The Dodgers’ response to what Mookie Betts described last month as a “punch in the mouth” from the Padres continued Wednesday night when they landed a gut punch of their own, a thrilling 6-5 win over San Diego in Game 2 of the National League Division Series at Globe Life Field in Arlington.
Having won the opener, 5-1, the Dodgers remain the Death Star to the Padres and are one win from their fourth NL Championship Series appearance in the last five years. Teams that take a 2-0 lead in best-of-five series go on to win the series 88 percent of the time (73-10 in 83 series). The Dodgers are 6-0 in best-of-five series when they take a 2-0 series lead, and they haven’t had a three-game losing streak all year.
Cody Bellinger, after slugging a home run in the fourth inning, robbed Fernando Tatis Jr. of a two-run go-ahead homer in the seventh inning. The Dodgers added a critical pair of runs in the seventh around a double steal by Betts and Corey Seager, then watched relievers Kenley Jansen and Joe Kelly labor through a 49-pitch ninth inning to barely hang on, yet give the Dodgers something to worry about moving forward.
“It’s going to take a while to wind down from that one. That’s postseason baseball right there,” said Bellinger, the first player to hit a homer and rob one in a postseason game since Allen Craig of St. Louis in Game 7 of the 2011 World Series.
“Great players make great plays in big moments, and Cody did just that,” said manager Dave Roberts. “Game-changing play.”
Series-changing play, probably. This is what they do, with wave after wave of talented players outperforming the competition. They can do it with pitching, as in Game 1 when the Padres had only three hits, or Gold Glove defense. They can string hits and steal them -- as well as bases when the opposition least expects it, like on the first pitch after Drew Pomeranz entered in the seventh inning.
“That was the difference in the game,” said Roberts. “It’s a big play by a very good player, two good players.”
Bellinger, who made a game-saving catch in the 2018 NLCS, rescued reliever Brusdar Graterol, who entered with two outs in the seventh after Blake Treinen grazed Trent Grisham with a pitch. Graterol -- used in that spot as Roberts played by the matchup book -- balked Grisham to second, and then Tatis Jr. unloaded. Bellinger drifted back and curved toward the wall, leaping to reach over and pull the ball back. Graterol threw his glove and cap in celebration as the inning ended with words exchanged between teams.
The Dodgers haven’t lost to the upstart rival Padres since that “punch in the mouth” on Sept. 14. Clayton Kershaw was taken deep in that game by Grisham, whose exuberant celebration ignited a 7-2 San Diego win and a fire under the Dodgers. They held a postgame meeting that night and haven’t lost to the Padres in the four games since.
“That’s definitely one of the better games I’ve been a part of,” said Betts. “Obviously, two teams that are very familiar with each other. It’s kind of been like that all year, and you can’t expect anything else when it’s playoff time.”
The Padres had one last gasp in the ninth inning, getting the game into the hands of the lethal top of their order. It began against Jansen and included an RBI single by Grisham that cut the lead to one and brought on Kelly, who walked Tatis and Manny Machado to load the bases only for Eric Hosmer’s groundout to end the game.
"Never in doubt. That's how Joe Kelly rolls," deadpanned Kershaw, who started and went six innings with three runs allowed, including back-to-back homers by Machado and Hosmer in his final inning.
Machado did his best Grisham imitation after finishing his home run follow-through, firing the bat overhand toward the San Diego dugout and screaming profane encouragement. Hosmer must have heard him, and the momentum clearly had swung.
Bellinger’s catch swung it back. But the jawing between Machado and Graterol (who blew a kiss toward his rival) between innings prompted crew chief Bill Miller to speak with both managers before Graterol retired Machado on a grounder leading off the eighth inning.
“Obviously, it was a big play, and we all know that Brusdar is pretty emotional and he was just caught up in the moment and was really celebrating Cody’s play,” said Roberts. “And I think Manny took exception to it and that was it. But I think it’s over.”
Right. At least until Thursday night, when they’ll do this all at least one more time.