The script was holding true for the Los Angeles Dodgers in a third consecutive game. Strong starting pitching and a key home run had them in position to take a key series from the Arizona Diamondbacks and move into sole possession of first place in the National League West.
But Buehler got a little shaky in the seventh inning and exited with one out. He was responsible for runners on first and second base. Ryan Madson walked the bases loaded and gave up a sacrifice fly that was initially ruled a game-ending double play on Cody Bellinger’s terrific throw to home plate.
The Diamondbacks then took a lead in the top of the ninth on Daniel Descaslo’s solo home run. Arizona was unable to hold that, however, and with the tying and wining runs in scoring position in the bottom half of the inning, Archie Bradley was brought in to face Matt Kemp.
They’d last met Saturday night, when Bradley hung a breaking ball that Kemp clubbed to center field for what proved to be a game-winning home run in the eighth inning. “I mean, yeah, of course,” Kemp answered when asked if he had the homer on his mind while stepping into the batter’s box.
“When I was walking up to the plate they were showing what happened last night. In my mind, I really wasn’t thinking about hitting a home run. It was just get that one run in from third base. Just so happened I got two.”
Kemp jumped on the first pitch he saw from Bradley — an elevated fastball — that banged off the wall in center field for a walk-off two-run double. “Just to look for something to hit,” Kemp said of his approach.
“He threw a fastball that was pretty much in. I just tucked my hands, got barrel on it and made something happen.”
Kemp admitted to being “surprised” Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo lifted Brad Boxberger in favor of Bradley in that situation. “But I don’t care,” Kemp added. “We won the game.”
Delivering a clutch hit for the Dodgers in back-to-back games was not something many would have predicted for the veteran outfielder. He wasn’t expected to be with the team come the start of Spring Training, much less the regular season.
The 33-year-old further defied the odds by producing at a high clip in the first half, earning All-Star Game honors. However, Kemp has been mired in a slide over the past four weeks.
“Two of the biggest hits for him,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “The last month has been tough sledding, but for him to understand a different role and come prepared every single day to help us win a game at some point in time, is just a tribute to him. It was really awesome.”
Even though Kemp has endured his share of recent struggles, it didn’t impact Roberts’ confidence. “You look at his career, the big moments and big hits he’s come up with, you bet on that. You bet on the preparedness,” he said.
“When you get into September and through October, you’ve got to really feel comfortable in the heartbeat. Matt’s been there, done that. Irregardless of result, nothing is guaranteed, but a guy like that who’s proven to do it and come up in spots like that, I’ll take my chances.”
That sentiment was also shared throughout the dugout. “We said he was going to do it again,” Cody Bellinger said. “First pitch, he did it again. That’s why we call him Hollywood. He likes the big moments.”
Added Kenley Jansen: “I love Archie, but I was already reading that he was going to throw a fastball there. Matt just was all over that heater. That’s a great piece of hitting right there.
“If you see how he gave up a homer, he’s an aggressive pitcher. He’s very competitive. He’s not afraid of anybody out there. But sometimes you get beat that way. I had a feeling Matt was going to turn on that heater.”
While Kemp embraces the confidence his manager and teammates have in him, he wasn’t sold on the nickname. “He’s just talking,” Kemp said with a smile. “I call him a ‘Young phenom.’ He’s trying to give me a nickname. That’s not my nickname. At all.”