'What a game': Yamamoto, Teoscar lead Dodgers past Yanks in 11

June 8th, 2024

NEW YORK -- For years, the Dodgers have rarely put added emphasis on regular-season games. When asked about the importance of meetings against rivals, the Dodgers are usually quick to say that it’s “just another game” on the schedule.

But with the Dodgers traveling to the Bronx to play the Yankees for the first time since 2016, the buzz around the ballpark was palpable. In his pregame scrum with the media, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts made sure to point out how the energy during batting practice felt like October.

For both the Dodgers and Yankees, two of the best teams in the Majors this season, the three-game set will serve as a litmus test. and both made sure the first round went to the Dodgers as the right-hander tossed seven scoreless innings and Hernández delivered the game-winning hit to lead Los Angeles past New York, 2-1, in 11 innings on Friday at Yankee Stadium.

“Man, what a game,” Roberts said. “Wow. Dodgers, Yankees. Coming in here and watching Yoshinobu -- his best outing as a Dodger. You could just see it. He felt it. He knew we needed it. And it brought out the best in him. I can’t say enough about his effort tonight.”

Four hours before first pitch, Yamamoto was sitting by his locker. Yamamoto, who usually has a laid-back demeanor, even on start days, looked to be more dialed in than usual. His teammates obliged by giving him space as he prepared for one of the biggest starts of his Major League career.

The Yankees, of course, were the favorites to land Yamamoto for most of the winter before he ultimately chose to sign with the Dodgers on a record $325 million deal. Though Yamamoto argued he treated the matchup with the Yankees like any other start, he looked like a pitcher with something to prove once he stepped on the mound.

Yamamoto was up nearly two miles per hour on all his pitches compared to his season average. He attributed that to a mechanical tweak and not to added adrenaline from playing in a hostile environment. Whatever the reason for Yamamoto, it worked.

The 19 hardest-thrown pitches of Yamamoto’s season all came on Friday, as he consistently flashed 97 and 98 mph on the radar gun, something he didn’t show much of during his first 12 starts in the Majors.

“I mean, the things he did in Japan, he showed today,” Hernández said. “He didn’t win three MVPs and three Cy Youngs, I think it was, just because he’s Yoshinobu. He’s a good pitcher, and he showed it today.”

Yamamoto struck out seven and allowed just two hits over seven scoreless innings, easily the most dominant start of his young big league career.

“I enjoyed the atmosphere. That was a great stadium,” Yamamoto said through interpreter Yoshihiro Sonoda. “I did know this matchup was going to draw a lot of attention compared to the other series, but just like I’ve been saying, I was just trying to do what I’ve been doing in other games.”

As much as Yamamoto downplayed his performance, it was an outing that will give the Dodgers even more confidence in him once the postseason rolls around. Yes, Yamamoto has pitched in massive games in Japan en route to becoming the best pitcher on the continent. But as a Major Leaguer, he’s still a rookie. As is the case with all rookies, teams don’t know until they know.

On Friday, the Dodgers saw a different side of Yamamoto. One that let out a big roar once he struck out Giancarlo Stanton to get out of a jam in the sixth. He looked every bit like a pitcher ready for the big stage, something he wanted to fully embrace once he decided to sign with an MLB team.

“A guy like that, who is just such a great competitor, who has pitched in big ballgames his entire adult life, I knew he wasn’t gonna run from this moment,” Roberts said. “It was good to see it, though.”

The rest of the roster also didn’t run away from the heightened intensity. Hernández, who now leads the Dodgers with 41 RBIs, has thrived in run-scoring opportunities this season. The Dodgers’ bullpen, even missing key pieces, has continued to be solid when needed.

If this weekend is an October preview, the Dodgers did a good job on Friday of showing how things could be different this fall.

“It felt like a playoff game today,” Hernández said with a smile. “I like that. I like to play in these atmospheres.”