SAN DIEGO -- Big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games.
Mookie Betts is certainly a big-time player, and his game-sealing catch to rob Tommy Pham in the Dodgers’ 2-0 win over the Padres on Saturday at Petco Park definitely classifies as a big-time play.
With the tying runs in scoring position in the ninth, Pham laced a liner to right-center field off Victor González. Off the bat, it looked as if it would land in front of Betts and the game would be tied at 2. Betts, who is a five-time Gold Glove Award winner in right field, showed he can flash some leather in center, laying out for a diving catch to secure the Dodgers’ eighth consecutive win.
“Mookie has played a lot of innings in center field, but with that said, it takes an elite defender in center to make that play,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “A lot of things have to line up. There’s just a handful of guys that could’ve probably made that play. That’s why he’s arguably the best all-around player in baseball.”
The degree of difficulty was about as high as it gets. Per Statcast, Betts had a 10 percent chance to make the catch, having to travel 52 feet in 3.3 seconds, making it a five-star play.
“That play is really hard to make,” said Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw. “For him to be able to do that, it’s just another reason why Mookie is the best. That was a big catch because extra innings would’ve been tough for us, so that was huge.”
Betts said he blacked out during the play, but as soon as he saw he secured the catch, he pounded his chest and let out some emotion. After a strong defensive showing during last year’s postseason, Saturday’s play will be right up there on his personal highlight reel.
“You’re just kind of in the moment and playing the game,” Betts told SportsNet LA after the game. “I just know when the ball went up in the air, I had to go catch it. And that’s what I did.”
While it was Betts’ play that sealed the win for the Dodgers, it was Kershaw who dominated the Padres’ offense on Saturday, leading Los Angeles to the win. After using six relievers in Friday’s 12-inning thriller, the Dodgers were in need of a solid start from Kershaw on Saturday. The future Hall of Famer delivered.
The Dodgers’ ace had all of his pitches working and benefitted from a slight increase in velocity with the four-seam fastball. But it was his signature slider that had the Padres’ hitters off balance.
“That’s just classic, vintage Kersh,” said Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner, who hit his fifth homer of the season in the ninth. “He threw the ball great. … That guy is just a gamer.”
Kershaw threw 25 sliders, recording 12 swings-and-misses. Of his eight strikeouts, seven of them ended on the slider. Opposing hitters came into the game with a .256 average against Kershaw’s fastball. The Padres went 2-for-12 with seven strikeouts against the pitch.
Over his last three starts, Kershaw has allowed one run over 19 innings, striking out 22 in the process. Dodgers starters are 9-1 with a 2.56 ERA and 94 strikeouts this season.
But aside from keeping Padres hitters in check throughout the night, it was also Kershaw that had the best at-bat of the game, drawing a two-out, bases-loaded walk against Yu Darvish in the fifth. Kershaw fouled off two cutters and a slider on a 2-2 count to keep the inning alive. Darvish proceeded to miss the zone with back-to-back cutters, allowing Zach McKinstry to score the go-ahead run.
The last Dodgers pitcher to draw a bases-loaded walk in the regular season was Kershaw on June 24, 2017. If you include the postseason, it was Darvish who accomplished it, in Game 3 of the 2017 NL Championship Series against the Cubs.
“Just trying to be annoying, really,” Kershaw said. “I wasn’t going to get a hit off him, he’s got too good of stuff. So it was just kind of trying to be a nuisance as best you can and fouling off pitches and making him work a little bit. Fortunate to get a walk right there.”
The much-anticipated series against the Padres has had it all. It has had great pitching, a benches-clearing incident on Friday and Kershaw and Jurickson Profar exchanging pleasantries on Saturday. But through two games, it’s been the Dodgers that have sent the message. They’ll lean on their $40 million signing Trevor Bauer to secure the sweep on Sunday.
“They’re a good club, and obviously we know that,” Roberts said. “We knew it was going to be emotional and intense, and it has certainly lived up to the billing.”