LOS ANGELES -- You could almost feel the D-backs letting out their frustration with every swing, banishing the demons that have bedeviled them at Dodger Stadium. For years they were the Dodgers’ play thing, their little brother, a team not deemed worthy of being their rival.
In Game 1 of the National League Division Series on Saturday night, the D-backs served notice that those days might be a thing of the past as they beat up Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers, 11-2.
“Definitely coming in here in the past, you know they've been tough for us as a whole and we’ve been baby brother a lot, and you know it felt good to do that in the playoffs and give it right back to them,” outfielder Alek Thomas said. “So hopefully we can build off today and take that into the next [game].”
It didn’t take long to figure out this was going to be the D-backs’ night. The first five hitters who went to the plate against Kershaw hit balls with exit velocities of 115.7 mph, 109.6, 99.4, 105.7 and 110.8.
“I think that obviously they took a lot of good swings,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “It seemed like they were on everything [Kershaw] threw up there. It was more shocking. I think that those guys certainly had a great game plan tonight, and they executed it.”
By the time that stretch of hits was done, the D-backs had silenced the sellout crowd by scoring five runs, punctuated by Gabriel Moreno’s three-run homer. They would go on to score six in the frame and Kershaw would leave having retired just one batter.
“I couldn't be more proud of our guys,” manager Torey Lovullo said. “We talked about making a statement individually and collectively from the first batter on, and they did a great job.”
The D-backs came into this game answering questions about their struggles at Dodger Stadium. They were 5-24 since 2020 at Chavez Ravine, and it seemed they were constantly looking up at the Dodgers.
On Saturday, though, they flipped that script.
“Relief is a funny word, but coming here we put a lot of expectations on ourselves, a high standard,” first baseman Christian Walker said. “We know what we're capable of. So to get a bunch of runs like that early in this game to kind of create some momentum, give Merrill [Kelly] a pad -- on all fronts, it was great, it was amazing. It was the jump-start we needed, a little bit of a confidence boost to help us settle in and relax. It was a great start.”
But it wasn’t the end. For good measure, the D-backs added three more runs in the second, and though they would play seven more innings, the game was over. The question now is whether the series is as well or if this was nothing more than a rough outing for a surefire Hall of Famer.
The D-backs have too much respect for the Dodgers, who won 100 games during the regular season, to think that one loss is going to demoralize them or represents some tectonic shift in the balance of power.
When Game 2 of this best-of-five series comes around Monday night with Zac Gallen against Dodgers rookie Bobby Miller, Arizona knows it will be starting from scratch once again, with one added bonus -- confidence.
“It's more for our perspective, you know, to prove to ourselves what we're capable of on a big stage against a really good team,” Walker said of the win. “I believe that in a couple of days, it's its own day and we’ve got to execute again. We’ve got to do it all over again. This is just the beginning, but I'd like to roll with this as much as we can, for sure.”
The D-backs were the NL’s final Wild Card team with 84 wins. They allowed 15 more runs than they scored during the campaign and had to battle down to the second to last day of the season to qualify for the playoffs.
But in three postseason games, the D-backs have beaten Corbin Burnes, Freddy Peralta and Clayton Kershaw, scoring 22 runs in those games. Their confidence seems to build with each win.
“We’re a good team,” Lovullo said.
Take them lightly at your own risk.