LOS ANGELES -- The comeback kids have done it again. Only this time, it was a veteran who delivered the winning punch.
“It just seems like every day, there’s somebody different that you’re pouring Gatorade on,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “It’s really good to see. It’s great for our ballclub -- a testament to their desire, their will to play 27 outs.”
“It’s unbelievable to be a part of a club where you know you’re never out of it,” said Dustin May, who kept the Dodgers in it with 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball in his second Major League start. “It’s a wonderful feeling.”
Andrew Miller opened the frame by getting Cody Bellinger to ground out, then was removed for Martinez after hitting Corey Seager with a pitch. Pinch-hitting for Matt Beaty, Will Smith -- who has already provided his share of dramatic moments several times in his young career -- fell behind in the count, 0-2, before singling past shortstop Paul DeJong to represent the winning run at first.
“Will Smith comes up in a big spot against a guy he’s never seen,” said Roberts. “Really good stuff to take the at-bat, keep the line moving.”
The line stopped momentarily when Martinez struck out Edwin Ríos, bringing Martin to the plate as Los Angeles' last hope. Then, a wild pitch advanced the runners, meaning all it would take to win was a base hit.
“It went from, ‘OK, I gotta drive this ball,’ to, ‘I just gotta put it in play and make something happen that way,’” said Martin. “Especially when you get two strikes and the guy’s throwing 100 mph.”
Skillful at-bats may have gotten the Dodgers into the position to come back, but it was largely luck that actually won it, as Martin hit a grounder up the middle that just got under the glove of a diving DeJong. With an exit velocity of 92.5 mph and a launch angle of -19 degrees, the ball had an expected batting average of .090, according to Statcast.
“Got a pitch that I could put in play, and really just put it in a good spot,” said Martin. “It’s not like it was hit that hard or anything. Sometimes, placement is what you need. It was one of those cases.”
With two months and 20 home games left to play, the Dodgers need six more walk-off wins to break the team record of 15 set by the 1974 club, and nine more to top the '59 Pirates' all-time mark. It’s been mostly a youth movement leading the charge, with seven of L.A.'s walk-off wins coming off the bat a player 25 or younger. At age 36, Martin’s walk-off hit was the first this season from a Dodger in his 30s.
“A lot of walk-offs come from young guys,” said Martin. “The old guys need to kind of sharpen it up.”
Now sitting on an 18 1/2-game lead in the National League West and a 100 percent chance of making the playoffs, per Fangraphs, it’s hard not to start thinking about the postseason when watching the Dodgers. Could the club’s penchant for late comebacks be a factor in October?
“If you look at [our performance in] the late innings … and you kind of project that into the postseason, where every inning, every pitch, every at-bat is important and meaningful,” said Roberts, “where the ability to stay in the strike zone and create contact [matters most] -- for me, that translates into the postseason.”