For most of their wild season-opening four-game series against the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Dodgers played like the vastly superior team, like a club primed to ravage through the National League West as most prognosticators, human and machine, project. But for a few innings in their 8-7 win Sunday, after another pitching debacle cost them a comfortable lead, the Dodgers appeared headed to a sour series split.
Then their offense, a relentless machine already running on all cylinders, went back to work in the eighth inning. After Justin Turner reached on an error and Cody Bellinger legged out a one-out infield single on the 10th pitch of his at-bat against Yoshihisa Hirano, A.J. Pollock supplied another gut punch to his former team with a score-tying two-run double down the right-field line. He advanced to third base when Adam Jones muffed the ball in right field, putting the go-ahead run 90 feet from the plate.
The heads-up play proved to be the difference: Max Muncy’s sacrifice fly to center field pushed home the run. The Dodgers (3-1) outscored their foes 42-22 in the four games. The 42 runs are the most the club has scored in a four-game set since moving from Brooklyn to Los Angeles.
“I think that overall quality of at-bats, this is as good of a four-game series as I’ve seen in the last couple years,” manager Dave Roberts said.
The Diamondbacks (1-3) were a playoff team two years ago. Now they’re a team attempting to rebuild on the fly without stripping the operation down entirely. They traded franchise cornerstone Paul Goldschmidt during the offseason. They let Pollock and Patrick Corbin walk in free agency. They lost outfielder Steven Souza Jr. to a gruesome knee injury before opening day. They kept Zack Greinke and David Peralta, and signed Jones, but the talent drain is substantial.
Before Sunday, the Dodgers had trailed twice in the four-game series — in the early hours Saturday morning when the Diamondbacks went ahead for the win with two outs in the 13th inning and when Jarrod Dyson hit a home run to begin Saturday night’s game. Joc Pederson responded with a leadoff home run in the bottom of the inning and the Dodgers never stopped mashing the Diamondbacks.
Fresh off an 18-run barrage partially fueled by a two-inning batting-practice session against a catcher, the Dodgers didn’t waste time scoring more Sunday against Luke Weaver, one of the three players the Diamondbacks acquired from the St. Louis Cardinals for Goldschmidt, without Turner and Corey Seager in the starting lineup.
The Dodgers’ first three batters reached base and scored in the first inning. Alex Verdugo supplied the timely blow, knocking a two-run double in his first start of the season. Bellinger hit a 425-foot moonshot for his fourth home run and the Dodgers’ 14th to lead off the third inning. The blast unleashed an outburst from Weaver. The Dodgers were coasting again.
The momentum abruptly shifted in the fourth inning. Walker Buehler had retired nine of the 10 hitters he faced through three innings, surrendering only a single in the third inning. His fastball touched 99 mph and sat 96 to 98, but his lack of a normal spring training was evident. Buehler, who made only one Cactus League start, was not missing bats and the formula backfired on him in the fourth inning.
lldemaro Vargas started the inning with a double. Peralta followed with a single to drive in Arizona’s first run. Jones singled on the eighth pitch of his at-bat before Buehler walked Jake Lamb on four pitches. Ketel Marte ended Buehler’s outing with a two-run single to move the Diamondbacks to within a run. Buehler threw 66 pitches. The Diamondbacks fouled off 20 of them. He induced two swing and misses. He walked off the mound with no outs and runners on the corners.
“I just didn’t set them up the right way, didn’t put pitches where I needed to to get the swing and miss,” Buehler said. “We’ll look at it and move forward.”
Pedro Baez was called on to put out the fire; he spread it instead. First, Nick Ahmed hit a two-run double. Two batters later, Weaver hit a two-run home run to give Arizona a 7-4 lead. It was the first home run of his career. It was not the first time boos from the Dodger Stadium crowd showered Baez.
The Dodgers sliced one off the deficit in the fourth inning. In the fifth, the Dodgers concocted a prime scoring opportunity but Seager, who didn’t start and pinch-hit in the pitcher’s spot, popped out with the bases loaded to end the threat without a run.
But it would not be long before the Dodgers’ bats woke up again. In the meantime, Scott Alexander, Yimi Garcia and Caleb Ferguson kept the Diamondbacks scoreless until Pollock and Muncy landed the final punches. Kenley Jansen was then summoned to close it out. He needed 15 pitches to retire the side in order, record his first save and secure a win the high-powered Dodgers, one inning shy of a bitter series split, snatched away.