Tuesday, October 26 2021
Los Angeles Dodgers' Justin Turner, right, scores past Atlanta Braves catcher Travis d'Arnaud on a single by AJ Pollock during the eighth inning of a baseball game Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

An object that has been looming in the San Francisco Giants’ rearview mirror for more than four months is no longer closer than it appears. It just passed them in the fast lane and pulled a half-car length ahead in the race for the coveted National League West title.

The Dodgers completed a three-game sweep of the NL East-leading Atlanta Braves with a 4-3 come-from-behind victory Wednesday night, Max Scherzer battling through a tight right hamstring to throw six shutout innings and Justin Turner and AJ Pollock delivering clutch two-out, run-scoring hits in the eighth.

Their 20th win in 24 games, combined with San Francisco’s 5-2 loss to Milwaukee, moved the Dodgers (85-49) a half-game ahead of the Giants (84-49) with 28 games left, the first time the defending World Series-champion Dodgers have held first place in the NL West since April 28.

They fell a season-high five games behind the Giants after a 2-1 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies on Aug. 12 but have won 16 of 19 games since to put themselves in position to pounce when the Giants finally stumbled.

“It’s a start,” manager Dave Roberts said of his team’s perch atop the NL West. “We’re getting there. We have to continue to play good baseball. There’s a lot of baseball left. I just like the way our guys are so resilient and pick each other up.”

No player better personified that resiliency Wednesday night than Scherzer, who felt his hamstring tighten during warmups before the first inning but still needed only 76 pitches to blank the Braves on three hits while striking out nine and walking none.

A crowd of 47,473 in Dodger Stadium was stunned when Scherzer was pulled with a 2-0 lead after six innings, a cushion that was built on the strength of solo home runs by Max Muncy in the first inning and Austin Barnes in the third. With closer Kenley Jansen and setup man Blake Treinen unavailable because of recent heavy workloads, this seemed like a good time to push Max to the max, to ride the arm of the three-time Cy Young Award winner deep into the game.

But it turns out there was a good reason Brusdar Graterol trotted in from the bullpen to start the seventh.

“Once I finished the sixth inning, I could feel that was my limit, because I couldn’t fully get into my back leg,” Scherzer said. “You’re gonna put more stress on your arm when you do that. So even though I was at 76 pitches, it played closer to 90 pitches.”

Scherzer, 37, had no reservations about pitching because he’s had experience with similar injuries.

“I didn’t injure it; I just knew it was tight,” Scherzer said. “From there, I had to throttle down. I’ve had this happen in the past, and you just have to work around it. You might not be able to step on every fastball the way you’d like, but you can still pitch.”

Dodgers pitcher Max Scherzer follows through on a pitch to an Atlanta Braves batter.Dodgers pitcher Max Scherzer follows through on a pitch to an Atlanta Braves batter.

Dodgers pitcher Max Scherzer pitched six shutout innings. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

When Scherzer felt as if he had reached his limit, he didn’t even have to say anything to Roberts.

“He’s such a competitor,” Roberts said. “He said he’d go as long as he can without putting himself or the team in jeopardy. You could see he wasn’t leaning on the fastball and really letting her rip, but he was mixing and executing, and after that sixth inning, he just gave me a look that said, that was it. I respect that. I love him for being honest, and I expect him to make his next start.”

Scherzer was dominant again despite the injury, lowering his ERA to 1.29 in six starts since the Dodgers acquired him on July 30. He has 50 strikeouts and five walks in 35 innings and needs only 19 strikeouts to become the 19th player in major league history to reach 3,000 strikeouts.

The game was also Scherzer’s 32nd career start of nine or more strikeouts with no runs given up — only Nolan Ryan (67), Randy Johnson (51), Roger Clemens (43) and Pedro Martinez (39) have more.

“I had no idea [he was hurt],” Pollock said of Scherzer. “He’s a bulldog out there. He started giving us fist-bumps [after the sixth], and we’re instructed to not touch him, don’t look at him, until he’s done. Then I found out he was pitching with a tight hamstring all night, and you’d never know. He battled. He was outstanding.”

Graterol was not. The Braves erased a 2-0 deficit when Travis d’Arnaud singled with one out in the seventh and Eddie Rosario lined an 0-and-2, 101-mph fastball from Graterol over the center-field wall for a two-run homer. Dansby Swanson’s solo homer off left-hander Alex Vesia in the eighth gave Atlanta a 3-2 lead.

The Dodgers were undaunted. They roared back in the bottom of the eighth, Trea Turner leading off with a double to left off left-hander Tyler Matzek and taking third on Muncy’s groundout to first.

Mookie Betts struck out for the fourth time on a 99-mph Matzek fastball above the zone, but Justin Turner grounded a two-out RBI single to left off right-hander Chris Martin for a 3-3 tie.

Corey Seager walked after falling behind 0-and-2 in the count to put two on, an at-bat that Roberts called “next-level,” and Pollock rolled an RBI single to left, Turner sliding head-first into home for a 4-3 lead. Joe Kelly threw a one-two-three ninth for the save. The Dodgers travel to San Francisco for a three-game series beginning Friday night.

“These are the moments you live for, to have opportunity to compete against the best,” Scherzer said.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

Source: Yahoo Sports

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