The Dodgers were in search of a spark when Jedd Gyorko stepped into the batter’s box to pinch-hit in the eighth inning of their 3-2 win Sunday night. They had wasted three prime scoring opportunities over the first seven innings against New York Mets right-hander Zack Wheeler. They were down to six outs to rebound.
The spark was gifted to them. Mets left-hander Justin Wilson began his relief appearance by walking Gyorko. He balked to advance him to second and threw a wild pitch to move him to third. Max Muncy struck out — the Dodgers’ sixth consecutive strikeout with a runner in scoring position — but Chris Taylor cashed in on the chance with an RBI double off the wall in center field to tie the score 2-2.
Gyorko came through again in the ninth inning, delivering a go-ahead, two-out single off Seth Lugo, the Mets’ best reliever. Gyorko’s bouncer up the middle gave the Dodgers (97-54) the series victory over a club fighting for the National League’s final playoff spot. Hours earlier, the Dodgers clinched home-field advantage in the National League Division Series with the St. Louis Cardinals’ loss to the Milwaukee Brewers.
This weekend served as a test for the Dodgers. Each night, they encountered a hard-throwing right-handed starter, the kind of pitcher who populates playoff rotations. They solved Noah Syndergaard on Friday. They failed the next two nights. On Saturday, Jacob deGrom dealt seven scoreless innings. On Sunday, Wheeler stumped them.
Wheeler limited Los Angeles to one run over seven innings while striking out nine without a walk. He squeezed out of jams in the third, sixth and seventh innings, all of which began with leadoff hits and ended with a runner left on second base. He departed after throwing 97 pitches with the Mets (77-72) leading 2-1.
“It’s tough to put hits together against those arms,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “I thought we did a good job, but I think our pitching kept us in ballgames.”
The Mets struck first, tallying two runs in quick succession in the second inning. Walker Buehler issued a one-out walk to Robinson Cano, and J.D. Davis singled. Brandon Nimmo capitalized by cracking a line drive on the 10th pitch of the at-bat. The ball landed on the chalk down the right-field line and bounced into the corner, and Nimmo raced around for a two-run triple. Frustration surfaced in the dugout after the 32-pitch inning.
Buehler didn’t allow another baserunner. The right-hander retired the final 11 batters he encountered through the fifth inning. But he had trouble putting hitters away. The Mets fouled off 20 of his 71 pitches, and he recorded just one strikeout.
The short outing was planned. Before the game, Roberts said he wanted to give a few relievers some work. Buehler was informed of the blueprint.
“Since we clinched, we can afford to do some things like that,” Buehler said. “Not my favorite thing in the world to do, but good to see bullpen come in and throw the ball really well.”
Pedro Baez, who had pitched once in the previous week, was the first of five relievers who combined for four scoreless innings. He pitched the sixth inning and Dustin May was given the seventh before Kenley Jansen entered with the game tied in the eighth.
The right-hander, coming off an encouraging outing Thursday in Baltimore, was sharp again. He mowed through Juan Lagares, Jeff McNeil and Pete Alonso, striking out Alonso on three pitches to cap a 10-pitch appearance.
“My cutter’s a feel pitch, so whenever I feel it click, you just got to hold on to it,” Jansen (5-3) said. “And that’s what you’re seeing the last two games.”
Adam Kolarek and Kenta Maeda combined to pitch a clean ninth inning. Maeda, shifted to the bullpen at the beginning of the month, secured the final two outs for second save this season and the fifth of his career, one made possible by Gyorko’s timely emergence.
Roberts said Justin Turner might not return from his left ankle injury Tuesday against the Tampa Bay Rays as initially planned. Turner hasn’t played since Sept. 7. Roberts reiterated that Turner is dealing with a sprained ankle and is “still feeling it.”… Rich Hill said he plans to throw off a mound Tuesday for the first time since reinjuring the medial collateral ligament in his left knee Thursday. The left-hander threw on flat ground Sunday for the second consecutive day. He is scheduled to undergo an MRI exam on the knee Monday. … Roberts said the starting rotation will stay in line through next weekend. Ross Stripling and Tony Gonsolin are slated to start Tuesday and Wednesday against the Rays. Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Buehler will follow against the Colorado Rockies.