Some things in baseball you just can’t explain, which is why Enrique Hernandez’s success against Madison Bumgarner probably will leave historians of the game scratching their heads.
Hernandez is a Dodgers utility player who has a career .233 average and 38 home runs in five seasons. Bumgarner, the San Francisco Giants ace, is one of baseball’s best pitchers, with a 104-78 career record and 3.03 ERA in 10 years and a 2014 World Series most valuable player award on his resume.
Against Bumgarner, Hernandez morphs into Mike Trout. He tormented the left-hander again Saturday by crushing a two-run homer to left field in the fifth inning to break a tie and lift his team to a 3-1 victory before a sellout crowd of 53,706 in Dodger Stadium.
The Dodgers won for the 21st time in 27 games since May 17, and with Matt Kemp’s solo homer in the second, they have hit a major league-high 34 homers in 13 June games.
Hernandez is now batting .455 (15 for 33) with four homers, five doubles and eight RBIs against Bumgarner and is tied with Paul Goldschmidt and Carlos Gonzalez for the most extra-base hits against him.
Goldschmidt needed 71 appearances and Gonzalez 63 plate appearances to reach that total. Hernandez has done it in 34 plate appearances.
“Uh … I don’t know,” Hernandez said, when asked to explain his success against Bumgarner. “As hitters, we always talk about when we’re not feeling great, about pitchers who own us, but we never really talk the other way around. I try not to think too much about it because I haven’t had much success against him the last two years.”
Bumgarner attacked Hernandez with mostly fastballs for three years, but after Hernandez hit two homers off him in a 2016 game, Bumgarner started using more off-speed pitches against him.
Hernandez flied to left and popped out to first in his first two at-bats. After Austin Barnes led off the fifth inning with a single and took second on Alex Wood’s sacrifice bunt, Hernandez crushed a first-pitch, 77-mph curveball for his homer and a 3-1 lead.
“I was a little anxious my first two at-bats,” Hernandez said. “I tried to slow down and see something up I could drive. He hung that one. It was one of the few mistakes he made today, and I’m glad I swung at it.”
Hernandez’s homer enabled Wood, who gave up one run and four hits in 5 2/3 innings, striking out two and walking two, to win for only the second time this season.
Wood has battled hamstring and adductor issues for several weeks and was so ineffective in his previous three starts that he lasted a combined 12 innings, giving up 15 runs and 20 hits, a three-game stretch he called “probably the toughest of my career.”
Saturday soothed some frustration. The left-hander needed only 43 pitches to breeze through four hitless innings.
Wood was backed by several fine defensive plays, including Hernandez’s diving catch of Buster Posey’s flare to shallow right-center to lead off the second and third baseman Justin Turner’s long, off-balance throw from foul territory on Posey’s fourth-inning grounder behind the bag.
The fifth inning was a grind. Mac Williamson broke up Wood’s no-hitter with a leadoff single, and he took third on Joe Panik’s single to right-center. Wood struck out Bumgarner with a curve.
No. 9 hitter Alen Hanson drove a sacrifice fly to left for a 1-1 tie. Gorkys Hernandez singled to left, but Wood won a nine-pitch duel with Brandon Belt, who popped out to third. Wood kept the teams even but was taxed for 29 pitches in the inning.
After Hernandez’s homer, Wood gave up a leadoff single to Andrew McCutchen in the sixth. His defense helped bail him out again, as right fielder Yasiel Puig made a leaping catch of Posey’s drive and second baseman Logan Forsythe made a diving stop on Brandon Crawford’s grounder.
Right-hander Yimi Garcia replaced Wood and got Williamson to fly to right to end the inning. Left-hander Scott Alexander threw six straight balls to open the seventh, walking Panik and falling behind pinch-hitter Hunter Pence.
An inning that started so awfully couldn’t have ended more beautifully for the Dodgers. Alexander came back to strike out Pence. Hanson, with the runners moving on a full-count pitch, struck out, and catcher Austin Barnes threw out Panik at second for an inning-ending double play.
Josh Fields pitched the eighth, and Kenley Jansen survived an error and a walk to get pinch-hitter Pablo Sandoval to pop out to third with runners on second and third to end the game.