An energy typically stored for October throbbed through Dodger Stadium as the first pitch approached Friday night. It continued when the standing-room-only crowd generated applause as New York Yankees first baseman D.J. LeMahieu stepped into the batter’s box, until Dodgers left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu fired a two-seam fastball at 7:10 p.m. It was a regular season contest in late August, but it did not feel like one.
This weekend’s three-game series between the iconic franchises and current juggernauts was billed as a potential World Series glimpse — those monochromatic Players’ Weekend uniforms not included. The Dodgers can only hope Game 1 in October would go better than Friday when they matched their worst defeat of the season in a 10-2 loss.
“We haven’t had many games like this,” manager Dave Roberts said.
Ryu, their ace and National League Cy Young Award favorite, was rocked over 4-1/3 innings, falling victim to the Yankees’ patient approach and unforgiving power. He surrendered seven earned runs, matching the most he’s given up in a start this season and the amount he gave up in his first 77-2/3 innings at home. The performance lifted Ryu’s earned-run average to 2.00, the highest it has been since he emerged from his start on May 7 with a 2.03 ERA.
The three home runs he gave up also tied a season high. Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez clobbered two solo shots before Didi Gregorius made the Dodgers (85-45) pay for intentionally walking Sanchez to load the bases to get to him in the fifth inning. Ryu tried throwing a fastball over the inside corner to Gregorius. Instead, the pitch went right down the middle and Gregorius pounced. He deposited it over the right-field wall to bust the game open with a grand slam. Ryu had never given up one as a Dodger.
“I love the aggressiveness,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “Ryu is tough on everyone, especially left-handers. He went up with a very aggressive approach. He was looking for a first-pitch fastball. He got it and didn’t miss it.”
The Yankees finished with five home runs — the most the Dodgers have given up in a game this season. New York has slugged 57 in August, one shy of a franchise record for any month.
On the other side, James Paxton, a fellow left-hander, stifled the Dodgers across 6-2/3 innings. Paxton gave up two runs on five hits. He compiled 11 strikeouts without walking a batter while generating 29 swings-and-misses against the club with the fifth-lowest strikeout rate in the majors. The total marked a career high. He walked off the mound in the seventh inning to applause from the delighted Yankees faithful, a sizable group among the announced sold-out crowd of 53,775.
“He was making really good pitches on the corners,” said Dodgers catcher Will Smith, who struck out four times. “His fastball up was playing. His curveball made me look silly.”
The distant past contributed to the hype heading into the series between the clubs with the best records in the majors. It’s a mystique steeped more in history, from their days as New York rivals, than in recent clashes. It is the teams’ fifth interleague encounter and first since 2016 at Yankee Stadium. They’ve met in 11 World Series, but none since 1981. The Dodgers claimed that championship in six games. Fernandomania was at its peak and Reggie Jackson played in his final games as a Yankee.
Nearly four decades later, a 12th World Series collision is plausible, though the Houston Astros might have something to say about the Yankees emerging with the American League pennant. The clubs have risen to the top of the standings in slightly different ways. The Dodgers have relied primarily on homegrown players to populate perhaps the deepest 40-man roster in baseball. The Yankees have made shrewd acquisitions to absorb the effect of 28 players spending time on the injured list — the highest total in the majors.
Though both possess explosive offenses, the Yankees’ pitching strength is in their bullpen and the Dodgers’ lies in their starting rotation. That left the clubs with clear priorities at the trade deadline. The Yankees wanted to bolster their rotation. The Dodgers wanted to upgrade the back end of the bullpen. Neither happened.
The clubs have maintained their standing atop their respective circuits without a problem anyway, though the Yankees stumbled before their visit to Los Angeles, arriving on a season-long four-game losing streak after a three-game sweep by the Oakland Athletics. They got back on track Friday against the stingiest pitcher in baseball.
The Yankees, who entered the night having won their last eight matchups against left-handed starters, began punishing Ryu in the third inning. Judge, demonstrating his brute strength, hit a changeup off the end of his bat 414 feet over the left-field wall. Two batters later, Sanchez smashed another solo home run to become the fastest catcher in history to reach 100 homers.
“They were taking some good swings off Hyun-Jin,” Roberts said. “His command wasn’t where it needed to be tonight. He left balls out over, and those guys can slug. He made some mistakes.”
Gregorius added to the tally in the fifth inning after Roberts chose to intentionally walk Sanchez with first base open to get the left-on-left matchup between Ryu and Gregorius. It was the kind of decision the Dodgers could face again in two months, when the stakes are significantly higher and missteps are remembered for generations. Friday, despite all the hoopla, was just another regular-season game. Thirty-two remain on the Dodgers’ schedule. None will be more closely watched than the next two.
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Source: Baseball Reference