As Joe Kelly showed, you didn’t have to have been on the 2017 Dodgers to appreciate the satisfaction of beating the Houston Astros. Rookies Edwin Ríos and Dennis Santana could feel it as the unlikely heroes on Wednesday night when the Dodgers completed a two-game statement sweep with a 4-2 win in 13 innings at Minute Maid Park.
Ríos slugged the Dodgers’ first two-run homer to lead off an inning and Santana capped another dazzling team bullpen performance with 2 1/3 tense innings. Chances are neither would be on the team had rosters not been expanded to 30 because of the pandemic.
Nearly three years after the Dodgers lost to the Astros in the World Series, seven months after revelations of the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal and in the wake of Kelly’s message pitches and eight-game suspension in the previous 24 hours, Ríos said there was no doubt these games meant more than just wins, even though the season only just began.
“One thousand percent,” said Ríos, the organization’s No. 18 prospect according to MLB Pipeline. “Even though there were no fans in the stands and sometimes it’s a little hard to get motivated as a group, I feel like, just playing those guys, with everything that went on, obviously there’s a little edge and everybody’s kind of ready to do something to get a win against these guys.”
Thanks to the new extra-innings rules instituted for 2020 that places an automatic runner at second base at the start of every extra half-inning, Ríos’ blast made history as the first leadoff two-run homer of all time.
Meanwhile, Santana was credited with his first Major League victory since 2018 by capping another bullpen masterpiece. Rookie Dustin May struggled with offspeed command and lasted only 3 1/3 innings, leaving a bullpen that pitched 5 1/3 scoreless innings on Tuesday to pick up the slack. Dodgers relievers threw another 9 2/3 innings on Wednesday without allowing an earned run, as runs scored by automatic runners are unearned.
Santana, the organization’s No. 16 prospect, inherited a two-out jam in the 11th, but escaped by striking out George Springer. He pitched into and out of his own jam in the 12th, and got a crucial double-play grounder from Carlos Correa before ending the game by striking out Dustin Garneau.
“I just kept calm, focused on the pitch and made it happen,” he said. “It’s difficult with a man on second, but you have to focus on the hitter but also pay attention to the runner on second. This gives me 100 percent confidence. My teammates show the confidence; it’s amazing.”
The Dodgers had a brief lead in the 11th inning after Mookie Betts’ RBI double, but Houston tied it in the bottom of the inning on an RBI single by Correa and they played on.
Management was hoping for a longer start from May, especially after Walker Buehler’s 3 2/3-innings debut on Tuesday. Eight relievers were used Wednesday night after six saw action on Tuesday.
“I didn’t have all my stuff tonight, it was basically heater and occasional cutter,” said May, whose only allowed run scored when he was late covering first base. “I need to be more in the zone with offspeed pitches.”
May, like Ríos, sensed the heightened tension of the series.
“You could tell with just the morale in the dugout, everybody was locked in and everybody wanted to be out there and you could see it in the outcome,” said May.