Diamondbacks bite Dodgers’ best again to take 2-0 series lead ‘Job’s not finished’
Zac Gallen pumped both his fists and let out a guttural roar. A third straight curveball caught Freddie Freeman off guard as it looped down the middle for strike three, helping the Diamondbacks ace escape the fifth-inning threat, navigate through the two MVP candidates atop the Dodgers’ vaunted lineup and move the quick-strike, upstart wild-card team one win away from the National League Championship Series.
Again, the Dodgers’ starting pitchers put them in an early hole.
Again, a Dodgers offense expected to mask its rotation’s deficiencies came up mostly empty, misfiring with multiple opportunities to tie or take the lead.
Again, the second-place team in the NL West is on the brink of stunning the division champions in the NLDS.
“We hear the talk,” Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said. “We hear that we’re maybe like the little brother that everybody can beat up on. We take that personally. We embrace it.”
With two upset wins in Los Angeles against a Dodgers team that finished 16 games up in the division, it certainly looks that way.
After plating six runs in the first inning of Game 1, the Diamondbacks took it easier to start Game 2: They only scored three.
On Saturday, the early Arizona barrage against Clayton Kershaw was powerful and overwhelming. On Monday, a second sudden D-backs fusillade was more calculated and patient.
The Dodgers’ rotation came into the series depleted, but it hoped to count on Kershaw and Miller, who was making his playoff debut. Miller made strides this year controlling both his emotions and the strike zone, not letting the game speed on him, but the D-backs put that to the test immediately.
They chipped away at the rookie with a medley of productive plate appearances, starting the night with a walk from Corbin Carroll, a bunt single from Ketel Marte, singles from Tommy Pham and Lourdes Gurriel Jr., a sacrifice fly from Christian Walker and an RBI groundout from Gabriel Moreno, which might have been an inning-ending double play if not for Pham stealing second base.
The result was another early hole for a Dodgers team unable to answer, now suddenly on the verge of another early playoff exit after Monday’s 4-2 defeat.
“There’s certainly fight,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “There always has been. But it comes down to results, too.”
In each game, the Dodgers played from a significant disadvantage before their first at-bats. The Dodgers’ two starting pitchers allowed nine runs, walked three, struck out one and needed 87 pitches to record six outs. Unlike Game 1, however, the Dodgers were always within striking distance Monday night.
The bullpen kept them in it; the offense never came through.
With Game 2 sandwiched between off days, the Dodgers could utilize a plethora of relievers without worrying much about workload. Roberts didn’t wait long. Miller was removed after 52 pitches in 1.2 innings, departing with two runners on in the second inning. Brusdar Graterol took it from there.
Graterol recorded as many outs in a 23-pitch relief outing as the Dodgers’ two starting pitchers in the series combined. The Dodgers’ bullpen bought time for the offense to muster something to cheer about for the 51,449 fans in attendance. As Graterol departed the mound with two outs in the fourth inning, he clapped his glove on the way to the dugout, imploring the fans to stay into it despite an offense that to that point had yet to break through.
“It’s just to keep those positive vibes, that positive energy,” Graterol said through a translator.
It seemed to make an impact.
In the bottom of the inning, J.D. Martinez provided life with a solo homer, cutting the deficit to two. It would never get closer than that, despite the Dodgers’ chances against Gallen and the Diamondbacks’ bullpen.
Just Dingers. pic.twitter.com/htc2xIMt6P
— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) October 10, 2023
In the fifth, the Dodgers put two runners on with one out as the lineup turned over to Mookie Betts and Freeman. Betts grounded into a force out. Gallen got ahead of Freeman before dropping two curveballs below the zone. Freeman didn’t bite, but he wasn’t expecting a third, which dropped down the middle as Freeman’s bat remained glued to his shoulders. Gallen understood the significance, pumping his fists multiple times before gliding back to the dugout.
The catalysts of the Dodgers’ lineup, Betts and Freeman, are 1-for-13 with three walks in the series.
“It’s not what we need to do,” Freeman said.
Still, the Dodgers would get another chance an inning later, prompting a gutsy call for Lovullo.
Again, Gallen put two of the first three Dodgers batters on base. Lovullo pulled his ace at 84 pitches, turning to rookie left-hander Andrew Saalfrank to force L.A.’s line change. Chris Taylor replaced Jason Heyward and walked to load the bases. Kiké Hernández replaced David Peralta and came through with an infield RBI single. The bases remained loaded. Again, the Dodgers trailed by two. Again, they would be stuck there.
“Obviously, I don’t like coming out, especially in the middle of an inning, especially in the sixth when I felt I was throwing fine,” Gallen said. “But Torey had laid it out for me, just kind of before the inning and after the inning, and I get it. It’s October. If that’s what he felt like was going to put us in the best position to win, I’m fine with it. And I think it worked out.”
Saalfrank fell behind James Outman 3-1 with nowhere to put him but came back to strike out the Dodgers rookie with two sinkers at the bottom of the zone. Ryan Thompson entered and induced a groundout from Kolten Wong. The Dodgers’ bench was emptied, save for backup catcher Austin Barnes. Their last best threat was extinguished.
“The fifth and sixth innings, I think a lot of us aren’t gonna be able to sleep tonight,” Freeman said. “A couple pitches I missed will make me not sleep.”
— MLB (@MLB) October 10, 2023
The Dodgers’ offense scored 11 runs in two regular-season starts against Gallen this season. October was not the same, which is an all-too-common refrain for this franchise.
Last postseason, the Dodgers offense went 5-for-34 with runners in scoring position as the Padres sent them packing in the NLDS. This year, the Dodgers are 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position. Another 100-win season is threatening to end after one series.
Now, they’ll need to win three straight to prevent another NLDS letdown against a D-backs team heading home feeling confident it belongs.
“The job’s not finished,” Gallen said, his team leading 2-0. “The quote Kobe was talking about — what’s there to be happy about, really?”
Zac Gallen pulls out an old Kobe Bryant quote in LA! pic.twitter.com/vc5HgAAKjK
— Cameron Cox (@CamCox12) October 10, 2023