Dodgers stage stunning rally but fall to Phillies as Max Muncy’s struggles continue
Hey, Max Muncy, what have you done lately?
Dodgers fans know full well the answer is the same as when somebody asks, “What’s up?”
Standard reply: “Not much.”
That doesn’t mean Muncy isn’t appreciated. He was honored before Thursday night’s game against the Philadelphia Phillies, with bobbleheads handed out to fans entering Dodger Stadium. His wife, Kellie, threw the ceremonial first pitch and Muncy held their 9-month-old daughter, Sophie Kate, until nearly game time.
Mired in a debilitating, season-long slump, Muncy was hopeful fans would fondly remember the 36 home runs he hit last season, the 35 he hit in 2019, the 35 he hit in 2018.
“We have the best fans in the world and I don’t think they’ve forgotten what I’ve done the last couple of years,” he said. “At the same time, they expect me to be better and I expect myself to be better.”
Muncy’s contribution was minor — two strikeouts, two walks and a check-swing dribbler for a single — but the hit helped fuel a stunning Dodgers rally in the eighth inning that turned a four-run deficit into a short-lived tie.
Vote in our survey to select the greatest baseball moments and non-baseball moments in Dodger Stadium history.
The Phillies answered in the ninth, scoring twice against reliever Daniel Hudson to win 9-7, forcing manager Dave Roberts to explain why he didn’t employ closer Craig Kimbrel with the score tied. Hudson opened the ninth by facing the eighth and ninth batters in the Phillies lineup and Roberts felt he could save Kimbrel to confront the middle of the lineup if the game went extra innings.
“I went by the book, I liked Hudson against the bottom of their order and it didn’t work out,” Roberts said.
Hudson got a quick out, pinch-hitter Odúbel Herrera bunted for a single and Hoskins scorched a ground ball that glanced off Hudson for a hit. Alex Bohm walked and Hudson threw a wild pitch that scored Herrera and gave up a sacrifice fly for another run.
A final Dodgers rally fell short in the bottom of the inning. Trea Turner led off with his third hit and Muncy and Will Smith walked to load the bases against former Dodger reliever Corey Knebel. But Austin Barnes, Cody Bellinger and Chris Taylor all flied out, handing the Dodgers their third loss in four games.
“The rallies were encouraging,” Taylor said. “We clawed back. The crowd was into it. We just came up short in the ninth.”
Muncy had the loudest ovation when the lineup was announced, and he batted cleanup despite a .138 average with an anemic .299 slugging percentage. He leads the National League in walks with 27 but perhaps that’s a sign he is too passive at the plate, taking pitches he ought to wallop.
He was warmly greeted by fans before his first at-bat to lead off the second inning and struck out on a curveball in the dirt from Phillies ace Zack Wheeler, making his first start since coming off the Covid list. Muncy struck out swinging on another low breaking ball in the fourth and walked in the sixth.
His excuse-me single in the eighth loaded the bases with none out and was followed by an RBI single by Smith and a two-run double by pinch-hitter Justin Turner, cutting the Dodgers’ deficit to 7-6. A one-out single by Taylor brought home Smith to tie the score but Turner was held at third.
Barnes then ran for Turner and Hanser Alberto batted for Gavin Lux. Phillies first baseman Rhys Hoskins correctly pegged the Dodgers’ intention to squeeze bunt and crashed when Alberto bunted, fielding the ball and easily throwing out Barnes at the plate.
Bottom line: Dodgers manager Dave Roberts telegraphed the squeeze by inserting Barnes as a runner and Alberto as a batter. The Phillies weren’t fooled and the Dodgers missed a chance to take the lead.
Roberts’ wishful thinking began even before the game when he hoped Muncy would ride the positive vibes from the fans and deliver a big blow.
“I’m sure the fans will turn out and support him and will be clamoring to get a bobblehead and hopefully he hits a home run,” he said.
Home runs are something of a tradition on a Dodgers bobblehead day, beginning with a pinch-hit grand slam by Manny Ramirez in 2009. Hanley Ramirez went deep on his 2013 bobblehead day and was followed by Yasiel Puig in 2015, Howie Kendrick in 2016, Manny Machado and Bellinger in 2018, and a two-homer outburst by Bellinger in 2019.
Bobblehead mojo didn’t help Muncy against the Phillies, however. He’s too far gone.
His strikeouts against Wheeler notwithstanding, he doesn’t often chase pitches out of the zone even as the outs and runners left on base mount. Roberts prefers to attribute Muncy’s patience as a refusal to panic.
“There’s been some good at-bats, solid contact, he’s still taking walks, I still like the quality of the at-bat,” Roberts said. “It’s easy to bet there’s going to be positive results coming.”
Muncy’s ability to recognize a ball from a strike is his best asset beyond his obvious power. No arm-twisting could convince him to become more aggressive. And, in fact, the mere suggestion of arm-twisting is enough to make him wince.
Muncy, 31, suffered a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow on the last day of the 2021 regular season when a baserunner sprinted through his outstretched arm at first base, bending the elbow grotesquely.
The Dodgers were coy about the extent of the injury, with Roberts insisting Muncy might return at some point in the postseason. Turns out it was all a bluff. He didn’t divulge the torn ligament until December.
Is the arm a factor in his current slump? Is it fully healed?
Dodgers losing series at Pittsburgh underscores their hitting difficulties, even though they have the best record in the National League.
“Um, I don’t know,” he said Thursday, shaking his head. “I don’t know.”
Another factor that could create stress is that Muncy’s three-year, $26 million contract expires at season’s end but includes a team option for $13 million. It is expected that all Muncy needs to do for the Dodgers to pick up the option is to produce as he did in his first four seasons with the team.
But every day this horrific slump continues, the 121 home runs and 309 runs batted in he accumulated from 2018-2021 seem further out of reach.
Even on a night when he had an appreciative crowd in his corner.
Are you a true-blue fan?
Get our Dodgers Dugout newsletter for insights, news and much more.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.