Bucs stun Dodgers in 1st LA sweep since 2000

Defensive gems, home runs key Pittsburgh's 3rd straight win

June 2nd, 2022

LOS ANGELES -- Much has been said about this specific iteration of the Dodgers. They’re the preseason favorites. They’re the National League’s consensus best team. Without their full squad, they still have enough star power to rival the sun. The phrase “greatest team of all-time” has been used ad infinitum.

The Pirates, in contrast, are the self-described gritty, scrappy bunch. Their roster is filled with players trying to establish themselves, to earn staying power. They’re young. They’re learning. They're growing. And for three straight nights in Los Angeles, they outplayed baseball’s powerhouse.

On an evening that featured excellent baseball in every facet of the game, the Pirates capped off a phenomenal stretch Wednesday with an 8-4 win. It was their first sweep at Dodger Stadium since September 2000, back when most of this roster was in their early childhood, if not downright infancy.

For the Pirates to knock off three straight against this club, one that hadn’t been swept in its own ballpark since August 2018, the importance of these wins cannot be undersold.

“We’re running out a really young group of players, a bunch of rookies,” said manager Derek Shelton. “To come into this environment and to do that, it’s pretty special.”

There was no shortage of actors who had a hand in completing the dusting. Bryan Reynolds launched a homer halfway up the bleachers and threw out a runner at the plate. Chase De Jong and Chris Stratton escaped similar stressful situations. Rodolfo Castro drove in four runs off the bench, two by way of a second-deck shot.

Their contributions, and those of many more, added up to one of the biggest wins of Shelton’s tenure as manager -- a win that could propel the Pirates as spring gives way to summer.

“Hopefully, it’s a confidence boost knowing you can compete with a team like the Dodgers because, let’s face it, they probably have the best lineup, top to bottom, in baseball,” Stratton said. “So, any time that you can compete and be in each game with those guys, it can only make you more confident in yourself.”

An easy way to inspire confidence is with both solid and stellar defensive plays, of which there were many. None, though, were more important, more captivating than Reynolds’ throwing out Gavin Lux at the plate.

In the bottom of the seventh with the Pirates clinging to a one-run lead, Stratton inherited runners on second and third with one out and Trea Turner due up. Turner drove a first-pitch slider into center field. Reynolds caught the ball and uncorked a perfect one-hopper to an awaiting Tyler Heineman. The tag was applied. The inning was over.

Just two innings prior, De Jong found himself in the exact same situation as Stratton. Runners on second and third. One out. One-run lead to preserve. Unlike Stratton, who was on back-to-back and four-in-five duty, De Jong hadn’t pitched since May 22. He, too, found his way out of trouble. He struck out Trea Turner swinging, then got Justin Turner to pop out in foul territory. Lead preserved.

“We got out of big jams,” Shelton said.

Thanks to stellar defense, some jams were eradicated before they truly evolved.

In the bottom of the third inning and Kevin Pillar on second base, Mookie Betts smoked a 100.4 mph one-hopper at Diego Castillo. Castillo didn’t just pick the ball out of the dirt, but had the presence of mind to spin and throw to third, nabbing Pillar by several feet.

Three innings later, Ke’Bryan Hayes and Michael Chavis collaborated to turn one of the rarer double plays: the 5-3-5.

With Chris Taylor on second base, Hayes fielded a tricky short hop, eyed Taylor back to second base and fired to Chavis for the out at first. Taylor broke for third once Hayes released the ball. Hayes broke back. Chavis threw back across. In one fluid motion, Hayes picked Chavis’ throw and applied the tag. Double play. The Dodgers challenged, but no dice, the call was confirmed -- one of the many things to go wrong for Los Angeles, and one of the many to go right for Pittsburgh.

The Pirates will fly back home with a little extra juice, extra swagger. They end this West Coast trip having taken four of six from the Dodgers and Padres. This team is young, and getting younger. They’ll make mistakes. They’ll take some on the chin. But in the last week, they’ve thrown punches of their own. They’re inching closer. And in their minds, they’re garnering the right attention.

“I think it could snowball for us,” De Jong said. “I think it's going to breed a lot of confidence. A lot of guys showed up to this series and really opened some eyes.”