Monday, October 2 2023
Los Angeles Dodgers' Max Muncy, middle, celebrates with teammates after hitting a three-run home run against the San Francisco Giants during the sixth inning of a baseball game in San Francisco, Wednesday, April 12, 2023. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

Somewhere around pitch seven or eight, the Dodgers dugout could feel the momentum starting to change.

The score was tied in the top of the sixth inning. The team had the bases loaded with no outs. Freddie Freeman had worked a full count against San Francisco Giants left-hander Taylor Rogers.

And then, he started to foul pitches away. And away. And away. And away.

Nine straight times, in a 15-pitch battle that lasted the better part of six minutes, Freeman swung at a pitch in or near the strike zone. Nine straight times, he hit somewhere outside the two white foul lines.

The longer it went on — with Freeman depositing balls into the screen behind home plate, the grandstand beyond that, the seats deep down the left-field line, and even the top of the brick landing just wide of the foul pole in right — the more an Oracle Park crowd split with Giants and Dodger fans roared in anticipation.

The excitement in the Dodgers dugout spiked right along with them.

“It was incredible to watch,” infielder Max Muncy said. “Everyone was just going nuts.”

It wasn’t just that the Dodgers had trailed by three runs early in the game, or that, at 6-6, they were staring a rare sub-.500 record in the face.

Rather, their new-look roster had been admittedly searching for a new identity during a sluggish start to the schedule. They had been waiting for a moment to snap out of a growing early-season malaise.

Freeman’s at-bat finally emerged as that occasion, ending at last in a run-scoring walk that keyed the Dodgers’ eventual 10-5 win.

“As soon as Freddie won that at-bat,” Muncy said, “we all knew that we were going to take off right there.”

Indeed, that’s exactly what happened.

Will Smith followed with a sacrifice fly. Then Muncy clobbered a three-run blast, hitting his second home run of the night and fourth of the three-game series.

What had been a 3-0 deficit was suddenly an 8-3 lead.

And in the span of one half-inning, the Dodgers provided perhaps the best example yet of their still-evolving capabilities.

“I think Freddie’s at-bat was maybe the catalyst for everything,” starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw said. “I think we’re all just trying to find that rhythm of what our team looks like, and the consistency. Because we know it’s there, the ability to win games and do that. We just got to be more consistent. And I think tonight was a really good step for us.”

Like most of his teammates during the Dodgers’ up-and-down opening two weeks, Freeman had felt out of sync to start his 14th big league season.

Despite a .375 batting average and multi-hit performances in half of his first 12 games, something didn’t feel completely right with his swing, reflected by a two-RBI total that ranked tied for last on the team among hitters with at least 25 plate appearances.

“I’m still trying to find it,” Freeman said Tuesday night, after a rare 0-for-five performance in which he’d left five runners on base. “Working hard, trying to feel good at the plate.”

Freeman almost broke through in the top of the fourth inning Wednesday, hammering a deep drive to center that, with two runners aboard and two outs in the inning, had extra bases written all over it.

Giants center fielder Bryce Johnson, however, robbed it with a spectacular leaping catch that sent him crashing into the wall (and, ultimately, out of the game to be evaluated for a concussion).

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Freeman shook his head at that missed opportunity.

He would get his revenge a couple innings later.

After Muncy’s first home run in the fifth inning tied the score at 3 — erasing the early lead the Giants had built against Kershaw, who bemoaned the “soft” mentality he pitched with at the start of the game — Rogers ran into trouble by issuing three straight walks to lead off the sixth, including one to Chris Taylor that ended on a full-count pitch-clock violation.

That set the table for Freeman, who took the first two pitches away, fouled off the next two over the plate, then laid off another to work the count full.

“All I was really focused on was trying to move [the ball] forward,” Freeman said. “I could not strike out in that situation.”

That he made sure of, fouling off Rogers’ next nine offerings without pausing once to give himself — or the sidearm pitcher — a mental or physical break.

“I had a couple people ask me why I didn’t call timeouts and stuff like that,” Freeman said. “But I was like, you know what, I can’t do this. We gotta go toe to toe and we’ll see who wins.”

Ultimately, it was Rogers who finally blinked, pulling a sinker well wide of the plate for a run-scoring walk that opened the floodgates.

“I don’t want to put words in peoples’ mouths, but it felt like that was a big momentum switch for us,” Freeman said. “I’ve played a long time, and that’s gotta be up there for at-bats for me, during the course of a regular season.”

In the course of this Dodgers season, at least, it might serve as an important early turning point — helping them capture not only a come-from-behind road win, but a newfound mentality to carry forward with them the rest of the campaign.

“I really do think that momentum shift, potentially like season-shift, all those things, that one at bat can do a lot,” Kershaw said. “Just the way he grinded, the way he fouled off pitch after pitch … it was just really impressive. And you can kind of feel our guys feed off that.”

Rojas exits with hamstring cramp

Miguel Rojas left Wednesday’s game early because of a left hamstring cramp, but said afterward he doesn’t believe it’s serious.

The shortstop had his leg tightly wrapped after returning from a left groin injury, and said circulation to his leg was cut off as he ran to first base to beat out an infield single. Once the wrap was off, he said he felt fine.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

Source: Yahoo Sports


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