The remnants of the Dodgers’ latest division-title celebration were purged from the visitors’ clubhouse at Oriole Park at Camden Yards by Wednesday afternoon. The carpet, protected by a plastic layering during the previous night’s debauchery, was spotless. The overpowering stench from the champagne and cheap beer was gone. Players were back to talking fantasy football and fiddling with their phones.
The party was over. It was time to play another baseball game, No. 147 on the regular-season schedule, without an obvious carrot dangling in front of them until Oct. 3.
But incentives remain before Game 1 of the National League Division Series. Home-field advantage in the National League and throughout the postseason remains at stake. Some players are scrapping for a spot on the playoff roster. Others are battling for more prominent roles.
The department with the most uncertainty with three weeks and a day left until the playoff opener is the bullpen. And on Wednesday, two relief candidates stumbled as the offense, perhaps feeling the effects of an energy shortage following the revelry, was muffled in the Dodgers’ 7-3 loss to the Baltimore Orioles.
With the defeat, the Dodgers fell to 1-4 in games played the day after sealing the National League West crown during their seven-year run. Their lead over the Atlanta Braves for best record — and home-field advantage — in the National League dropped to three games.
“I wouldn’t say anybody stayed up later than we usually do or anything,” Dodgers pitcher Ross Stripling said. “We’re used to staying up late and then we get plenty of time to sleep in. So certainly not an excuse by any means.”
Caleb Ferguson, pitching on back-to-back nights after securing the final out in Tuesday’s division-clinching victory, surrendered a tie-busting, three-run home run to Jonathan Villar in the seventh inning. An inning later, Orioles catcher Pedro Severino crushed a two-run home run off Adam Kolarek, another Dodgers left-hander vying for a playoff role.
Villar’s blast came on a first-pitch fastball from Ferguson down the middle, traveled 443 feet and carried more weight than most home runs hit in inconsequential September games. It was the 6,106th home run hit across the major leagues this season, breaking the previous record set in 2017. Villar has hit a career-high 21 of them for the last-place Orioles (47-98).
Both Orioles home runs, hit by right-handed hitters opposite left-handers, ended sublime stretches for the pitchers. Ferguson had not given up a home run since returning from the minors in mid-July, a span of 17 innings over 18 appearances. He hadn’t been charged a run of any sort over his previous five games. Since July 21, he had surrendered three runs in 17 innings.
Kolarek, acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays on July 31 as a left-handed specialist, began his Dodgers career without allowing an earned run in nine innings over 17 games.
“There’s still a lot of baseball,” Roberts said, “and a lot of decisions to be made.”
Kolarek was the sixth Dodgers pitcher inserted Wednesday in what was, effectively, a bullpen game for the visitors. Stripling started but is being used as a reliever in preparation for his possible role in October so he threw 37 pitches over three innings. He gave up a run on three hits while striking out two without issuing a walk.
“I would say it was OK,” said Stripling, who had trouble commanding his curveball. “Not terribly sharp.”
Dustin May, another starter by trade auditioning as a reliever, followed Stripling in the fourth inning. The 21-year-old sinker specialist surrendered a double and a walk with two outs in the fifth inning but escaped to complete his scoreless two frames. He struck out two and threw 34 pitches.
“I thought there were a lot good throws in there,” Roberts said. “A little bit sprayed with the fastball, but when he needed to make a pitch, he did.”
The Dodgers (94-53) seized the lead in the sixth. Austin Barnes led the inning off with a double against left-hander John Means, the Orioles’ only All-Star this season, before A.J. Pollock swatted the seventh pitch of his at-bat over the wall in straightaway center field. Pollock has hit 12 home runs in 46 games since coming off the injured list for the start of the season’s second half.
Pollock’s homer, however, was the only damage Los Angeles inflicted on Means. The Orioles’ ace held the Dodgers to the two runs on four hits while striking out six to one walk across 6 1/3 innings.
The Dodgers gave the ball to Joe Kelly, one of the few relievers whose standing is secure, in the sixth and he proceeded to squander the one-run edge. Anthony Santander began the frame with a walk and took second on a wild pitch. He scored on Dwight Smith Jr.’s two-out single to tie the game at two.
The score stayed that way until Villar unloaded to make history. The swing put a damper on Ferguson’s resume and impeded the Dodgers’ pursuit of home-field advantage. But nothing is final. There’s still plenty of time to sort it all out.