The Arizona Diamondbacks were stuck in a predicament in the ninth inning at Dodger Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Do you throw to Mookie Betts in a 3-1 count with the winning run at second base? Do you have right-hander J.B. Bukauskas walk him with first base open to bring up Max Muncy, a left-handed slugger, and set up a double play? Or do you walk Betts and pitch around Muncy with Justin Turner, a right-handed hitter, on deck? Betts was rolling in recent days, but Muncy has been one of the big leagues’ elite hitters for three months and Turner is one the few hitters in the majors with a batting average above .300.
Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo chose to walk Betts and pitch to Muncy. The result was predictable for clubs residing on opposite ends of the standings. Muncy whacked the fourth pitch he saw into the right-field pavilion for a walk-off, three-run home run, sending the Dodgers (56-35) to the All-Star break with a 7-4 win.
“Thankfully,” Muncy said, “I made them pay for it.”
It was Muncy’s club-leading 19th home run of the season. He has three career walk-off homers, including the postseason. He then hopped on a flight to Denver with the Dodgers’ contingent — close to 50 people in all — as one of the team’s five All-Stars.
While the Diamondbacks (26-66) stumbled into the time off with the worst record in the big leagues, the Dodgers sit two games behind the first-place San Francisco Giants in the National League West with the second-best record in the majors despite losing various key contributors for stretches of time during the season’s unofficial first half.
Sunday’s comeback sealed a three-game series win over the cellar dwellers after the Dodgers dropped three of four games to the Miami Marlins — the NL East’s last-place team.
“I think good, not great,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, assessing his team’s performance through 91 games. “I think every team’s gone through some things, we as well.”
Muncy’s blast concluded a late-game six-run outburst from the Dodgers. After scoring 22 runs in a record-setting rout Saturday, they mustered one run through seven innings Sunday. Betts supplied the run with a leadoff homer in the first off right-hander Merrill Kelly. The Dodgers otherwise went silent, typical of the team’s feast-or-famine duality this season.
The Diamondbacks, meanwhile, scored a run off Tony Gonsolin in the fourth inning. Gonsolin was then pulled after throwing 83 pitches in four innings, forcing the Dodgers to cover five innings with the bullpen.
The group faltered. Darien Núñez yielded a run in the fifth. Two innings later, Scott Alexander surrendered a two-run home run to the light-hitting Daulton Varsho. It was Varsho’s first home run in 83 at-bats this season. He entered the duel with a .134 batting average.
The Dodgers’ offense jolted awake in the eighth inning with help from the bumbling Diamondbacks. With the bases loaded and no outs, Turner skied a routine fly ball to the warning track in right field, where former Dodger Josh Reddick, the recipient of boos all weekend, dropped it. Will Smith was then hit by a pitch with the bases loaded and Chris Taylor tied the score with a single.
Kenley Jansen logged a scoreless ninth inning. Albert Pujols led off the bottom of the inning with a single to lock the Diamondbacks in a bind with no obvious answer. They chose to pitch to Muncy and lost.
Seager moving closer to return
Corey Seager’s time on the injured list is approaching two months — longer than the Dodgers initially anticipated when he fractured his right hand May 15.
The club was hopeful that he would return at the beginning of July until he suffered a setback. Now the Dodgers eye Seager returning for the team’s first homestand out of the All-Star break.
Roberts said the shortstop will head to Arizona to take at-bats and play in simulated games at the organization’s spring training facility when the team opens the second half in Denver on Friday. From there, if he emerges without a hitch, Seager could come off the injured list July 19 when the Dodgers host San Francisco without going on a rehabilitation assignment.
“I’m an optimistic, hopeful person, so I am hopeful that that does happen,” Roberts said Sunday. “If it doesn’t, that’s OK and he’ll be ready when he’s ready. I think with Corey, it’s been some time and we just got to make sure that we get him feeling physically, mentally, mechanically, all that stuff, 100%.”
Roberts said Seager is taking about 50 swings per day in addition to fielding drills and workouts. Seager encountered a roadblock in his rehab at the end of June when discomfort resurfaced in his hand when he swung a bat. He had recently commenced taking batting practice on the field with teammates and stopped swinging a bat entirely.
Roberts said Clayton Kershaw will remain shut down during the All-Star break. Kershaw hasn’t thrown a ball since going on the injured list with left elbow inflammation Wednesday. Roberts said he doesn’t know when Kershaw will be activated. … Julio Urías will start Friday against the Colorado Rockies in the Dodgers’ first game out of the break, Roberts said. Walker Buehler, who is expected to pitch in Tuesday’s All-Star game, will start Saturday. David Price and Gonsolin will start the next two games. The order hasn’t been decided.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.