A five-run ninth-inning lead nearly vanished before the stunned eyes of the Dodgers on Thursday night before a shrewd move by manager Dave Roberts, the athleticism and strong arm of first baseman Cody Bellinger and the luck of closer Kenley Jansen intervened on their behalf.
Some 15 minutes after Jansen had somehow secured the final out of a 9-8, cliffhanger of a victory over the San Francisco Giants before a crowd of 43,743 in Dodger Stadium, Roberts was asked if he had been able to exhale yet.
“I’m getting there,” he said. “Almost.”
The Dodgers had a 7-1 lead through six innings and a 9-4 lead entering the ninth. Josh Sborz, a right-hander who was called up from triple A earlier Thursday, retired the side in order in the eighth and took the mound for the ninth.
Outfielder Joc Pederson, after hitting a pinch-hit two-run homer in the seventh and making his major league debut at first base in the eighth, remained at his new position for the final inning, with Bellinger, who entered in the eighth inning, in his usual right-field spot.
Evan Longoria walked to open the inning and Kevin Pillar singled. Brandon Crawford doubled to right-center field for a run that made it 9-5, and Pillar scored on center fielder Alex Verdugo’s error to make it 9-6.
“It was weird,” Bellinger said of the midinning switch. “But in a game like that you say, ‘Whatever,’ and just try to make the play that comes to you.”
Mike Yastrzemski hit an RBI single to make it 9-7. Stephen Vogt walked to put two on. Joe Panik hit an RBI single to center that made it 9-8.
San Francisco had two on with no outs. Tyler Austin dropped a sacrifice bunt attempt. Bellinger, who is already well on his way to winning a Gold Glove Award in right field, fielded the ball a few feet in front of the plate and fired to third for a force out, a call that was upheld by instant replay.
“It just speaks to his athleticism, his baseball instincts,” Roberts said of Bellinger. “He trusts his arm. He hasn’t played first base in quite some time, and for him to not panic and make that play, that was a game-changer right there.”
Buster Posey, with the runners moving on a full-count pitch, flied to deep center field, Verdugo hauling in the drive on the warning track for the second out.
“Not a good feeling,” Jansen said of the Posey fly ball. “But you see [Verdugo] go back and see him under control and you feel good about it. You feel like you’re going to get out of the inning after that big out.”
Brandon Belt then sent a drive into the right-field corner that Kyle Garlick ran down to end the game, giving the erratic Jansen his 22nd save.
“I had a good bead on it,” Garlick said. “I was kind of close to the fence, but I wasn’t going to let that thing drop.”
If he had?
“It probably would have been the weirdest loss I’d ever been a part of,” Bellinger said. “Good thing it wasn’t.”
Five innings earlier, the game looked like a blowout. The Dodgers pounded San Francisco ace Madison Bumgarner for five runs and eight hits in the fourth inning to open a 6-0 lead.
Chris Taylor started the rally by flaring a double to right and closed it with a run-scoring single to left. In between, Garlick and Austin Barnes hit two-run homers, Garlick’s capping a nine-pitch at-bat, and Enrique Hernandez, Justin Turner and David Freese singled to load the bases with one out.
Bumgarner got Max Muncy to fly to shallow left, the runners holding, but Taylor drove Bumgarner’s 45th pitch of the inning and last of the game to left for an RBI single and a 6-0 lead.
The 3 2/3-inning, six-run, 10-hit start was Bumgarner’s shortest since April 11, 2015, when he lasted only three innings against San Diego. In 35 career starts against the Dodgers, Bumgarner has never allowed more runs or hits.
“I don’t recall us doing that to him in my time here,” Roberts said of Bumgarner. “He’s such a great competitor and he just made mistakes. We took a lot of close pitches below the zone, stayed in big part of [the] field and kept winning pitches and getting hits when needed to.”
The Dodgers finished with 16 hits, including a homer, single and double by Barnes, a homer and two singles by Garlick, and two doubles and a single by Turner.
The Muncy-Bumgarner rematch was tame compared to their war of words on June 9, when Muncy took Bumgarner deep with a 426-foot splash-hit into McCovey Cove in the first inning of a 1-0 Dodgers win at San Francisco.
The usually mild-mannered Muncy did not flip his bat but took three leisurely steps out of the box to admire his shot before breaking into his trot. The notoriously feisty Bumgarner was offended.
Bumgarner stalked Muncy down the line, screaming, “You don’t watch the ball, you run!” Muncy’s response? “If you don’t want me to watch the ball, you can go in the ocean and get it.”
Within hours that Sunday, two apparel companies produced T-shirts with Muncy’s quote.