Dodgers fans were worn out.
After watching New York Yankees starter James Paxton mow through Los Angeles’ lineup Friday night, easily protecting New York’s ever-expanding lead in an eventual 10-2 win, the Dodgers faithful had fallen silent, fading in the face of rare adversity.
When Paxton — who made good on the “Big Maple” nickname printed across the back of his all-black Players’ Weekend jersey — was mercifully removed with two outs in the seventh, the home crowd could no longer drown out the Yankees’ vocal visiting contingent.
Instead, Paxton exited to applause in Chavez Ravine.
It was that kind of night for the Dodgers. Their starter, Hyun-Jin Ryu, was battered in his worst home start of the year, their bullpen couldn’t stop the bleeding, and their offense couldn’t bail them out.
In the series opener of a potential World Series preview, Paxton was too sharp. Too dominant.
“We didn’t get very many good swings off him all night long,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, summing up one of his team’s most anemic offensive performances this season. “It’s one of those games that, fortunately, it only counts for one loss.”
Paxton entered the game the owner of a 6.10 ERA in his previous six starts. Against the Dodgers, however, he was electric.
He stranded Max Muncy in scoring position in the second and minimized damage in a one-run third. Then, as the Yankees offense started to pull away, he turned it on.
Between the fourth and sixth innings, Paxton surrendered just one hit and struck out seven. The Dodgers didn’t get a runner past first base and couldn’t crack Paxton’s combination of fastballs, cutters and knuckle-curves.
Cody Bellinger whiffed on all of his heavy hacks, striking out swinging three times. Will Smith looked flat-out lost, going down on strikes in each of his three at-bats against Paxton as well.
“He was making really good pitches on the corners,” said Smith, who struck out four times overall. “His fastball up was playing. His curveball made me look silly.”
Paxton, who was traded to the Yankees by the Seattle Mariners in the offseason, allowed just five hits and two earned runs in 6⅔ innings. His 11 strikeouts were the most by any opposing starting pitcher against the Dodgers this season. The 29 swings-and-misses he induced were more than the Dodgers had previously suffered in any full game all year.
“There was a lot of swing-and-miss out of the zone with the breaking ball, down below,” Roberts said. “Fastballs in the zone, above the zone. We typically don’t do that very much.”
Roberts partially chalked up his club’s struggles to interleague unfamiliarity, noting: “I don’t know how many guys have seen Paxton [before].”
Even so, the right-hander’s gem punctuated one of the Dodgers’ few offensive flaws: They are often slow starters at the plate.
In the first five innings of games this year, the Dodgers average just .548 runs per innings, barely above the league average of .546. They can usually compensate with late-game explosions, with a lineup capable of combustible flurries. In the final four innings of games, the Dodgers lead MLB in scoring. Their 12 walk-off wins are also the most in the league.
They possessed no such firepower on Friday, though. In a game that began with an October atmosphere, only Yankees fans were on their feet by the end. Paxton’s departure was greeted with one of the game’s loudest ovations. When he disappeared into the dugout for the last time, the game already felt decided.
“Hopefully, we’ll get another crack at him this season,” Roberts said.