Manny Machado walked down the first base line, his eyes tracking the parabola that just burst off his bat, in the final inning of a 7-4 victory over the Diamondbacks. The baseball traveled toward the Chase Field fence, an insurance salvo taking flight. Machado admired the shot until his sense of pride morphed into urgency: The ball wasn’t going to clear the wall.
Machado dropped his bat and started to sprint. He arrived at second base, the owner of an RBI double rather than a home run. At this point, the Dodgers will take it. Can one at-bat be a metaphor for a season? After months of fits and starts, the team must sprint through the finish line in order to hold off Colorado and win their division.
“We can’t approach a day looking for help,” manager Dave Roberts said. “We’ve put ourselves in a situation where we’re in the driver’s seat. There’s going to be some scoreboard watching — that’s natural. But it’s upon us to take care of our own business.”
Five games remain for the Dodgers (88-69). The team may need to win every one of them in order to capture their sixth consecutive National League West crown. The Dodgers can clinch with any combination of five victories and Rockies defeats. Colorado has won four in a row since being swept out of Dodger Stadium last week, and its schedule looks favorable. The Dodgers may have to do this all on their own.
On Monday the offense picked up Clayton Kershaw. He logged six innings but could not solve Arizona second baseman Ketel Marte. Marte punished Kershaw for three separate run-scoring hits: a triple in the first inning, a home run in the third and a go-ahead single in the fifth. Kershaw struck out six before departing with the Diamondbacks in front.
His teammates pulled back ahead in the seventh. Yasiel Puig and Max Muncy each contributed crucial singles as pinch-hitters in a two-run rally to reclaim the lead. Muncy added to the lead in the ninth after taking a leadoff walk and scoring on a wild pitch from Arizona reliever Yoshihisa Hirano. Machado followed him with a double soon after. Hirano lost another wild pitch which permitted another run to score.
The victory was necessary. Colorado blitzed the Phillies at Coors Field on Monday to keep the race tight. The Rockies will finish with six games at home, three against Philadelphia and three against Washington. Neither opponent will qualify for the playoffs.
Then again, neither will the Diamondbacks or the Giants, the final two teams on the Dodgers’ schedule. The Dodgers arrived at Chase Field to face a team in free fall. Arizona led the division on the final day of August. The D-backs proceeded to drop seven of their first nine games in September, a streak which began with a pair of heartbreaking losses at the hands of Matt Kemp in Dodger Stadium.
The Diamondbacks were officially eliminated from playoff contention on Sunday after being swept by the Rockies.
The Dodgers stressed left-handed starter Robbie Ray in the first inning. Chris Taylor led off with a single, and soon moved into scoring position after a wild pitch by Ray and a groundout by Justin Turner. Freese splashed an RBI single into right field to give Kershaw an early lead.
Kershaw stumbled in the bottom of the inning. After a single by third baseman Eduardo Escobar, Marte smashed a drive into right field. Kemp lunged but could not pull down the ball. Escobar scored on Marte’s triple. Kershaw recovered to strand Marte and keep the game tied.
Marte stung Kershaw again in the third. Kershaw tried a 1-0, 90-mph fastball. The pitch split the plate. Marte hammered it well beyond the fence in left-center field for a solo shot to put Arizona in front. “The homer was a bad pitch,” Kershaw said. “Just a mistake, down the middle.”
Freese tied the game in the fifth. Turner had softened up Ray, forcing him to expend 11 pitches before flying out to left. Freese capitalized three pitches later on a belt-high fastball, sending it over the right-field fence for an opposite-field solo shot. Ray finished the inning, but his outing was over after throwing 100 pitches.
“The gas was out of the tank right there,” Roberts said. “J.T.’s at-bat was big.”
Once more, Kershaw stumbled when given support. He yielded a one-out double to Chris Owings. The hit set up another opportunity for Marte. Kershaw tried an 88-mph fastball inside. Marte rolled it up the middle, past the dive of Machado, for a go-ahead single.
The Dodgers answered in the seventh with a two-run surge. Yasmani Grandal walked, then Roberts sent speedy rookie Tim Locastro to run for the catcher. Puig came off the bench with a single against Arizona left-handed reliever Andrew Chafin. Muncy followed with a game-tying single off right-hander Brad Ziegler.