Their Home Run Derby lineup makes headlines, but the Dodgers wouldn’t be the top seed if they couldn’t also grind out wins as they did in Tuesday night’s opener of the National League Division Series, a 5-1 victory that reminded the Padres which team has eight consecutive division titles.
The Game 1 winner in a best-of-five postseason series has gone on to win the series 72 percent of the time (98 of 136).
Padres starter Mike Clevinger left after reinjuring his right elbow in the second inning. Dodgers starter Walker Buehler and his right index finger blister needed a whopping 95 pitches to get through four innings, despite allowing just one run while striking out eight and escaping a second-inning jam after walking the bases loaded.
Throughout the game, the Dodgers, who were the home team at Globe Life Park in Arlington, enjoyed a walkathon from a parade of Padres pitchers. But they also were being no-hit until they manufactured a four-run sixth inning with doubles by Mookie Betts (their first hit in the game) and Max Muncy, a sacrifice fly by Corey Seager, an RBI single by Justin Turner, an RBI infield single by Cody Bellinger and a run-allowing wild pitch.
“We didn’t get a lot of hits early, but we took great at-bats and made those guys work with a lot of walks tonight,” said Turner. “When our offense is at its best, we’re walking as many times as we’re getting hits. We did a great job of staying in the zone for the most part and getting on base.”
The Dodgers drew 10 walks, with two of them scoring. They are unbeaten in three postseason games while batting only .186 with one home run after averaging more than two homers per game in the regular season. They had four hits in this game, but clustered them in one inning.
“It’s not about hitting home runs,” Turner said. “It’s about hitting balls hard and taking good at-bats. We found some holes, and it happened to be the not-so-hard-hit balls that resulted in runs for us.”
“Offensively, we weathered it and continued to take good at-bats and broke out,” said manager Dave Roberts. “It’s patience and trust in your players. I saw that each guy was taking good at-bats, and I just believe that if they continue to do so, we’ll break out.”
Along with winning the game, the Dodgers accomplished their second goal for a series with no days off: forcing San Diego to use eight relievers.
“Obviously, they exhausted a lot of arms tonight by matching up,” said Roberts. “The key for us, the more arms we can see, the better for us, especially in a five-game series.”
And grinding isn’t just for hitters, as Buehler showed.
The turning point in the game, and perhaps the series, might have come four innings before the rally, as Buehler walked the bases loaded with one out, then with two outs fell behind Trent Grisham, 3-0. But Buehler came back to fan the antagonist whose home run off Clayton Kershaw, bat flip and trash-talking trot on Sept. 14 infuriated the Dodgers and set the scene for an anticipated bitter showdown of rivals.
“Walker didn’t have his best command, but he gutted it out and kept it close,” said Turner. “With the bases loaded, the wheels could have fallen off there. But he dug down and climbed all the way back from the 3-0 count on Grisham and punched him out, and that was huge.”
Buehler said the game sped up on him in that second inning, but he learned a lesson from his postseason debut in Atlanta in 2018, when he walked three and allowed a grand slam to Ronald Acuña Jr.
“It felt like Atlanta to me,” Buehler said. “Moments will speed up, and luckily I feel like I had been there and failed before and kind of learned from that and got lucky and made some pitches and got out of it.”