The end felt fitting. It came after 48 hours without Dodgers baseball, one day off mandated by the schedule and a second forced by Bay Area rainfall. For more than 5 hours 16 minutes of torment Saturday — long enough for pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu to pinch-hit with the bases loaded, for Kenley Jansen to pitch his first scoreless inning of 2018 and for Wilmer Font to try to save a major league game for the first time in his career — the Dodgers offered their fans a reminder that days without baseball aren’t that bad, after all.
The final at-bat of the Dodgers’ 7-5, 14-inning defeat to the San Francisco Giants on Saturday lasted 12 pitches. Font (0-2) threw nine fastballs. Outfielder Andrew McCutchen fouled off six before crushing the last one. McCutchen launched a three-run home run into the left-field seats, adding another stain on this rancid start to the season for the Dodgers. The exhibition season ended with a sewage spill at Dodger Stadium. The actual baseball hasn’t looked much better.
“Maybe it’s just a good test for us,” Jansen said.
At this point, the Dodgers lack interest in aesthetics. The team has not experienced a start this slow since 1976, when they opened the season 1-7. They desire victories above all. One appeared within their grasp after Logan Forsythe delivered the go-ahead single in the 14th against reliever Roberto Gomez. The only arm available from the bullpen was Font. He could not protect the lead.
Before Forsythe’s breakthrough, Chase Utley led the offense. He doubled in the third inning and scored the Dodgers’ first run. Four innings later, he tied the score with a home run. The Dodgers flooded the diamond with runners but failed to convert their opportunities. They were two for 17 with runners in scoring position. They stranded 15 men.
“We’ve got to have better at-bats in those situations,” manager Dave Roberts said. “If you look at those situations, we went out of the strike zone quite a bit.”
Rich Hill lasted only four innings. A two-run home run by catcher Buster Posey sank Hill in the fourth inning, which required 31 pitches to complete. The brief outing forced heavy usage for the bullpen. Roberts had a rested group. He needed them all. In the 12th inning, he turned to Jansen.
The season opened in abysmal fashion for Jansen. He gave up a game-winning home run in his first outing and batted aside questions about the velocity of his cutter. In his second outing, he gagged away a three-run lead.
On Saturday, he appeared bound for another defeat after giving up consecutive singles to start the inning. His velocity hovered between 90-91 mph once more. Jansen showed enough guile to escape. After a first-pitch flyout by Posey, Jansen struck out third baseman Evan Longoria. It was Jansen’s first strikeout of the season. His escape soon followed, as outfielder Hunter Pence flied out to strand two runners. Roberts suggested “something clicked” in Jansen during the outing.
“I’m not a quitter,” Jansen said. “I’ll always compete, even when I don’t have my best stuff.”
It was a bright spot for a team in need of one. During the first seven games of the season, the Dodgers were shut out three times. In another defeat, they scored only one run. The lineup looked rudderless without All-Star third baseman Justin Turner, marooned at Camelback Ranch in Phoenix rehabilitating his fractured wrist.
Before the game, a clubhouse attendant at AT&T Park found a logical home for the Dodgers bats. He stuffed the team’s collection of lumber into a black plastic trash can to transport the equipment into the dugout.
The contagion spread to the team’s run prevention in the first inning. Joc Pederson misplayed a ball in left field, which allowed McCutchen to collect a run-scoring double. The Dodgers tied the score in the third inning after a double by Utley and a single by Chris Taylor on a slider from starter Chris Stratton.
Hill could not maintain the deadlock. He gave up a leadoff single to McCutchen, who finished with six hits, in the fourth. With Posey at the plate, Hill hummed a 90.5-mph fastball in the upper portion of the zone. Posey hammered the ball beyond the left-field fence.
“It’s just one of those parts of the year, where it just happens to be falling early on right now, where things aren’t really going our way,” Hill said.
In order to tie the score, the Dodgers required what classifies as an offensive explosion by their recent standards. In the sixth inning, Stratton descended into trouble after a leadoff single by Corey Seager. Stratton walked Yasiel Puig before ceding the stage to reliever Josh Osich. After Osich walked Forsythe, Roberts sent Enrique Hernandez to hit for Pederson with the bases loaded.
Manager Bruce Bochy countered with right-hander Cory Gearrin. The first pitch of the at-bat proved pivotal. Gearrin miscommunicated with Posey, who flubbed the reception. The passed ball skidded across the grass. A run scored, and the other runners moved up 90 feet. That set the table for Hernandez to tie the score with a groundout to shortstop.
The teams traded runs in the sixth and the seventh innings. Tony Cingrani gave up a run-scoring double to Brandon Belt. Utley hit a changeup from Sam Dyson over the bricks in right field.
“We’ve just got to stay positive,” Jansen said.