It was the kind of moment Cody Bellinger has lived for this season. Bases loaded, two outs in the fifth inning, his team down by a run, two-ball count, a chance to change the game with one swing, a Dodger Stadium crowd of 53,870 serenading him with chants of “MVP! MVP!”
The scene perfectly set for the slugger, Bellinger took two healthy hacks against San Francisco starter Tyler Beede. The first produced a foul ball, the second a lazy fly ball to left field to end the inning, the rally fizzling like the Dodgers’ offense in a 1-0 loss to the Giants on Saturday night.
The Dodgers’ magic number to clinch their seventh straight National League West title remained stuck at four, meaning the earliest they can clinch is Tuesday in Baltimore. The 10-game edge they held over Atlanta for home-field advantage in a potential NL Championship Series on Aug. 16 is now 2-1/2 games.
“We are gonna clinch at some point in time,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, his hand nowhere near the panic button despite his team’s eight losses in the last 15 games and first shutout since May 18. “We just have to play a complete baseball game, and those things will take care of themselves.”
The Dodgers did not play a complete game Saturday night. They got a decent four-inning start from rookie right-hander Tony Gonsolin and some stout relief, but they managed only four hits against Beede in five innings and none against six Giants relievers.
Gonsolin survived a wobbly first in which he gave up one run despite giving up two hits, walking two and throwing 39 pitches, recovering from the 20-minute frame to throw three hitless innings.
“The thing I like the most,” Roberts said, “is he had a super-stressful first inning, and to not concede, to reset, gather yourself and put up three more zeroes … for a young pitcher to not only limit damage in the first but to come back and make pitches and get better as the outing progresses shows a lot of maturity.”
Gonsolin was pulled after four innings, his pitch count at 88. His final line — four innings, two hits, one earned run, four walks, five strikeouts — neither extended a two-week slump by the Dodgers rotation nor ended it.
The team’s starting pitchers entered Saturday with a major league-best 3.16 ERA, but in 15 games since Aug. 23, the rotation has given up 43 earned runs in 70-2/3 innings for a 5.48 ERA.
The stretch includes 10 starts by rookie catcher Will Smith, who won the starting job with his hot bat but has yielded a 6.56 ERA (35 runs in 48 innings) to the starters during the stretch.
“There’s a learning curve,” Roberts said of Smith, who played his 41st big league game Saturday night, “but the responsibility is on all of us. The more repetitions, innings, you get with each pitcher, the more familiarity, trust and confidence you get in him, and that works both ways.
“That will enhance the rhythm of the game, the execution, all that stuff. Yeah, we’re in a little bit of a funk as far as our starters, but I think if you look at any starting staff in baseball, we all go through it, so I don’t think it’s something we’re not going to overcome.”
Gonsolin struggled to find his rhythm in the first. Mike Yastrzemski led off with a catchable bloop single that dropped between right fielder Joc Pederson and second baseman Gavin Lux.
“It was just a miscommunication,” Lux said. “I was in a shift. Joc and I kind of called it at the same time. It happens.”
Brandon Belt popped out, but Evan Longoria walked, and Stephen Vogt singled to right to load the bases. Kevin Pillar’s dribbler to third scored Yastrzemski. Brandon Crawford walked to load the bases, prompting left-hander Caleb Ferguson to begin warming up. Gonsolin struck out Austin Slater to end the inning.
The Dodgers threatened in the second when Bellinger walked and took second on Lux’s one-out walk. One out later, Smith hit a grounder that appeared headed into the left-field corner before Longoria, the Giants third baseman, made a diving backhand stop. Smith reached on an infield single, but Longoria saved two runs on the play. Gonsolin struck out on three pitches to end the inning.
“He made a really nice play,” Roberts said of Longoria. “That could have been a different ballgame right there.”
Setup man Joe Kelly threw a scoreless seventh after being sidelined since last Sunday because an unspecified leg injury.
“It’s something with his lower half that doesn’t feel right,” Roberts said. “I don’t know the cause of it. I stayed away from him for five days because you don’t want something in the lower half to affect the arm. But the stuff was coming out really good tonight.”