In a game of firsts, what happened last will linger.
The Dodgers overcame a five-run deficit capped by a walk-off, pinch-hit three-run home run by Will Smith on Tuesday night to beat the San Francisco Giants 8-6 at Dodger Stadium.
The rally was triggered by the control problems of Giants submarine reliever Tyler Rogers, who opened the ninth by walking Chris Taylor and Matt Beaty. Both scored on Smith’s blast into the left-field seats.
The turnabout absolved two young Dodgers pitchers. Making his first major league start was left-hander Darien Nuñez, followed by top prospect Josiah Gray, making his first major league appearance.
Taylor homered twice and doubled in the first six innings to keep the Dodgers in the game while batting leadoff because a sore hip sidelined Mookie Betts for a third game in a row.
The win pulled the Dodgers within one game of the first-place Giants in the National League West and evened the four-games series at a win apiece.
The Dodgers scored a run in the first inning on Max Muncy’s RBI single, but in the second the Giants abruptly changed the narrative to one of power. They blasted one home run off Nuñez and three off Gray en route to taking a five-run lead in the fifth.
The left-handed-hitting Alex Dickerson launched an 81-mph changeup by Nuñez into the right-field seats for a two-run home run in the second. And an inning later, the first big league position player Gray faced, the left-handed-hitting LaMonte Wade Jr., turned on a 96-mph four-seam fastball and deposited it deep in the Giants’ bullpen.
Like good teams often do, the Giants then benefited from a reserve, shortstop Thairo Estrada, in the lineup only because All-Star Brandon Crawford is injured. Estrada, whose two-run double sealed the Giants’ 7-2 win over the Dodgers on Monday, homered to center on Gray’s get-it-over first-pitch fastball to lead off the fifth. Four batters later, the left-handed-hitting Mike Yastrzemski blasted a two-run homer.
The thought behind starting Nuñez was to keep the Giants from stacking their lineup with left-handed hitters, of which they have an abundance, to face the right-handed Gray. But Giants manager Gabe Kapler didn’t budge, and his left-handed hitters did most of the damage.
Gray’s barrel-or-bust line: He struck out seven in four innings and threw 53 strikes in 77 pitches, but the three home runs turned the game.
Taylor did his best to lift the Dodgers, scoring the first run after leading off with a double, then blasting a solo homer in the fifth off starter Alex Wood and a two-run shot in the sixth off John Brebbia to pull the Dodgers within 6-5. Smith did the rest, with the assistance of Rogers.
“That was the best team win of the year,” manager Dave Roberts said.
Andrew Friedman mentored Kapler. He also mentored Farhan Zaidi, giving the Giants an unmistakable Blue hue.
Proud as the Dodgers’ president of baseball operations might be of his proteges, the specter of Kapler and Zaidi essentially beating the Dodgers at their own game must grate on him.
Kapler is the Giants’ manager by way of the Philadelphia Phillies because in an upset he didn’t land the position he was groomed by Friedman to take — the Dodgers job Roberts has cemented with six winning seasons in a row, a .614 winning percentage and a 2020 World Series title.
Zaidi is the Giants’ general manager by way of Chavez Ravine, serving as Friedman’s top lieutenant from 2014 to 2018. And Zaidi from the office suite and Kapler from the dugout have assembled and guided a team that has the best record in baseball, staying ahead of the Dodgers in the standings since April.
The Giants’ formula? A deep lineup of patient hitters that leads the league in home runs, gets deep into counts, takes walks and delivers late in games. Oh, and a reliable starting rotation that goes relatively deep into games.
Perhaps most galling to the Dodgers is Giants closer Jake McGee, who has 19 saves after spending 2020 with the Dodgers as an underused situational left-hander. McGee, who pitched a scoreless eighth inning Tuesday because Kapler matched him up against left-handed Dodgers hitters Zach McKinstry and Zach Reks, became a free agent after last season, and Zaidi signed him to a two-year, $7-million deal.
Gut punch for Belly
If Cody Bellinger’s slump gets any deeper, he might need a rescue crew and a long rope to extricate himself.
Bellinger is four for 55 with 17 strikeouts since July 1, utterly lost at the plate. For the season, he’s batting .161 with four home runs and 43 strikeouts in 159 plate appearances.
Understandably, the slump appears to be messing with his mind. On Monday, Bellinger drove a ball to right field, seemingly getting a lot of it, yet it died on the warning track, just another out to end an inning. He stared at the spot until somebody brought out his glove.
And in the sixth inning Tuesday, he took a full-count pitch from Wood with his bat resting on his shoulder, taking all the way. It was ball four and the last pitch Wood threw.
Justin Turner was hit in the left knee by an 84-mph slider from Wood in the third inning and although he was clearly in pain, he ran the bases. Turner stayed in the game through the fifth before departing. The next batter was Muncy, and he too was hit by a pitch and departed in the seventh with a right shoulder contusion.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.