Dodgers’ win in Game 2 of NLDS was built on smarts and riches
The season had not yet started, and the Dodgers already commanded the headlines.
On the day before opening day, the Dodgers signed Mookie Betts for approximately half a gazillion dollars, and the refrain from coast to coast was this: Dodgers. Money. Dodgers. Money.
It is good to be rich. But it is better to be smart and rich.
The Dodgers showed why on Wednesday, when they moved within one game of a spot in baseball’s final four. Their 6-5 victory over the San Diego Padres was built on high-paid stars and big-time smarts.
Betts, the 2018 American League most valuable player, had two hits and was robbed of a third. Cody Bellinger, the 2019 National League most valuable player, hit a home run. Clayton Kershaw, the 2014 NL MVP and a three-time Cy Young Award winner, delivered a quality start and earned the victory.
Bellinger produced the most indelible image of the game — not with his bat, but with his glove.
The Dodgers beat the San Diego Padres 6-5 to take a 2-0 NLDS lead.
In the seventh inning, Fernando Tatis Jr. hit a ball 400 feet to center field, and several inches above the center-field wall. If the ball had landed over the wall, the Padres would have taken a one-run lead. But Bellinger braced himself by extending his left hand above the wall, leaped high above the wall, and descended with the ball in his glove. Bellinger pointed skyward with his left hand, pitcher Brusdar Graterol flipped his glove and blew a kiss, and Manny Machado swore repeatedly at Graterol.
Great theater, all of it, but consider what made it possible: Bellinger arrived in the major leagues as a first baseman, and a very good one. The Dodgers could have considered themselves set at first base for a decade, but they love Bellinger’s athleticism, and they hate players who limit themselves to one position.
Bellinger moved to the outfield. He won a Gold Glove there last season. And his versatility enabled the Dodgers to play cleanup batter Max Muncy at first base, his best defensive position.
Consider Betts. With the Dodgers nursing a 4-3 lead in the seventh inning, he stole third base. That put him in position to score on a fly ball by Justin Turner, and the Dodgers had a desperately needed insurance run, deflating the tension minutes after the Graterol-Machado confrontation.
Or consider Kershaw. In the second inning, after Wil Myers doubled home Tommy Pham, Kershaw hustled behind the plate and intercepted Chris Taylor’s wild relay throw. That kept Myers from advancing to third base, from where the Padres would have had two chances to score him on an out. The Padres did not score again that inning.
The Dodgers’ coaching and game preparation staffs shined brightly as well.
In the fifth inning, Tatis laced a ground ball that appeared headed into center field for a single, but the Dodgers had shifted shortstop Corey Seager to that very spot. In the eighth inning, Machado laced a ground ball that appeared headed into center field for a single, but the Dodgers had shifted second baseman Enrique Hernandez to that very spot.
Dustin May went from a skinny shortstop to a pitching sensation for the Dodgers.
Seager doubled in two runs in the third inning, the second run coming when third base coach Dino Ebel alertly read a carom and sent catcher Austin Barnes home, even though Barnes had started from first base and Ebel risked the Dodgers interrupting a rally by running into an out at the plate.
These are the little things, and the inexpensive things, for which the Dodgers get relatively little credit.
Taylor was obtained in a minor league trade. Muncy and Turner were signed as minor league free agents.
Will Smith, who could blossom into an All-Star, was the third catcher selected in the 2016 draft. The second catcher selected, by the Angels, was Matt Thaiss, whom they moved from catcher and who has yet to hit well enough to win a regular job at any other position.
Terrance Gore, whom the Dodgers signed as a pinch-running specialist, marveled at the virtual reality setup in which the team had invested to help its hitters.
“You have so much stuff I’ve never even seen my life,” Gore said. “And then I’m really blown away by the stuff and technology you guys have over here with the Dodgers.”
None of this matters without winning, of course. Before the Dodgers’ game Wednesday, the team that hit the most home runs in a game was 19-0 in this postseason.
Make that 19-1. The Dodgers did it their way, rich and smart and one victory from the league championship series.
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