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Muncy fuels rally as SD pushes LA to Max

Slugger's 3-run HR keys 5-run 6th; Verdugo draws bases-loaded walk
@oapostrophesd
May 5, 2019

SAN DIEGO -- Rich Hill’s second start had some striking similarities to his first. In each, he surrendered a pair of early home runs to one batter. In each, the Dodgers battled back from an early deficit to win, 7-6. And in each, Max Muncy played a key role in

SAN DIEGO -- Rich Hill’s second start had some striking similarities to his first.

In each, he surrendered a pair of early home runs to one batter. In each, the Dodgers battled back from an early deficit to win, 7-6. And in each, Max Muncy played a key role in the comeback.

The sequel was decided Saturday night at Petco Park when Alex Verdugo drew a bases-loaded walk from Padres closer Kirby Yates in the ninth inning to force home Justin Turner with the go-ahead run. Muncy was one of the three Los Angeles batters to reach base ahead of Verdugo, leaving April's National League Reliever of the Month with no room for error.

Box score

Three innings earlier, Muncy crushed a 3-1 slider from reliever Brad Wieck for a 399-foot, three-run home run that sparked the Dodgers to a five-run sixth. With one blow, Muncy counteracted two solo home runs hit by former Dodger Manny Machado in the first three innings.

The home run in the lefty-lefty matchup provided further evidence that Muncy has turned the corner after a slow start to 2019. On April 26, his batting average stood at .218. He is 8-for-25 since and has delivered go-ahead hits in each of the first two games of the weekend set. The Dodgers will look to complete a three-game sweep on Sunday.

“I felt like I’ve had a good approach all year,” Muncy said, “but my swing hasn’t allowed me to do what I’ve wanted to do. We’re slowly getting back to it. It’s still not where I want it to be, but I’m starting to get that feel I had last year.”

The home run Saturday turned a 3-1 Dodgers deficit into a 4-3 lead. In the series opener Friday, Muncy broke a 3-3 tie with an RBI single past first baseman Eric Hosmer in the ninth inning.

Muncy had three hits in Hill’s season debut last Sunday vs. the Pirates. He provided a go-ahead hit that day, as well -- an RBI single in the seventh inning.

“When Max is going really well, he’s as good as anybody we have about staying in the strike zone,” manager Dave Roberts said.

Muncy did just that when he came up against Yates with two outs in the ninth and Turner on first. After falling behind 1-2, Muncy watched three balls out of the zone, including Yates’ signature splitter on the 3-2 pitch. That provided the blueprint for Verdugo. After Yates hit Russell Martin with a pitch to load the bases, Verdugo sniffed at two splitters, missed a 2-0 fastball and then watched two more fastballs out of the zone.

“When it’s a key moment in the game,” Muncy said, “everyone who’s going up there is kind of slowing down, taking a breath and not making it seem like it’s that big of a moment. Even though it is.”

There may be big moments ahead for Hill, too, but they did not come Saturday. The 39-year-old lefty suffered a left knee strain in Spring Training, delaying his 2019 campaign. In his second start, he lasted four innings against the Padres, plus two singles to start the fifth inning. He allowed three runs, seven hits and a walk. Two of the runs came courtesy Machado, who lofted a curveball onto the Western Metal Supply Co. Building in the first inning and nailed a first-pitch fastball for a 425-foot blast to left-center field in the third inning.

“I need to make better pitches,” Hill said. “My tempo and rhythm were awful. … I felt good. It wasn’t the stuff. It was location.”

In Hill’s season debut, Melky Cabrera tagged him for a homer in each of the first two innings.

One obvious difference from Hill’s opener is what happened after he departed. Previously, Julio Urias and Kenley Jansen held Pittsburgh to one run over the final innings. Against the Padres, however, Joe Kelly was able to retire only one batter while allowing three runs in the sixth inning. That enabled the Padres to pull even, 6-6.

But thanks to the patience Dodgers hitters showed against Yates in the ninth, there was one more similarity to Hill’s first outing: Jansen earned the save.

Shaun O'Neill is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in San Diego. Follow him on Twitter @oapostrophesd.