Dodgers stage stunning rally but fall to Phillies as Max Muncy’s struggles continue
Hey, Max Muncy, what have you done lately?
Dodgers fans know full well the answer is the same as when somebody asks, “What’s up?”
Standard reply: “Not much.”
That doesn’t mean Muncy isn’t appreciated. He was honored before Thursday night’s game against the Philadelphia Phillies, with bobbleheads handed out to fans entering Dodger Stadium. His wife, Kellie, threw the ceremonial first pitch and Muncy held their 9-month-old daughter, Sophie Kate, until nearly game time.
Mired in a debilitating, season-long slump, Muncy was hopeful fans would fondly remember the 36 home runs he hit last season, the 35 he hit in 2019, the 35 he hit in 2018.
“We have the best fans in the world and I don’t think they’ve forgotten what I’ve done the last couple of years,” he said. “At the same time, they expect me to be better and I expect myself to be better.”
Muncy’s contribution was minor — two strikeouts, two walks and a check-swing dribbler for a single — but the hit helped fuel a stunning Dodgers rally in the eighth inning that turned a four-run deficit into a short-lived tie.
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The Phillies answered in the ninth, scoring twice against reliever Daniel Hudson to take a 9-7 lead, forcing manager Dave Roberts to explain why he didn’t employ closer Craig Kimbrel with the score tied. Hudson opened the ninth by facing the eighth and ninth batters in the Phillies lineup and Roberts felt he could save Kimbrel to confront the middle of the lineup if the game went extra innings.
“I went by the book, I liked Hudson against the bottom of their order and it didn’t work out,” Roberts said.
Hudson got a quick out, then pinch-hitter Odúbel Herrera bunted for a single and Hoskins scorched a ground ball that glanced off Hudson for a hit. Alex Bohm walked and Hudson threw a wild pitch that scored Herrera and gave up a sacrifice fly for another run.
A final Dodgers rally fell short in the bottom of the inning. Trea Turner led off with his third hit and Muncy and Will Smith walked to load the bases against former Dodger reliever Corey Knebel. But Austin Barnes, Cody Bellinger and Chris Taylor all flied out, handing the Dodgers their third loss in four games.
“The rallies were encouraging,” Taylor said. “We clawed back. The crowd was into it. We just came up short in the ninth.”
Muncy had the loudest ovation when the lineup was announced, and he batted cleanup despite a .138 average with an anemic .299 slugging percentage. He leads the National League in walks with 27 but perhaps that’s a sign he is too passive at the plate, taking pitches he ought to wallop.
He was warmly greeted by fans before his first at-bat to lead off the second inning and struck out on a curveball in the dirt from Phillies ace Zack Wheeler, making his first start since coming off the Covid list. Muncy struck out swinging on another low breaking ball in the fourth and walked in the sixth.
His excuse-me single in the eighth loaded the bases with none out and was followed by an RBI single by Smith and a two-run double by pinch-hitter Justin Turner, cutting the Dodgers’ deficit to 7-6. A one-out single by Taylor brought home Smith to tie the score but Turner was held at third.
Barnes then ran for Turner and Hanser Alberto batted for Gavin Lux. Phillies first baseman Rhys Hoskins correctly pegged the Dodgers’ intention to squeeze bunt and crashed when Alberto bunted, fielding the ball and easily throwing out Barnes at the plate.
Bottom line: Dodgers manager Dave Roberts telegraphed the squeeze by inserting Barnes as a runner and Alberto as a batter. The Phillies weren’t fooled and the Dodgers missed a chance to take the lead.
Roberts’ wishful thinking began even before the game when he hoped Muncy would ride the positive vibes from the fans and deliver a big blow.
“I’m sure the fans will turn out and support him and will be clamoring to get a bobblehead and hopefully he hits a home run,” he said.
Home runs are something of a tradition on a Dodgers bobblehead day, beginning with a pinch-hit grand slam by Manny Ramirez in 2009. Hanley Ramirez went deep on his 2013 bobblehead day and was followed by Yasiel Puig in 2015, Howie Kendrick in 2016, Manny Machado and Bellinger in 2018, and a two-homer outburst by Bellinger in 2019.
Last year, Betts homered on his bobblehead day and so did . . . Muncy. He crushed a 404-foot shot into the right-field pavilion in a win over the San Francisco Giants on June 29.
Bobblehead mojo didn’t help Muncy against the Phillies, however. He’s too far gone.
His strikeouts against Wheeler notwithstanding, he doesn’t often chase pitches out of the zone even as the outs and runners left on base mount. Roberts prefers to attribute Muncy’s patience as a refusal to panic.
“There’s been some good at-bats, solid contact, he’s still taking walks, I still like the quality of the at-bat,” Roberts said. “It’s easy to bet there’s going to be positive results coming.”
Muncy’s ability to recognize a ball from a strike is his best asset beyond his obvious power. No arm-twisting could convince him to become more aggressive. And, in fact, the mere suggestion of arm-twisting is enough to make him wince.
Muncy, 31, suffered a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow on the last day of the 2021 regular season when a baserunner sprinted through his outstretched arm at first base, bending the elbow grotesquely.
The Dodgers were coy about the extent of the injury, with Roberts insisting Muncy might return at some point in the postseason. Turns out it was all a bluff. He didn’t divulge the torn ligament until December.
Is the arm a factor in his current slump? Is it fully healed?
Dodgers losing series at Pittsburgh underscores their hitting difficulties, even though they have the best record in the National League.
“Um, I don’t know,” he said Thursday, shaking his head. “I don’t know.”
Another factor that could create stress is that Muncy’s three-year, $26 million contract expires at season’s end but includes a team option for $13 million. It is expected that all Muncy needs to do for the Dodgers to pick up the option is to produce as he did in his first four seasons with the team.
But every day this horrific slump continues, the 121 home runs and 309 runs batted in he accumulated from 2018-2021 seem further out of reach.
Even on a night when he had an appreciative crowd in his corner.
Phillies defeat the Dodgers, 9-7
Daniel Hudson pitches the ninth for the Dodgers. With one out, Odubel Herrera reached on a bunt single. Rhys Hoskins singled off of Hudson’s glove. Alec Bohm walked to load the bases. The runners moved up on a wild pitch, scoring Herrera. Hoskins scored on Bryce Harper’s sacrifice fly. Nick Castellanos struck out swinging.
Former Dodger Corey Knebel came in to close it out for the Phillies. He gave up a single to Trea Turner and walked Max Muncy. Will Smith walked, loading the bases. Pitching coach Bryan Price comes in to try and settle Knebel. Austin Barnes flied to right. Cody Bellinger fouled to left. Chris Taylor flied to center.
Final score: Phillies 9, Dodgers 7
Dodgers storm back to tie it in eighth inning
The Dodgers loaded the bases with nobody out in the bottom of the eighth. Freddie Freeman singled, Trea Turner walked and Max Muncy beat out a check-swing grounder that went about 40 feet up the third-base line. Will Smith singled home Freeman, bases staying loaded. Justin Turner, batting for Ríos, doubled down the left-field line, scoring Turner and Muncy, Smith to third. It’s 7-6 Phillies. Cody Bellinger struck out swinging. Chris Taylor singled to left, scoring Smith, Turner stopping at third. We’re tied. Hanser Alberto hit for Gavin Lux. The Phillies brought in right-hander Andrew Bellatti to pitch. Alberto bunted in a safety squeeze but Austin Barnes, running for Turner, was out easily at home. And all the energy came out of the crowd. Mookie Betts walked on six pitches. Freddie Freeman fouled to third.
Score after eight: Dodgers 7, Phillies 7
It’s 7-3 Phillies after six
The Phillies extended their lead to 7-1 in the top of the sixth. J.T. Realmuto tripled to right and scored on Kyle Schwarber’s sacrifice fly.
In the bottom of the sixth, Freddie Freeman lined to left. Trea Turner singled to center. Max Muncy walked. Will Smith doubled, scoring both runners. And that’s it for Wheeler. Who would have guess Wheeler would be out of the game before Anderson? Left-hander Brad Hand comes in to face Edwin Ríos, who struck out swinging on a pitch way outside. Cody Bellinger popped to short.
Score after six: Phillies 7, Dodgers 3
Phillies lead 6-1 after five innings
The Phillies took a 5-1 lead in the top of the fourth thanks to an error by Gavin Lux. They extended it in the top of the fifth, when, with one out, Alec Bohm tripled to right. Mookie Betts was ready to play the carom off the scoreboard, but it took a weird hop away from him, allowing Bohm to take third. Bryce Harper singled him home, and it was 6-1 Phillies. Tyler Anderson escaped further damage. Why is he still pitching? The Dodgers are in the middle of 31 games in 31 days, with a doubleheader Tuesday, and need to save the bullpen on occasion. This is one of those occasions.
The Dodgers went quietly in the bottom of the fifth.
Score after five: Phillies 6, Dodgers 1
Cody Bellinger’s homer draws Dodgers a little closer
After the Phillies went in order (finally) in the top of the third, Cody Bellinger led off the bottom half with a homer to right-center. Bellinger is now five for 12 with five home runs lifetime against Wheeler. Bellinger also has five home runs this season, tied with Mookie Betts for the team lead. Chris Taylor followed with a double. Gavin Lux struck out. Mookie Betts grounded to third. Freddie Freeman grounded to second.
Score after three: Phillies 4, Dodgers 1
Phillies take 4-0 lead after two innings
Tyler Anderson does not have it tonight. In the top of the second, he gave up a leadoff double to Jean Segura, who stole third when J.T. Realmuto struck out. He came home on Kyle Schwarber’s single, and Schwarber came home when Johan Camargo homered to left.
Zack Wheeler struck out the side in the bottom of the second and looks dominant in his first start since coming off the COVID-19 IL.
Score after two: Phillies 4, Dodgers 0
Phillies take quick lead on Bryce Harper’s homer
The Phillies get on board quickly in the top of the first, as Bryce Harper launches a two-out homer to right field to give the Phillies a 1-0 lead.
The Dodgers went in order in the bottom of the first.
Score after one: Phillies 1, Dodgers 0
Tonight’s starting lineups
How to watch and stream the Dodgers this season
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Ryan Pepiot’s debut inefficient but scoreless as Dodgers drop rubber game to Pirates
PITTSBURGH — Ryan Pepiot’s MLB debut began with a flash of potential.
In his first career start with the Dodgers on Wednesday afternoon, Pepiot dispatched Pittsburgh Pirates leadoff hitter Ben Gamel on four pitches, getting ahead with a tailing 95-mph fastball before fanning him with a trademark changeup that darted out of the strike zone.
The rest of the day wasn’t nearly as simple for the 24-year-old right-hander, who walked five batters and hit another while throwing 77 pitches in three innings.
Yet, Pepiot escaped each predicament, pitching his way out of every dangerous situation to keep the Pirates scoreless in his first big-league outing.
“A lot of emotions, adrenaline,” said Pepiot, the team’s No. 2-ranked pitching prospect according to MLB Pipeline. “But when I needed to, I was able to make some pitches to limit the damage.”