The optimists among the Dodgers’ faithful will point to Friday night’s 6-5, 10-inning victory over the New York Mets in Citi Field as cause for celebration, the Dodgers finally snapping an overtime hex that saw them lose 11 of their first 12 extra-inning games this season.
The pessimists — and many of the realists — among them will look at a disastrous seventh inning, which featured a bullpen meltdown and some managerial moves and non-moves that left Dave Roberts open to second-guessing, and gnash their teeth in their belief that this game never should have reached extra innings.
Catcher Will Smith popped a two-run homer into the left-field seats to open the 10th inning, redeeming himself for his seventh-inning passed ball that allowed the tying run to score, and Kenley Jansen threw two hitless innings of relief, allowing the Dodgers to high-five each other after a grueling 4-hour, 18-minute game.
“It’s baseball,” Roberts said of the brutal record in extra innings. “I can’t explain all those losses, but I can explain the win tonight. We got a big hit from Will, and Kenley pitched two big innings. Just huge performances from our ballclub.”
But that seventh inning … that one left a mark. It seemed like a warped magic act. The Dodgers had a four-run lead with two outs and the bases empty, and somehow made it disappear.
They built a 4-0 lead on the strength of Corey Seager’s RBI double in the first and sacrifice flies by Smith in the third, Trea Turner in the fourth and Billy McKinney in the sixth. A heads-up play by Chris Taylor actually netted the fourth run.
The Dodgers third baseman doubled to left-center to open the sixth and took third when Mets catcher James McCann’s errant throw back to Drew Smith after a strikeout of Cody Bellinger nicked off the reliever’s glove and trickled behind the mound. That put Taylor in position to score on McKinney’s sacrifice fly to center.
Dodgers starter Julio Urías was dominant in five scoreless innings, giving up two hits, striking out five and walking two, reliever Corey Knebel struck out two in a scoreless sixth, and Brusdar Graterol struck out the first two batters of the seventh.
Then the roof caved in. Graterol gave up a double to pinch-hitter Michael Conforto, and Roberts pulled the right-hander in favor of Justin Bruihl, a 24-year-old left-hander who hadn’t pitched above the Class-A level until this season and was making his fourth big-league appearance.
“Looking at the next four hitters, three of them were left-handed, and this was three of four [nights] for Brusdar,” Roberts said of his decision to pull Graterol. “Justin has been every good for us, and it gives him two cracks to get us through the inning.”
But Dominic Smith flared an RBI single to center, snapping a streak of 171/3 consecutive scoreless innings by the Dodgers bullpen and cutting the lead to 4-1. Brandon Nimmo walked to put two on.
Up stepped Pete Alonso, who has 25 homers this season and has won the last two home run derbies. Roberts had the option of walking the right-handed-hitting slugger intentionally to load the bases — it would have fulfilled Bruihl’s obligation of facing three hitters — and summoning setup man Blake Treinen.
But Roberts let Bruihl in to face Alonso, and he threw a first-pitch wild pitch, advancing the runners to second and third.
Alonso was intentionally walked, but Roberts still didn’t go to Treinen, the right-hander who was untouchable in his previous 19 games, giving up no earned runs and seven hits, striking out 21 and walking five in 20 innings.
Bruihl remained in the game to face left-handed-hitting Jeff McNeil, who blooped a two-run single to shallow center to make it 4-3. Roberts finally summoned Treinen, but Smith, the Dodgers’ catcher, misplayed a 96-mph fastball for a passed ball, Alonso scoring from third to tie score 4-4.
“If I can get McNeil out there, we can stay away from an up and down for Blake,” Roberts said. “A couple of unlucky soft balls found the outfield grass, but that’s baseball. If I had to do it again, I’d do it.”
Jansen, who hadn’t recorded more than three outs in an appearance since June 9, needed only 11 pitches to retire the side in order in the ninth, allowing the closer to start the 10th.
Smith’s clutch homer, which came on a full-count, 96-mph fastball from Jeurys Familia, gave Jansen the cushion to absorb a run in the bottom of the 10th..
“We had a four-run cushion and let the lead slip away, but to win the game, no one in that clubhouse cares how we did it,” Roberts said.
“We’re just happy we won a ballgame.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.