The good news for the Dodgers as they clung to a one-run lead in the sixth inning Saturday night in Game 2 of the National League Division Series was that they loaded the bases with one out. The bad news was Cody Bellinger and AJ Pollock were due up next.
San Francisco Giants manager Gabe Kapler pulled starter Kevin Gausman for Dominic Leone to give time for the tension to accumulate at Oracle Park. It was the biggest moment of the Dodgers’ season, a chance to pad their cushion to avoid the dreaded 0-2 best-of-five series hole.
Bellinger and Pollock were a combined 0 for 9 with seven strikeouts in the series up to that point. Bellinger was two for 53 with 25 strikeouts against the Giants this season. Pollock was nine for 61 with 22 strikeouts in his postseason career as a Dodger.
All that history, sample sizes ample enough to not disregard, became obsolete in a flash. Bellinger lined the first pitch he saw to the wall in left-center field for a two-run double. Pollock then matched Bellinger, ripping the next pitch to left field to trade places and put the Dodgers on track to a 9-2 win.
“Obviously,” Bellinger said, “it felt pretty good.”
The sudden blows, delivered a night after the Dodgers were overmatched in a 4-0 loss, deflated the rowdy ballpark. By the end of the inning, after two defensive gems parried the Giants’ counterpunch, fans in orange and black started streaming for the exits. The Dodgers drove more disappointed people out of the building by the bay when they pounded the Giants bullpen for three more runs in the eighth inning. The tightly contested clash between storied rivals became a laugher in minutes.
A night after the Dodgers’ six through eight hitters went 0 for 9 with five strikeouts, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts made changes to the lineup, putting Chris Taylor in center field and batting him sixth. Bellinger was moved to first base and batted seventh. Pollock hit eighth. The adjustment paid dividends — the Dodgers six through eighth batters combined to go five for 11 with two walks, including Taylor’s six-pitch walk in the sixth inning to fill the bases for Bellinger. “Everyone had a big night,” Roberts said. “Up and down the lineup.”
The clubs will play Game 3 on Monday at Dodger Stadium where the hosts have won 16 straight games. First pitch is slated for 6:37 p.m. Former Dodger Alex Wood will take the mound for the Giants opposite Max Scherzer.
“It’s a good feeling,” Roberts said. “It’s interesting how the narrative changes from game to game. It’s a three-game series, we got home-field advantage, we got Max on the mound. I like where we’re at.”
The five-run margin built on Bellinger and Pollock’s doubles still felt tenuous in the bottom of the sixth. Joe Kelly, summoned from the bullpen to replace Julio Urías, issued a one-out walk to LaMonte Wade Jr. before Buster Posey poked a single to right field. The Giants, authors of so many late-inning magic shows in 2021, were setting up another one. Then the Dodgers’ defense abruptly quashed that momentum.
Second baseman Trea Turner supplied the first gem, a sliding stop on Wilmer Flores’s ground ball up the middle that would’ve scored a run had it gotten through. Instead, Turner flipped the ball to shortstop Corey Seager at second base for the second out.
Two pitches later, Brandon Crawford flared a single to shallow right field. Wade easily scored, but Betts played the ball off the hop, spun and effortlessly launched a laser to third base where Justin Turner applied the tag on Flores to end the season-changing inning.
“Sometimes you just do things you can’t really explain,” Betts said, “and that was one of them.”
Before the inning that changed everything, Urías held the Giants to one run on three hits over five innings and produced half of the Dodgers’ scoring output in his fourth career postseason start.
The game was scoreless with two outs in the second when Gausman fell behind Pollock 2-0 and Kapler opted to intentionally walk him to bring up Urías. The left-hander wasn’t an automatic out during the regular season. He batted .203. In one start at Oracle Park in May, he went two for three with a double and three RBIs. But Kapler played the numbers, and the numbers played him.
Urías stroked an RBI single to right field for the Dodgers’ first run of the series. Betts followed with another RBI single to give the Dodgers their first lead.
“We’re not thinking he’s gonna get a hit right there,” Gausman said. “But I put it in the zone and he’s a really good hitter for a pitcher. Just made a mistake right there.”
On the mound, Urías gave up a run in the second inning on Donovan Solano’s sacrifice fly and nothing else. He retired 12 of the final 13 batters he faced before Roberts had Gavin Lux pinch-hit for him in the sixth. Urías threw just 72 pitches.
Urías started Saturday because Clayton Kershaw re-injured his left elbow in his final regular season start. The future Hall of Famer would’ve been the Dodgers’ No. 3 starter in the postseason, relegating Urías to the hybrid role he assumed last October between starter and reliever. Kershaw instead watched the game from the dugout in a hoodie.
Kershaw knows he won’t be pitch again in 2021. The left flexor strain he suffered is too severe to return in time to help in the postseason. He knows he won’t need surgery, at least for now. His hope is that the platelet-rich plasma injection he recently received in his left forearm will suffice and he’ll be ready for spring training. What he doesn’t know is whether he’ll throw a pitch for the Dodgers ever again, or so he reiterated Friday when he addressed a group of reporters before Game 1.
“I think I said a while ago I have no idea,” Kershaw said Friday. “Still have no idea. So, we’ll win the World Series and go from there.”
For now, he said, next season isn’t on his mind. A year after heaving the load of a World Series off his shoulders, he can only watch his team go on without him as they strive to win back-to-back championships for the first time in franchise history.
On Saturday, he watched another left-hander deliver. He watched two teammates bust out of funks. He watched two defensive highlights undercut the Giants just as it seemed that a comeback was inevitable. He watched the Dodgers effectively salvage their season.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.
Source: Yahoo Sports