- After an ace and an All-Star speared Los Angeles' Game 1 victory, a cast of unlikely heroes spearheaded Saturday night's critical victory.
Headed into the National League Divisional Series, the Dodgers had more wins than any team in baseball, but in the last three months of the season their record had slipped from 20-3 in July, to 17-10 in August, to 13-17 in September. And now they were pitted against an Arizona team that had dominated them all year, winning 11 of 19 games against L.A., including six in a row.
Friday night, headliners Clayton Kershaw, Justin Turner, and Yasiel Puig reversed the Dodgers’ fortunes and led them to a Game 1 win. Saturday night’s Game 2 victory was a mosaic that featured a manager who pushed all the right buttons, and a cast of characters who emerged from the bottom half of the order, and the far reaches of the bullpen and the bench, to spur L.A. to an 8-5 home win and a 2-0 series lead.
“Everyone on our team contributed tonight,” L.A. manager Dave Roberts said afterward. “Up and down the lineup. The bottom part of the order really picked us up big-time.”
It began in the bottom of the fourth. Trailing 2-1, Dodgers’ second baseman Logan Forsythe, who had played his first postseason game the night before (only ten active big leaguers had played more regular season games than Forsyth’s 737 without sniffing the playoffs) singled to right. Austin Barnes, L.A.’s platoon catcher, singled to left, then Puig rapped a base hit to right-center to load the bases.
Roberts pulled starting pitcher Rich Hill out of the on-deck circle and sent up pinch hitter Kyle Farmer, the team’s third catcher, who had been called up by the Dodgers three times during the regular season and now found himself facing Dodger killer Robbie Ray, who had gone 3-0 in five starts against L.A. this season. Farmer, a big-boned soul who appears destined to ground into a few double plays before his career is over, did not get a hit in his first postseason game, but he did grind out a lengthy at-bat against Ray, who had already thrown 34 pitches in Wednesday night’s wild card win over Colorado.
Ray’s 74th pitch on this night eluded catcher Chris Iannetta, allowing Forsythe to score. After Farmer finally, and valiantly, struck out, leadoff man Chris Taylor, who before his breakout 2017 season was known as a former high school wrestler turned fifth-round draft pick, eked out an infield hit that scored Barnes, giving L.A. the lead for good.
History shows that championships are built with postseason wins like this one. Wins that don’t occur in the higher-profile Game 1s and Game 7s, but the games in between, which tend to draw fewer TV viewers and rely on players who don’t appear in their teams’ promotional materials. Wins that force fans and members of the national media to flip through their programs to refresh their memories as to who these guys are.
Dodgers righthander Kenta Maeda, once a coveted starter, made L.A.’s postseason roster as a designated slayer of righthanded hitters. In Saturday night’s middle innings, Maeda emerged from the pen to humble the meat of Arizona’s order with a mix of surprising mid-90s heat and his usual off-speed menu, leaving the game as quietly as he entered it.
In the bottom of the fifth, Roberts called—for some reason—on slumping veteran Curtis Granderson to pinch hit with a man on. The amiable 36-year-old, owner of a .212 batting average and coming off an ugly 0-for-4 the night before, including two awkward strikeouts, promptly ripped a single to right. Forsythe did the same, driving in a run, then Barnes doubled to left, scoring Granderson and Forsythe.
That four-run inning, with no star power and even less aesthetic appeal, put the Dodgers up 7-2 and made the 3-run homer that Arizona’s Brandon Drury slugged in the 7th, irrelevant.
“We’ve been doing this all year,” Barnes said. “Earlier in the season, when we went on that streak [winning a record 43 of 50 games in mid-summer] it was very similar. Just grinding, being relentless … If they want to walk us we’ll take the walks. We just trust that somebody’s going to get the big hit.”
"We've got a lot of good players, and a lot of depth," Roberts said. "There are so many guys in our lineup that can hurt you.""
Up 2-0 in the best-of-five series and headed to Arizona for Monday’s Game 3, Roberts said that team complacency is not on his list of concerns. “That won’t happen.”
Roberts' players, he added, will “work out tomorrow, get on a plane, and be ready to play on Monday.” All 25 of them.