Last night, as the crowd at Dodger Stadium stood to sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in the middle of the seventh inning, the Los Angeles Dodgers were down, 8-3, to the New York Mets. The Dodgers hadn’t scored since the third inning, their embattled bullpen had allowed three runs in two innings and still had two more innings to get through, and the Mets had their best relievers coming into the game.
Exactly one hour later, the Dodgers won the game, 9-8, on a walkoff sacrifice fly by Alex Verdugo that scored Cody Bellinger. It wasn’t the biggest comeback in history — heck, on the grand scale of things, it was barely even notable — but for Dodger fans, there were enough similarities to the Absolute Madness game in 2017 that it got visions of metaphorical sugarplums dancing in our heads.
Here are my personal Top 6 Favorite Things from last night’s Dodgers win:
6. Joe Davis’s play-by-play call
As Dodger fans, we were spoiled for years by Vin Scully, the best broadcaster baseball has ever known. Vin had a knack for saying the right thing at the right time, and perhaps more importantly, he was always keenly aware that “the right thing” is often “nothing.” When Kirk Gibson hit his walkoff home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, Scully inserted 68 seconds of silence between “High fly ball into right field, she is gone!” and “In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened!” That allowed us to hear the crowd, to watch Gibson pump his fist twice as he rounded second base, to watch the dejected Oakland Athletics file down the clubhouse tunnel, and to watch Gibson’s teammates mob him as he hobbled into to home plate. In perhaps the greatest call of all time, the silence between the perfection was at least as important as the spoken words.
Joe Davis is not Vin Scully, and he knows it — and that’s part of what makes him so good. Replacing a legend is a daunting task, and the only way to do it is to not try to do it. You never get the sense that Joe is doing something because it’s what Vin would have done.
But, like Vin, Joe knows when to shut up. On Verdugo’s sac fly, here is the call:
“Fly ball, left-center field. Backing up, Gomez makes the catch. Here comes Bellinger. What a magical night! From down, 8-3, to win it, 9-8!”
Then, 15 seconds of no talking as we watched and listened to the Dodgers celebrating on the field, with Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.” playing on the stadium speakers. It wasn’t 68 seconds, but it also wasn’t a walkoff homer in the World Series. Fifteen seconds of silence was exactly what the moment needed, and Joe handled it perfectly.
5. Amed Rosario‘s brain fart
After the Dodgers had tied the game and with first base open, the Mets intentionally walked Corey Seager to put runners on first and second for rookie Matt Beaty. Beaty has hit the ball hard for the Dodgers in his two weeks in the big leagues, and he nearly ended the game when he yanked a ball home run distance but into the seats down the first base line. On an 0-2 count, after a few fouls balls, Beaty hit a weak chopper up the middle. It was so weakly hit, in fact, that Baseball Savant’s Game Feed did not even list it. There was no chance that it was going to be a double play. Beaty isn’t fast, but the limited data we have on his sprint speed puts him right in the Manny Machado/Joc Pederson/Paul Goldschmidt/Odubel Herrera range.
Rosario had a choice to make: Take the out at first, or go for the force out at second. Neither was a sure thing, but Rosario probably could have gotten an out. Instead, he went with Option C: try to get a double play. In trying to get his feet ready to tag second base and make a throw to first all in one motion, he got tangled up and ended up getting neither runner. It went down as an infield single for Beaty — like I said, neither out was a sure thing — and it gave the Dodgers bases loaded with no outs instead of two runners on and one out.
There was no reason for Rosario to not just go for the out at first. With Bellinger representing the winning run on third base, there is very little difference between first-and-third and second-and-third. But there’s a huge difference between both of those and bases loaded, no outs.
In the end, it didn’t matter. The Dodgers scored on the next batter. But imagine if Verdugo had popped up or struck out. Instead of two outs, the Mets would have had only one out, and the entire complexion of the game would have been changed. In that scenario, this play is much higher on the list. Since it ultimately didn’t matter, it will have to settle for number five.
4. Bellinger’s “bad” game
Coming into the bottom of the ninth, Bellinger was 0-for-4 and his batting average had dipped all the way down to .374. He had basically been a non-factor, which is not a situation the Dodgers are used to this year.
Then he drove in the tying run and scored the winning run.
Even when Bellinger has a bad game, he still finds a way to contribute to a team victory one way or another. In this case, it was putting a great swing on a tough Edwin Diaz pitch and then using his legs to turn it into a double. His legs also affected the way the Mets had to play defense, knowing that he was a threat to score on pretty much any ball in play. And his speed gave Verdugo the peace of mind to know that all he had to do was get the ball in the air and the game would be over. Right now, no one can impact a game in as many ways as Bellinger.
3. Contact, especially when it mattered most
The Mets’ starter was Noah Syndergaard, who was averaging 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings. He was followed by relievers Robert Gsellman (9.1 K/9), Jeurys Familia (8.7 K/9), and Edwin Diaz (14.3 K/9). Those four Mets pitchers struck out just five Dodgers — and just three after Syndergaard whiffed the first two hitters of the game on three pitches each. And only one of those strikeouts came with a runner in scoring position, when Will Smith struck out after Verdugo’s RBI double in the second inning.
In the recent past, the Dodgers have struggled mightily with their situational hitting, often failing to even put the bat on the ball when bat-on-ball was all that was needed. In last night’s game, only two of the nine runs came via the home run — the back-to-back homers by Pederson and Max Muncy to start the ninth. The rest of the runs came via good, old-fashioned hit-it-hard-and-find-a-gap baseball.
2. Youth movement
The Dodgers had 12 hits by players age 28 or younger. That math is easy to do, because they had 15 hits total, and Justin Turner and Russell Martin were the only over-28 players to come to the plate. In addition to the 34-year-old Turner’s three hits, the Dodgers got multi-hit games from Pederson (age 27), Muncy (28), Seager (25), and Beaty (26), plus RBI doubles from the 23-year-old tandem of Bellinger and Verdugo.
Verdugo and Beaty are both rookies. They both had key at-bats in the bottom of the ninth. And neither looked fazed by the pressure. Both came to the plate with an understanding of the situation and confidence in their ability to rise to the occasion. To see two inexperienced players go up against one of the toughest closers in baseball and just own the situation was special.
1. The vibe
As a Dodger fan, the game was not fun to watch in the middle innings. The offense was scuffling a bit, and as Walker Buehler‘s pitch count continued to rise, the prospect of four innings from the beleaguered bullpen hung over the crowd like an executioner’s axe. Then Pedro Baez gave up a run, and Julio Urias gave up homers to the first to hitters he faced, and the axe began to drop.
But a strange thing happened on the way to a blowout. Turner singled in Pederson with two outs in the seventh, and Yimi Garcia pitched a scoreless eighth. Then Seager homered to pull within three runs in the bottom of the eighth, and the vibe began to change. When Scott Alexander — of all people! — pitched a scoreless ninth and the Dodgers had the top of the order coming up, the imaginations started to dance. Some of us pretended to be more confident than we really were:
Then Pederson and Muncy homered, and the buzz in the crowd (and in my living room) became, “Wow, we’re really gonna win this game!” Turner doubled, and Bellinger followed with a double of his own to tie the game. That was the first time since it was 3-3 in the fifth inning that the Dodgers were likely to win the game according to Win Probability. Bellinger’s double took the Dodgers’ win probability from 45 percent to 81 percent, but ask any Dodger fan, and it felt like 100 percent at that point. The questions suddenly became “how?” and “who?” rather than “could it really happen?” And that’s a fun vibe to be a part of as a fan.
(And, it should be noted, my 14-year-old daughter was watching the end of the game with me. The thing I love most about baseball is the way it brings families together, and I will remember last night’s game forever because I got to enjoy it with my teenage daughter. Special moments with teenagers don’t come around that often. She even joined me on my podcast for the first few minutes afterwards, which you can listen to below.)
What were your favorite parts?