Dodgers hold off Padres’ late rally to take 2-0 NLDS lead
The match that set Southern California’s newest rivalry ablaze was lit at Globe Life Field, 1,500 miles away, in the seventh inning of the Dodgers’ 6-5 victory over the San Diego Padres on Wednesday.
The Padres had the mighty Dodgers on the ropes in Game 2 of the National League Division Series. They had emerged down only one run after Clayton Kershaw’s strong six-inning performance. And with a runner on base and two outs in the seventh, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts gave the ball to Brusdar Graterol, a rookie, to face Fernando Tatis Jr., baseball’s brightest young star.
After balking the runner to second base on his first pitch, Graterol challenged Tatis with a 99-mph sinker. Tatis crushed it 413 feet to straightaway center field.
At the other end, Cody Bellinger, after twisting and turning his way to the warning track, leaped at the wall to rob what would’ve been a go-ahead, two-run home run.
As Bellinger jumped with joy over his series-changing athletic feat, Graterol threw his glove in delight. He took off his cap and pointed to the heavens. On the other side, Padres third baseman and former Dodger Manny Machado looked on with disgust. He shouted obscenities at Graterol. In response, Graterol waved and blew a kiss. Other Dodgers screamed at Machado, who unabashedly celebrated a home run the previous inning, to keep it moving.
“I’ll be waiting for you,” Machado said.
Inches from disaster, the Dodgers rode the momentum and added two runs in the bottom half of the inning. Both were pivotal.
Needing three outs to move within a win of the NL Championship Series, Roberts did what he’s almost always done since he started manning the top step in 2016: He summoned Kenley Jansen even though Graterol threw only seven pitches in 1 1/3 innings.
But this isn’t the Kenley Jansen of old. This is a deteriorated version, one that Roberts recently said is essentially the Dodgers’ closer in title only. The Dodgers have decided Jansen won’t pitch in every save situation in these playoffs. He wasn’t given the assignment in Game 2 of the wild-card series last week. But there he was, on the mound with a three-run lead Wednesday.
Dustin May went from a skinny shortstop to a pitching sensation for the Dodgers.
He walked off that mound without getting the job done. The Padres scored two runs before he was replaced by Joe Kelly one out short. Kelly walked Tatis and Machado to load the bases but got Eric Hosmer to ground out to end the game and give the Dodgers a 2-0 series lead.
“Never a doubt, no, no, never a doubt,” Kershaw said with a grin. “We had it in our hands. That’s how Joe Kelly rolls.”
The Dodgers have a chance to sweep the best-of-five series in Thursday’s Game 3. Jansen surely won’t be available after throwing 30 pitches. Whether he’s thrust into another save situation in 2020 is less clear.
“I’m going to keep thinking through it,” Roberts said.
Kershaw, a Dallas native making his first major league start in the area, threw first-pitch strikes to 15 of the first 16 batters he faced. Only Wil Myers managed to see a 1-0 count. He wound up slashing an RBI double to put San Diego ahead in the second inning.
That was all the Padres produced until Machado yanked a 2-1 slider out of the strike zone for a leadoff home run in the sixth inning. The Padres’ dugout erupted with the blast. Machado chucked his bat after watching his ball sail over the wall. He pumped his chest.
Then Hosmer turned on a 1-2 fastball over the inner half of the plate to make it back-to-back homers and a 4-3 Dodgers lead. Kershaw retired the next three batters to end the inning and his outing. He gave up three runs and six hits. He struck out six, didn’t issue a walk, and threw 87 pitches.
On the other side, the Padres needed length from Zach Davies after using nine pitchers in Game 1 to set a division series record for a nine-inning game.
The baseball writers of the Los Angeles Times are here to answer your Dodgers questions.
He gave them five innings, but Dodgers broke through in the third. AJ Pollock lined a leadoff single. Next, Austin Barnes, after a failed sacrifice bunt attempt, lined another single. Mookie Betts followed with a line drive right at third baseman Machado for the first out.
Corey Seager had better luck. The shortstop cracked a line drive down the right-field line for a two-run double to give Los Angeles the lead.
The hit ended Seager’s stretch of misfortune; before the double, only one of the seven balls he hit at least 99 mph in play off his bat in the playoffs landed for a hit. Two batters later, Max Muncy scored Seager with a single.
Bellinger added to the lead in the fourth inning by lifting a ball over the fence in this power-sapping ballpark.
Bellinger struck out on three pitches down and away — and arguably off the plate — in his first at-bat. In his second, he almost went to his knees and pounced on the first pitch he saw — a changeup down and away — and launched it 433 feet over the center-field wall for a leadoff home run. It was the first home run of the series for either team.
“I was like, ‘Damn, I got some juice,’” Bellinger said.
But Bellinger will be remembered for the home run he stole, not the one he slugged. It changed the series and lit the match.
“It’s gonna take a while to wind down from that one,” he said. “That’s postseason baseball right there.”
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