Sonny Gray’s curveball was devastating Wednesday. Until it wasn’t. The Cincinnati Reds right-hander had struck out nine — several with the hook — when he threw one too many to A.J. Pollock with two out in the sixth inning.
Pollock sent the 82-mph pitch into the left-center-field bleachers for a three-run home run that snapped a scoreless pitchers’ duel and led to the Dodgers’ 3-2 win before 42,691 in the finale of a six-game homestand.
The blast gave the Dodgers home runs in their last 32 home games, tying a major league record set by the Colorado Rockies in 1999.
“That pitch makes me a living,” Gray said of his curveball. “It was not a horrible pitch. It was down and away and he put a good swing on it.”
Pollock had rolled over a curve for a groundout in his previous at-bat and was expecting another one.
“He located the earlier one, it had a lot of bite,” Pollock said. “I tried to zero in on it and stay with it up the middle.”
He might not have had an opportunity without heads-up baserunning by Austin Barnes. The Dodgers catcher walked to lead off the sixth and stole second when first baseman Joey Votto charged toward the plate early anticipating a bunt from Walker Buehler. Votto had made a similar move in Tuesday’s game, and pitcher Tyler Mahle balked when he turned to first base and didn’t throw because Votto wasn’t at the bag.
This time, Barnes got a great jump and stole second base easily. Buehler and Joc Pederson struck out but with first base open Cody Bellinger — who came into the game leading the major leagues in hits — was walked intentionally to bring up Pollock, who had been mired in a five-for-36 slump. His only previous home run this season came March 29.
“Anyone at any point can go yard,” Dodgers outfielder Alex Verdugo said. “With all the power guys in the lineup, we all fight through every at-bat, don’t give away a single pitch. Adjustments are made on the fly. We have a good game plan.”
Buehler, like Gray a product of Vanderbilt, gave the Dodgers their fourth consecutive quality start, departing with one out in the seventh having struck out seven. The lone run was charged to Buehler in the seventh when Scott Alexander induced an RBI groundout by pinch-hitter Eugenio Suarez after singles by former Dodgers Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp. Pedro Baez came on to record the third out and strand Kemp.
Baez worked an uneventful eighth and Kenley Jansen earned his fifth save despite a dropped pop fly by second baseman Enrique Hernandez and a throwing error by Barnes that led to Kemp’s one-out sacrifice fly. The final out was recorded on another high pop fly into the afternoon sun that Barnes caught as he fell on his backside.
“That’s daytime sky right there,” Barnes said.
The Dodgers’ fourth consecutive win spanned a tidy 2 hours 37 minutes, and was mostly uneventful. The somnolent setting was jarred with two out in the fifth inning when Reds manager David Bell was ejected for yelling at plate umpire Nick Mahrley from the dugout.
Bell appeared livid, storming to the plate to confront Mahrley. Bell walked circles around the umpire while yapping at him until first base umpire Dana DeMuth blocked Bell’s path and coach Freddie Benevides escorted the manager off the field.
“I was keeping somebody else in the dugout from getting ejected,” Bell said. “A few things were yelled from our dugout. It was never about balls and strikes.”
The Reds made more noise with their mouths than with their bats. Votto had a conversation with Mahrley after being punched out on a full-count fastball at the knees to end the sixth inning.
The Dodgers also had a tough going early. Gray was perfect through 3 1/3 innings, mixing that nasty curve with a mid-80s slider and a fastball occasionally cranked up to 95 mph. Bellinger singled sharply to right-center field with one out in the fourth, but Pollock grounded the next pitch meekly to shortstop for what appeared to be a 6-4-3 double play.
A replay requested by Dodgers manager Dave Roberts established that second baseman Derek Dietrich’s feet straddled the bag and Bellinger was safe at second. No matter: Max Muncy hit a comebacker to Gray for the third out.
Bellinger returned to the lineup two days after getting hit in the knee with a fastball and being held out of Tuesday’s game. He played first base, a concession to lingering soreness.
“We’re gonna put him at first base so he doesn’t have to do as much running,” Roberts said. “[Tuesday] he was available to pinch-hit. [He] said he felt good this morning, and so we’re gonna run him out there. I know when you’re swinging the bat well like he is, he doesn’t want to miss too many games.”