big leagues,” Johnson said. “It’s been a crazy ride this year, from single A to the big leagues.”
In the latest step on that journey, Toles displayed his wealth of tools for the Dodgers (55-44). He notched three hits. His legs vexed the Cardinals. He flashed his arm strength after committing an error in right field. He has hit .391 since the team called him up on July 8.
Maeda missed his goal of six innings, but there was no reprise of the previous day’s 16-inning agony. Luis Avilan picked up four outs. Called up earlier in the day, Ross Stripling handled the final two innings. “It was as scripted as we possibly could have hoped,” Roberts said.
In deference to Friday’s marathon and Saturday’s humidity, Roberts cancelled batting practice. The temperature rose into the mid-90s, with the heat index multiplying the misery. Undaunted, Roberts wore a long-sleeve pullover to watch Yasiel Puig test his hamstring in the outfield. The Dodgers opted to keep Puig on the bench and start Toles, a decision that paid dividends.
Toles triggered a four-run rally in the third inning. He led off with a single and swept into third base on a hit by Pederson. Toles took a few steps off the bag as Maeda prepared to bunt. Leake flipped a slider over the middle, and Maeda directed it down the first base line. Maeda ran through the vacated bag as the Cardinals could not make a play at the plate.
“I just got a good read,” Toles said. “And took off.”
The deluge continued when Corey Seager legged out an RBI infield single and Turner sent a two-run double screaming into the right-center gap. The pounding continued into the sixth. Gonzalez homered. Toles singled and scored on Adams’ error.
Toles traveled an unlikely path to the Dodgers. Dismissed from the University of Tennessee after a dispute with a coach, he found refuge at Chipola, where he enticed Tampa Bay into taking him in the third round of the 2012 draft. The Rays awarded Toles as its minor league player of the year in 2013.
But Toles spent time on the inactive list in 2014 and negotiated a release from the Rays in 2015. He eventually signed a minor league deal with the Dodgers last October. Having drafted Toles three years earlier, President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman still coveted his talent, and sought to create a nurturing environment.
“Andrew’s talent and skill on the field were undeniable,” Director of Player Development Gabe Kapler wrote in an email. “We needed only to offer him constant love and support to allow those gifts to blossom.”
The team assigned him to Class-A Rancho Cucamonga. He raced through three levels of the minors and onto the Dodgers roster. When he saw him in spring, Roberts could not forget the ease of Toles’ swing and the bushiness of his beard. Now he has a big league sizzle reel to match.
“He’s a pro, and he works,” Roberts said. “He can hit, and he can defend. It’s just a nice shot in the arm for our guys.”