Mookie Betts and Corey Seager gambled on a double steal. It paid off for Dodgers
Leading up to the start of the National League Division Series this week, Mookie Betts was asked how much research he did during the postseason, how much time his nose is buried in scouting reports and video clips and analytical data on opponents before a series.
“I’m kind of in the middle,” Betts said. “I want to know some info, but there’s definitely too much. I have to go out and play the game and let the game tell you what’s going on.”
What the game told Betts in the bottom of the seventh inning Wednesday, with the Dodgers clinging to a one-run lead against the San Diego Padres, was his team needed another spark.
Moments earlier, the momentum of Game 2 had swung on Cody Bellinger’s home-run robbery of Fernando Tatis Jr. A between-dugouts shouting match during the seventh-inning stretch further fueled tensions between the Southern California rivals.
With the game on the line, the Dodgers did not want Kenley Jansen to face perhaps the most frightening batter on the other team.
In the next inning, the Dodgers had a chance to tack on insurance runs. After reaching second base following a fielder’s choice and Corey Seager‘s single, Betts suddenly saw the way to do it.
With Justin Turner coming to the plate, the Padres made a pitching change. In came Drew Pomeranz, a big left-hander with a long leg kick in his delivery. Dodgers coaches predictably didn’t call for a steal, considering the team swiped only 29 bags this season — barely half of the Padres’ league-leading 55 — and certainly not with the middle of their order due up in a favorable two-on, one-out situation.
Instead, when Betts and Seager took off on Pomeranz’s first pitch, it was a decision of their making — a successful gamble without which the Dodgers might not have won.
“In that situation,” manager Dave Roberts said, “that was the difference in the game.”
Even with a 95 mph Pomeranz fastball, Betts’ and Seager’s jumps were so good Padres catcher Austin Nola didn’t bother attempting a throw.
As he stood up at third, Betts clapped his hands and pointed over at Seager in appreciation. Two at-bats later, both players were back in the dugout courtesy of Turner‘s sacrifice fly and Max Muncy’s RBI single — the deciding runs in the team’s eventual 6-5 win.
“It was a great play, a heads-up play,” Roberts said, confirming the steal “was Mookie and Corey going on their own.”
It’s a fine line to walk between giving players freedom and letting them make crucial decisions on their own. But in Roberts’ case, he has a roster that has repeatedly earned his trust with its meticulous approach.
“You know these guys,” Roberts said. “Guys are doing a lot of digging.”
Dustin May went from a skinny shortstop to a pitching sensation for the Dodgers.
Perhaps none more so than Betts, who celebrated his 28th birthday Wednesday with his second two-hit game of this postseason and only the third steal of his playoff career.
“That’s definitely one of the better games I’ve been a part of,” Betts told Fox Sports. “Obviously, it took two teams that are super familiar with each other. It was a battle. It’s kind of been like that all year. Can’t expect anything else in playoff time.”
It might have been a far different result, however, if not for the perfectly executed play on the bases.
All other things remaining equal, the Dodgers likely would have scored only one run in the seventh if Betts and Seager stayed put at first and second. They needed that boost before the Padres’ ninth-inning comeback. Without it, the best-of-five series might be tied at 1-1.
The Dodgers’ 6-5 victory over the San Diego Padres was built on high-paid stars and big-time smarts.
Although the double-steal might have been largely overshadowed by the more dramatic moments Wednesday night — somewhat forgotten in the wake of a frenetic October clash — to Roberts it was a reminder of how games are won this time of year, of the fine margins between teams that succeed in the postseason and those who go home.
“It was a very big play,” Roberts said, “by a very good player — two good players.”
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