The Los Angeles Dodgers took a lead on Madison Bumgarner in the first inning, extended it in the fourth behind two-run home runs by Austin Barnes and Kyle Garlick, and were well on their way to a comfortable series-clinching win against the San Francisco Giants.
Then, the game suddenly was flipped on its head. When the Giants trimmed the Dodgers’ lead to 7-4, Joc Pederson responded in the bottom of the seventh with a pinch-hit, two-run homer.
Josh Sborz, who made his MLB debut, was sent back out to the mound in the ninth to complete a second inning of work. Instead he failed to record an out, exited after allowing a two-run double to Brandon Crawford.
Rather than further tax his bullpen, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was comfortably relying on Sborz with a five-run lead, and Kenley Jansen available if necessary.
The game became a save situation in the blink of an eye, and a nail-biter seconds later. Jansen promptly allowed a pair of RBI singles with a walk sandwiched in between. He was a close play at third base from facing a bases-loaded jam with nobody out.
Cody Bellinger, who entered in a double switch in right field, took over at first base when Jansen entered the game. Pederson had been playing there in what was his debut at the position.
Pederson went to left field, which shifted Kyle Garlick to right. The move ultimately loomed large. “I just started crashing once he started squaring around. I knew Vogt was on second base, so I just tried to pick it up and field it as quickly as I could,” Bellinger said of his play.
“Obviously, in that situation, first and second base, we’ve got three lefties potentially coming up, Kenley coming in, potential to pull the ball,” Roberts began to explain of reshuffling his position players.
“We wanted to put Joc and the team in position to have success. You’ve got to kind of take into consideration the probability that the first baseman comes into play and put people where they’re most comfortable.”
Even after Bellinger’s thrilling play, which arguably could have been overturned by MLB’s replay center, Jansen faced the difficult task of retiring Buster Posey and Brandon Belt. Making matters all the more challenging was Jansen lacked command.
“Not sharp at all, but I’ll get better,” Jansen said. “All I could do is slow it down. Things just happen so fast out there. Like I said, I just got it done and I’ve got to get better.”
Posey hit a line drive to deep center field that initially appeared as though it would carry over Alex Verdugo’s head. “Definitely not a good feeling,” Jansen recalled thinking as he watched the ball sail through the air.
“Seeing him go back and then you see him under control, so you start to feel good about it. That was a big out. You feel like you’re going to get out of the inning after that big out.”
Jansen then had to watch as Belt pulled a liner into right field that Garlick raced over to make the catch for the final out in a 9-8 victory. “That was crazy,” the rookie outfielder said.
“My heart was pumping pretty fast, I got a good jump on it, got a good read. I had a good beat on it. I knew I was kind of close to the fence but I wasn’t going to let that thing drop.”
Although Pederson spent much of the inning from one of his natural positions, he could sense the challenge the Dodgers faced. “Baseball is a very contagious game, and when a team gets hitting, it’s hard to slow them down,” Pederson said.
“I don’t know how many consecutive hits it was but they were hitting balls pretty hard; even the outs. We were able to stop them, but it’s hard to stop a team when they’re going.”
The near-collapse notwithstanding, Roberts noted the Dodgers generally played well. “We’ll take the win,” he said. “I think you take out that ninth inning, it was a very clean, well-played game from us all the way around.”
Bellinger added: “It was weird. Probably would’ve been one of the weirdest losses I’ve ever been a part of. Good thing it wasn’t. A win is a win.”