LOS ANGELES -- There's a temptation in baseball, and especially in playoff baseball, to believe that games are won and lost dramatically, with singular blows and heroic achievements. Think Kirk Gibson homering and pumping his fist around the bases, Reggie Jackson crushing three homers in a game, Jack Morris throwing
LOS ANGELES -- There's a temptation in baseball, and especially in playoff baseball, to believe that games are won and lost dramatically, with singular blows and heroic achievements. Think Kirk Gibson homering and pumping his fist around the bases, Reggie Jackson crushing three homers in a game, Jack Morris throwing a 10-inning shutout, Sandy Koufax or Madison Bumgarner coming back on two days' rest.
That does happen, of course, but the truth is that most of the time these important games are won and lost much less dramatically, with a few small turns, a couple of minor mistakes and a handful of well-timed plays. On Saturday night in Los Angeles, the Arizona Diamondbacks had the two big blows of the game. In the first inning, before Dodgers fans even had settled in, Paul Goldschmidt crushed a long two-run home run off Dodgers starter Rich Hill to steal much of the joy out of Dodger Stadium.
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And in the seventh, Brandon Drury -- who did not start the game because Arizona manager Torey Lovullo went with veteran Daniel Descalso -- came in as a pinch-hitter and hit the first home run of the season off of Dodgers reliever Brandon Morrow. It was a three-run smash.
Those were the loudest and most spectacular hits of the night.
And they did not add up to enough. The Dodgers breezed to 8-5 victory. The D-backs have outhomered the Dodgers, 6-1, in the series. The D-backs' pitchers have gotten more strikeouts in the series, 21 to 17. And the Dodgers have a chokehold on the series after convincingly winning the first two games.
Small stuff. Yes, it's true, that sounds like a manager cliche -- how many times have we heard that "we have to take care of the little things" line. But on Saturday, you could see how little things piling one on top of another can overpower teams.
Look: Second inning, the Dodgers trailed, 2-0, and it felt like this might be Arizona's night. D-backs pitcher Robbie Ray had dominated the Dodgers in recent games. Ray did not give up a hit in the inning. But he walked Enrique Hernandez. After an out, he walked Austin Barnes. Ray then fell behind 3-0 to Yasiel Puig, and the third ball was a wild pitch. So, even with no hits, the Dodgers had runners on second and third.
With first base open and the pitcher due next, intentionally walking Puig seemed the obvious play. Instead Ray pitched to Puig, who chopped a ground ball to third. The D-backs had been playing back; they got Puig out but they had allowed a run with some sloppy play and a surprising lack of urgency.
Entering the fourth inning, Ray had not allowed a hit, but he was clearly tiring and he gave up back-to-back-to-back singles to John Forsythe, Barnes and Puig. That loaded the bases.
Ray threw another wild pitch; that scored Forsythe. It also moved the runners over to second and third. The Dodgers' Chris Taylor hit a sharp ground ball into the hole between short and third; Arizona shortstop Ketel Marte made a marvelous play to keep the ball in the infield. You could say he saved a run. But a run scored.
And like that -- walks, wild pitches, a little timely hitting by the Dodgers, and the thrilling 2-0 lead Goldschmidt had given Arizona was gone. L.A. led, 3-2.
The Dodgers put the game away in the fifth inning, and again it was a mixture of opportunistic plays and Arizona lapses.
Ray hit Justin Turner with a pitch to lead off the inning. It was a little bit surprising that Ray was still in the game; he had been scuffling and managers throughout October have been ultra-aggressive in using their bullpens. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts would use seven pitchers in Game 2, matching up again and again, and using his closer Kenley Jansen for more than an inning. Lovullo was more patient with pitchers, which was a successful regular-season strategy for him.
After getting an out, Ray was pulled for rookie Jimmie Sherfy. There is a touching story there; Sherfy was a high-school teammate of Lovullo's son, Nick.
"Here I am handing the ball off to one of my son's high-school teammates that I watched grow up playing baseball," Lovullo said of giving the ball to Sherfy in Game 1. "It was a surreal moment for me ... almost like a parent is handing the ball off to their own child."
It is a sweet story, but Saturday it did not work. Sherfy gave up three straight hits. On the first hit he gave up, a single to Curtis Granderson, right fielder J.D. Martinez airmailed the cutoff man, allowing Granderson to go to second. Granderson would come around to score on Barnes' double.
Sherfy was pulled after the Dodgers had scored three runs. In came reliever Jorge De La Rosa, who paid so little attention to the runners that Barnes stole third. He scored on Puig's single.
That made it 7-2, such a big lead that even Drury's amazing home run off Morrow made little difference. In all, the Dodgers stole four bases on the D-backs.
The Dodgers scored their eighth and final run on a likely double-play ground ball that went through Marte's legs for an error.
Arizona won 93 games this year by doing a lot of little things right. For 162 games, the D-backs hit well, pitched brilliantly, ran the bases effectively, played good defense. For two games in Los Angeles, however, they seemed to lose themselves.
"That wasn't a typical Arizona Diamondback night," Lovullo said after Friday's loss. Saturday's was even less typical.
And now the series goes to Phoenix. The D-backs have their best pitcher, Zack Greinke, going in Game 3, something various D-backs were trumpeting after the loss. That helps, but it's unlikely that Greinke will singlehandedly win that game or that Goldschmidt or J.D. Martinez will knock out the Dodgers with titanic shots. It will probably come down to what most baseball games come down to, these small, barely noticeable things that the D-backs just haven't been getting right.
Joe Posnanski is a No. 1 New York Times best-selling author, an Emmy Award-winning writer and has been awarded National Sportswriter of the Year.