Swaths of disappointed people started streaming for the exits during the top of the ninth inning at Dodger Stadium on Sunday. The New York Yankees, the superior goliath for at least the weekend, had just tacked on the final run in their 5-1 win over the Dodgers. They produced it in opportunistic fashion, the way runs must come so often to thrive in the postseason, when games like this heavyweight tilt matter beyond potential tiebreakers and bragging rights between fans.
Brett Gardner singled to win a left-on-left matchup with Adam Kolarek, advanced from first to third on Kolarek’s wild attempt to pick him off, and scored on a flare off Gio Urshela’s bat just over a drawn-in infield. After beating the Dodgers at their own game with nine home runs in the three high-profile clashes, it was the exclamation point to the Yankees claiming perhaps the most anticipated regular-season series on the baseball calendar two games to one.
If these teams meet again in 2019, it will be in Game 1 of the World Series on October 22.
“I think we match up well,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “I don’t think that this series changed my thought that these are two very good ballclubs. But we both have a lot of work to do if there is, at all, a potential matchup again.”
While the clubs spent the weekend acknowledging the series invoked a playoff feel, both sides also maintained they were just three regular-season games. But something was at stake Sunday. The winner would claim not only a marquee triumph, but the tiebreaker for home-field advantage in the World Series should both teams finish with the same regular-season record and capture their respective pennants.
The Dodgers have watched their opponent celebrate a World Series title on their home turf the last two seasons, but that does not diminish the luxury of home-field advantage. It’s one fewer flight. It’s more hours in your own bed. It’s playing in front of a rambunctious crowd in your corner one more time. And for the Dodgers it’s a chance to play in a building in which they entered Sunday’s series finale with a league-best 52-17 home record.
“It matters,” Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner said before Sunday’s game. “One-hundred percent.”
If the scenario does surface in October, Game 1 will be played at Yankee Stadium because Los Angeles was muzzled this weekend. The Dodgers scored five runs in the three-game set and have tallied 10 in their last five contests. On Sunday, they failed to support another strong outing from Clayton Kershaw.
Kershaw’s performance befitted baseball in 2019. The left-hander compiled a season-high 12 strikeouts while walking none but also gave up three solo home runs. He has logged at least six innings in each of his 23 starts this season and given up three solo homers in each of his last two. The damage was loud but limited.
“I made four mistakes and three went over the fence,” Kershaw said. “That’s no fun. Frustrating, obviously.”
Those were enough because the Dodgers couldn’t solve Domingo German and the Yankees’ dynamite bullpen. German gave up a leadoff home run to Joc Pederson in the first inning and nothing after that across his six innings. He posted five strikeouts, walked two, and threw just 85 pitches, capitalizing on the Dodgers’ atypical impatience at the plate.
“They adjusted to us better than we adjusted to them and that was kind of the bottom line,” said Dodgers infielder Max Muncy, who went two for four with a double, a walk, and two strikeouts.
While Kershaw began Sunday with a 2.71 earned-run average, that number in the first inning was 5.73, over two runs higher than any other inning. It grew again Sunday when DJ LeMahieu cracked the game’s third pitch — a curveball from Kershaw — over the left-field wall to give the Yankees a quick lead. Of the 20 home runs Kershaw has allowed this season, seven were slugged in the first inning. He has allowed three leadoff home runs this season after surrendering four in his first 11 seasons combined.
Aaron Judge doubled the Yankees’ output in the third inning by blasting another Kershaw curveball for his third solo home run of the series. It marked the sixth time Kershaw gave up multiple home runs in a game this season and the fourth home run he’s surrendered on a curveball.
“I’ve always said solo home runs won’t beat you, but three probably will,” Kershaw said. “You can probably live with one or two, but three is too many.”
Pederson responded to LeMahieu’s leadoff salvo with his own leadoff homer to knot the score, suggesting a tit-for-tat finale between the clubs with the two best records. But the Dodgers went silent from there until Will Smith swung through a 99-mph fastball from Aroldis Chapman to conclude the weekend.
“I don’t know if facing them gives you more or less help,” Kershaw said. “I’m not sure. But hopefully we can find out in October. That would be great.”