Miracles only last so long. The sixth inning of the sixth Dodgers loss in a row proved that.
In the top of the inning, as if possessed by a ghost from seasons past, the offense arose for a four-run, game-tying rally. In the bottom of the frame, the reverie ended when Pedro Baez served up a game-deciding home run to send the Dodgers toward a 6-5 defeat. For the 2018 Dodgers, joy is fleeting and heartache feels endless.
The evening revealed the desperation of the Dodgers situation. Even if their offense improves, the rest of the roster remains porous. The team’s starting rotation lacks the ability to last deep into games. And the bullpen features too many landmines for any manager to traverse.
Every button manager Dave Roberts presses causes a conflagration: On Tuesday, it was Adam Liberatore and J.T. Chargois. On Wednesday, it was Baez, who hung a lifeless changeup to Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto and watched the pitch disappear beyond the clutches of The Clevelander nightclub in left field.
“I feel bad for Pedro, because I know he’s wearing it right now, feeling bad,” Roberts said. “I feel bad for our ball club.”
Wednesday followed a script created from the dilemma choking the Dodgers (16-26). Walker Buehler gave up a season-high five runs in five innings. He allowed his first homer of the season, a two-run blast by Marlins first baseman Justin Bour in the fifth inning. The Dodgers bailed Buehler out with a sixth-inning rally. Baez erased all momentum soon after.
The loss gave the Dodgers the same record as the Marlins. Both teams are on pace for 100 losses. It should be noted that only one of these two teams considered playoff contention in 2018 a possibility when the season began. Miami tanked their chances by trading all three members of their starting outfield during the offseason. The Dodgers are tanking in less efficient, more excruciating fashion.
“Right now — for quite some time, to be honest — we haven’t been synced up,” Roberts said.
As he pondered the fate of his team on Wednesday afternoon, Roberts reached across the pond and through time. He brought up a quote from Winston Churchill. “When you’re going through hell,” Roberts as Churchill said, “keep going.”
It was also Churchill who said “success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” That encapsulates Roberts these days. He has revealed frustration for this group on only a few occasions this season — when Cody Bellinger did not hustle to the manager’s standard in San Francisco, when the offense rolled over last week against Cincinnati — but usually projects calm.
A hint of exhaustion colored Roberts’ voice as he outlined his explanation for deploying Baez in the sixth inning on Wednesday. Because Buehler lasted only five, Roberts needed to string together 12 outs from his relievers. Chargois was unavailable. Roberts intended to distribute the workload between Baez, Josh Fields and Daniel Hudson.
“Someone’s going to have to pitch,” Roberts said.
So he went to Baez. Realmuto crushed a belt-high changeup for a two-out solo shot. Baez may be the most loathed member of the team — a subject of scorn and ridicule from fans, a Dodger jeered at Dodger Stadium — but he still owns a lower earned-run average than fellow relievers Hudson, Chargois, Scott Alexander and Tony Cingrani.
“We have to make the adjustments in the bullpen, and try to contribute as well,” Baez said through his interpreter, Jesus Quinonez.
After roaring in the sixth, the Dodgers whimpered through the final three innings. The offense returned to the slumbering state they had experienced against Marlins starter Elieser Hernandez, a 23-year-old chosen in the Rule 5 draft by Miami last winter. Hernandez was making the first start of his big league career.
Hernandez kept the Dodgers quiet through the first three innings. The offense squandered an opportunity in the second. After a leadoff walk by Bellinger and a single by Chris Taylor, Max Muncy stared at strike three, Yasiel Puig flied out and Buehler grounded out.
In the fourth, the Dodgers broke through with a solo home run from catcher Yasmani Grandal. By that point, though, the team was already trailing.
Buehler permitted a run in the first inning on a pair of hits wrapped around a walk. Two innings later, Buehler could not erase a runner created by a leadoff error from Taylor, who fumbled a grounder hit by Marlins third baseman Martin Prado. Prado scored on a single by second baseman Starlin Castro. “I gave up too many runs for us to win the game,” Buehler said.
In the fifth, Castro bothered Buehler again. Castro laced a single into center field to set the stage for Bour. The count ran full. Buehler fired a 96-mph fastball toward the outer edge of the plate. Bour displayed enough power to drive the baseball the other way for a two-run shot. Miami would add another run with a sacrifice fly from former Dodger Miguel Rojas, but Buehler ended his night stunned by Bour’s power.
“Just a gigantic, really, really strong human, man,” Buehler said. “I don’t really know what else to say.”
Hernandez departed after five innings. The offense of the Dodgers responded in uncharacteristic fashion: It awakened. Joc Pederson doubled off Marlins reliever Junichi Tazawa. Grandal provided an RBI single. Bellinger doubled.
As the Dodgers faced another situation with runners in scoring position, Marlins manager Don Mattingly inserted a new reliever, Drew Steckenrider. Taylor greeted him with an RBI single. Muncy tied the game in the next at-bat, hammering a 93-mph fastball for a two-run double.
It was a rare sight: A string of hits with men on base, an electric dugout, a chance at victory. It felt like a miracle. It didn't last long.