Russell Martin’s walk-off, two-run single lifts Dustin May and Dodgers
For eight innings Wednesday afternoon, the Dodgers, so formidable and relentless and explosive for so long, were shushed. The St. Louis Cardinals, fronted by a stout seven-inning performance from Jack Flaherty, were working on a shutout at Dodger Stadium with three outs to go. It was an odd occurrence. The Dodgers’ first shutout loss since May 18 and fifth all season appeared imminent.
But the Dodgers, as they’ve made a habit of doing as they sprint from the pack clutching another division title, woke up just before their final chance dissolved. This time, Russell Martin, their 36-year-old backup catcher, hit a ground ball up the middle with the Dodgers down to their last strike. Corey Seager scored the tying run and Will Smith raced home from second base to give the Dodgers a 2-1 victory in a duel between pitching staffs.
The sequence netted the Dodgers their 10th walk-off victory — five shy of the franchise record set in 1974 — and a three-game series sweep of a potential playoff foe. Martin joined Smith, Joc Pederson, Alex Verdugo, Matt Beaty, Cody Bellinger and Max Muncy in delivering a walk-off victory for the Dodgers (77-40). Those other six players haven’t reached their 29th birthdays. Three are rookies. Martin, an 11-time walk-off artist in his 14th season, considered Wednesday a triumph for his shrinking demographic.
“Let the old guys get hot, too, you know?” Martin said with a grin.
Until then, it appeared as though 21-year-old Dustin May’s strong outing would come in defeat because of one pitch. May, a competitor trapped in the moment, knowing the one mistake was the difference in the game for reasons beyond his control, bent over, planted his hands on his knees, and dropped his head in disappointment when he saw that mistake land on the batter’s eye in the sixth inning.
Marcell Ozuna had just unloaded on a 97-mph sinker May left up over the outer half of the plate to conclude a seven-pitch clash with a bang. The home run traveled 418 feet. It gave the Cardinals (58-55) a 1-0 advantage and left May dejected, temporarily souring an otherwise pristine follow-up to his major league debut.
The Dodgers placed outfielder Alex Verdugo on the 10-day injured list with a strained right oblique as their injuries pile up.
The gangly red-haired right-hander got the next batter out before manager Dave Roberts took the ball from him. He walked off to a boisterous ovation. May, auditioning for a postseason role, gave up five hits and a walk in 5 2/3 innings. He struck out seven batters. He threw 83 pitches, including 42 sinkers, and 61 for strikes. He splattered the strike zone and he overwhelmed an offense gasping for air in recent days.
Before the game, Roberts said he wanted to see May throw more first-pitch strikes and attack different quadrants more consistently than in his debut Friday. May, a sinkerball specialist, relied on pitching low in the zone to fuel his rise in the minors. The approach is not likely to breed the same success at the major league level even when the sinker darts at 98 mph. He was better on both fronts Wednesday. He tossed first-pitch strikes to 17 of the 23 batters he opposed and regularly worked up in the zone. Three of his strikeouts came on hitters swinging at pitches high in the zone or above it.
“I definitely felt a little more comfortable,” May said. “It was definitely more in my hand, I felt like, today. I was controlling the zone, controlling the pace, and thought I threw the ball pretty well.”
May is slated to get at least one more start in five days thanks to Ross Stripling’s recent setback in his recovery from neck and biceps injuries. After that, it’s unclear. He could be sent back to the minors. He could remain with the Dodgers. Roberts said May will need about a month to transition to the bullpen if the Dodgers are to use him as a reliever in October. There’s time to figure that out. The returns Wednesday were promising.
And yet May was outdueled by Flaherty, a Harvard-Westlake High graduate two years removed from his major league debut as a 21-year-old hotshot prospect. The electric right-hander presented that potential in his hometown, silencing the Dodgers across seven innings. He gave up four hits, struck out 10 batters and walked one. He and Giovanny Gallegos combined to keep the Dodgers without a run until they inevitably conjured late-game thrills.
The awakening started when Andrew Miller plunked Corey Seager with one out. After a pitching change, Smith produced a pinch-hit single against hard-throwing right-hander Carlos Martinez (2-2) before Edwin Rios struck out to bring Martin up with the game on the line. The at-bat instantly changed when Martinez opened the encounter with a wild pitch, advancing the runners to scoring position.
“It went from, ‘I have to drive this ball’ to ‘I just need to put it in play,’” Martin said.
Martinez threw another ball to fall into a hole before recovering with consecutive strikes. He next fired a 99-mph fastball over the outside corner and Martin hit it just hard enough. As he rounded first base, he looked back at Smith scoring the winning run and kept running and running into left field before succumbing to the mob of Dodgers pursuing him. The veteran wound up on his back in the outfield grass at the bottom of another joyous celebration.
“It just seems like every day,” Roberts said, “there’s somebody different that you’re pouring Gatorade on.”
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