An inquiring mind from the Bay Area sidled up to Enrique Hernandez last Saturday and posed a question: What was his secret to solving Giants ace Madison Bumgarner?
Hernandez had just raised his lifetime average against Bumgarner to .538. As Hernandez pondered his answer, Dodgers teammate Carl Crawford chimed in.
"Don't tell him the secret!" Crawford said. "Don't tell him. Once you say it, you'll never see it again."
Hernandez mumbled a few platitudes to end the interview. Six days later in Friday's 7-3 victory over Bumgarner and the Giants, his mastery of one of the game's greats continued. Hernandez walloped a pair of home runs and added a two-run double as the Dodgers' one-man offensive band. A night after delivering the go-ahead hit against Arizona, he drove in four runs.
Give Hernandez credit for this: He refused to tip his hand again after this latest performance.
"There's no secret," Hernandez said. "I've gotten lucky. And that's basically what's happened. I've gotten lucky."
Hernandez welcomes left-handed pitchers who flood the zone with strikes. Bumgarner fits that bill. He could not tame Hernandez on Friday and the Dodgers reaped the benefit.
The outburst by Hernandez established a cushion for Clayton Kershaw as the Dodgers (7-4) won their third in a row. Kershaw gutted through seven innings, still searching for consistency from his curveball and slider. He gave up three runs, two of them on wild pitches. Otherwise, he held his guests at bay. He struck out six and steadied his earned-run averaged at 1.64.
"For him, not having his best stuff, he still dominated a baseball game," Manager Dave Roberts said.
Kershaw met Bumgarner for the ninth time in their careers, the fifth time since 2015 and the second time in a week. The Dodgers snatched an extra-inning victory last Saturday in San Francisco, but Bumgarner wounded Kershaw by taking him deep. He is the only pitcher to ever hit a home run off Kershaw, and he has done it twice.
Kershaw ripped through the first inning in seven pitches. Hernandez stepped in as his team's leadoff hitter. Bumgarner threw a first-pitch fastball at 90 mph. Hernandez drilled the ball over the center-field fence.
Hernandez "always has hit velocity," Roberts said. "He likes the ball close to him. Madison challenges guys, just like our guy, Kersh. When you get the bat head out there, good things happen."
Kershaw retired the first seven Giants. Of course it was Bumgarner who connected for San Francisco's first hit. He came around to score after an error by second baseman Howie Kendrick, a single by Angel Pagan and an errant slider by Kershaw for a run-scoring wild pitch. Buster Posey smacked a liner into left, but Hernandez sprawled on his chest to grab the third out.
"That was a big play," Kershaw said. "He plays a lot of positions really well, always seems to be in the right spot. Just a great game for him all the way around."
Hernandez returned to the plate soon after. Bumgarner missed low with a fastball and missed inside with another. The third pitch did not miss the strike zone. Hernandez did not miss it, either. His second homer landed in the left-field bleachers.
Hernandez has hit 12 home runs in his career. A quarter of them have come against Bumgarner.
"Straight coincidence," Hernandez said.
A coincidence? "Yup," he said. "Nothing more."
The defense of the Giants unraveled in the fourth. After a walk to Justin Turner and a single by Kendrick, backup shortstop Kelby Tomlinson fumbled a grounder to load the bases. Charlie Culberson dumped a two-run single into right.
For Bumgarner, the hardship would only continue. Joe Panik bobbled a ground ball, which loaded the bases for Hernandez. Bumgarner decided to throw something besides a fastball. His slider snapped over the inside corner. Hernandez sliced a double just inside the third-base line to bring home two more runs.
The Giants staggered Kershaw in the sixth. He needed 31 pitches to finish a two-run inning. But after another RBI single by Culberson, Kershaw batted for himself, then pitched the seventh.
Follow Andy McCullough on Twitter: @McCulloughTimes
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