There was an appreciable buzz humming through Petco Park with the Dodgers in town Friday night, a vibrant vibe absent for much of the last decade while the tenants plodded in mediocrity and worse. Hope and excitement finally exist for the San Diego Padres again.
They splashed in the offseason and landed Manny Machado. Their bevy of top-flight prospects is surfacing to infuse the club with talent. Friday’s sellout crowd — the Padres’ first in 2019 — and the anticipated sellouts for the remainder of the three-game series between the neighbors are a reflection of those unfamiliar sensations.
The first-place Dodgers arrived determined to snuff that fuss, if temporarily, and remind the upstarts that they’re poised to continue their reign in the National League West. They succeeded Friday, coming from behind to snatch a 4-3 win in the clubs’ first meeting this season with production from a couple of unexpected sources.
Austin Barnes and Chris Taylor, owners of the two lowest batting averages among the position players in the Dodgers’ starting lineup Friday, each homered to score two of the Dodgers’ first three runs after the Padres claimed a 3-0 lead.
The Dodgers (21-13) finally seized their first lead of the game in the ninth inning, which began with Barnes, who tied the score with his home run in the seventh, cracking a leadoff double off Padres closer Kirby Yates. Two batters later, Max Muncy laced a groundball down the first base line. Padres first baseman Eric Hosmer got his glove on the ball with a dive, but it squirted away, allowing Barnes to score from second base.
It was the second run Yates has allowed in 17 innings this season.
Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw labored out of the gate in his fourth start, needing 69 pitches to push through his first four innings as he struggled to find his slider and curveball before dialing up over his final two. And still, he limited the Padres to three runs on six hits while walking one and striking out six. He reached 2,300 career strikeouts along the way with his punchout of Franmil Reyes in the fifth inning.
The Padres (18-15) didn’t have trouble generating hard contact against him early. After Reyes lined a single, Machado launched a pitch 437 feet to the second deck beyond the left field wall in his first at-bat against his former team. Ian Kinsler slugged a leadoff home run in the third.
“It was just one of those nights,” said Kershaw, who threw 95 pitches. “They scored early. I wasn’t making a lot of pitches, so with our team, you just got to keep us in it as long as you possibly can. You’re going to have nights like that.”
The Dodgers were then bludgeoned with two scares a few minutes apart. First, Hunter Renfroe cracked a line drive that ricocheted off the back of Kershaw’s shoulder in the third. The ball bounced to shortstop Corey Seager, who threw Renfroe out to end the inning. Kershaw walked off without any sign of trouble and remained in the game.
The second stomach-churning moment developed when Hosmer led off the fourth with a groundball through the right side, past a diving Cody Bellinger at first base. Bellinger was then slow to get up, favoring his right shoulder and wincing in pain. The reaction prompted a visit from Roberts and a trainer. Bellinger told them the shoulder popped out and back in. He insisted it’s happened before and he was fine. He stayed in the game, tested the shoulder in the batting cage during the next half inning, and later doubled.
“We’ll see how he is tomorrow,” Roberts said, “but I expect him to be in there.”
Among the reasons the Dodgers signed A.J. Pollock over the winter was to provide a potent right-handed hitter and help counter the team’s left-handedness. He was to balance the lineup while manning center field every day. But he underwent surgery on his right elbow Thursday and the Dodgers say he is out for an undetermined period of time.
Before the game, Roberts maintained he was “not too concerned” about Pollock’s absence possibly leaving the team vulnerable against left-handed pitching. But Friday offered an example of the potential detrimental aftereffect. Without the right-handed-hitting David Freese available to start after hurting his ankle Tuesday, the Dodgers had five left-handed batters in the starting lineup against left-hander Eric Lauer.
For four innings, Lauer capitalized on the undesirable configuration. He retired 12 of the first 13 batters he faced. He was through four innings on 46 pitches before the Dodgers finally broke through with Taylor’s leadoff home run in the fifth. Lauer’s gas tank quickly emptied. He exited in the sixth after throwing his 80th pitch, with the bases loaded and no outs.
“That was big, just taking the momentum on our side,” Taylor said. “We were able to chip away there.”