Alexander: Dodgers’ missed chances allow Padres back into NLDS

LOS ANGELES — Maybe this was the revenge of the ex-Dodgers. Maybe it was the law of averages. Maybe it was the strange sight of a goose in right field.

And maybe it was a crack in the armor of the Dodgers, who still haven’t been able to solve the San Diego Padres’ bullpen in the first two games of a National League Division Series that has suddenly become more competitive than the baseball world expected, following the Padres’ 5-3 victory in Game 2 on Wednesday night.

The ex-Dodgers? They’d left L.A. under less-than-optimal terms. Two failed World Series starts in 2017 (one of them under, um, suspicious circumstances in Houston) made it impossible for Yu Darvish to return to the Dodgers. Manny Machado’s frequent lack of effort in his half-season in L.A. in 2018 made him persona non grata in this town, and Dodger fans probably will never let him forget it.

They’re happy, and popular, in San Diego, and they played significant roles in helping the Padres break serve. Machado hit a Clayton Kershaw slider 106.4 mph and 381 feet into the lower box seats down the left field line in the first inning, and that might have set a tone. Machado then scorched a Kershaw curveball for an RBI double in the third. And his hardest hit ball of the evening was an out in the fifth inning, a Kershaw four-seamer that he hit 108.8 mph but right to Freddie Freeman for an infield out.

As for Darvish, the ace of a Padres’ starting rotation that is probably a little deeper than that of the Dodgers gave his team five dogged innings, surviving homers by Freeman, Max Muncy and Trea Turner and pitching two batters into the sixth with no additional damage. And then he turned it over to a Padres bullpen that has yet to allow a run in 9-1/3 innings in this series, including the last four Wednesday night.

Richard Suarez (two innings), Nick Martinez (two outs in the eighth) and closer Josh Hader (a four-out save) continued to slam the door on the Dodgers, who left 10 men on base and were 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position.

“They’re just executing their pitches really well,” Dodgers infielder Max Muncy said. “They’re not leaving a whole lot over the plate for us to hit. And, you know, we just – we’re not taking advantage of some situations that we have.”

Is it a danger sign? You won’t hear that out of anybody in the Dodger clubhouse, even if they might have thought it. But on the other side, it has to be a huge lift to a San Diego club that has probably nurtured a feeling of disrespect going into this series as such heavy underdogs.

“Ultimately, at the end of the day we know that they’re the division champs,” Machado said. “They own the best record in baseball. They’ve played very well against us all year, but at the end of the day we’re going to go out there and compete. … That’s what we started in New York, and we’re going to continue to do that until we’re not.”

Notably, he didn’t mention the gap between the Dodgers’ 111 regular-season victories and his own team’s 89. No sense in going overboard.

The normal attitude in a clubhouse is that it’s one game, get ’em tomorrow, etc. But when there might only be three tomorrows left, or even two, the situation would seem to demand more urgency.

“It’s the same guys we’ve seen all year,” Freeman argued. “It’s just they’ve made the pitch and we didn’t get the hit. You know Suarez came in and did a really good job, throwing 100-101 (with) the changeup. And then you bring in a different look with Nick Martinez, curveballs and changeups and then late heaters. And then obviously you got Hader throwing 100. They pitched good tonight.

“… They still won four games against us, five games against us (in the regular season, out of 19). It happens.”

But missed opportunities in the postseason hurt more. As do little things, like the botched ground ball by Trea Turner in the sixth that led to Jurickson Profar’s single for the go-ahead run.

Or the ball that Muncy hit over Juan Soto’s head in right field in the bottom of that inning, with Muncy inexplicably stopping at first rather than going to second.

“I thought Soto was gonna catch it,” Muncy said. “And then when he didn’t catch it, Will (Smith) was right in front of me and I wasn’t sure if he was going to go to third or not. And then by the time I saw him going to third, it was too late for me to make my decision. And I didn’t want to make an out at second right there.”

As it turned out, he did anyway. After Suarez struck out Justin Turner, Gavin Lux hit into an inning-ending double play. If Muncy’s on second, there’s no double play and Smith possibly scores from third.

These are the things that decide games in the postseason, when the margins are much slimmer and when a severe underdog can rise up and at least make life miserable for the favorite. With games in San Diego on Friday and Saturday, and the Padres doing all they can to keep Dodger fans out of Petco Park – which might be a lost cause anyway – you could make the case that this series may have taken a little bit of an ominous turn for the Dodgers.

And then there was the unintended visitor Wednesday night, a goose that landed in short right field in the bottom of the eighth, sat there for a bit – even as play continued – and then evaded stadium personnel tasked with catching the bird.

The goose is loose!! #Dodgers #Padres #postseason

— Michael J. Duarte (@michaeljduarte) October 13, 2022

There was unintended symmetry here. As the stadium workers were giving chase, Hader jogged in from the bullpen to get the final out of the eighth.

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And, as was noted later, Hader became the first Padres reliever to earn a postseason four-out save since … yep, you guessed it: Goose Gossage in 1984, when the Padres got to the World Series.

But forget omens or history. The Dodgers’ task now is to solve Blake Snell in Game 3 and/or Joe Musgrove in Game 4.

And after some deception, or at least obfuscation, from Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, he confirmed after the game that Tony Gonsolin would start Game 3 on Friday (which likely means a bulk pitcher to follow, maybe Dustin May) and Tyler Anderson would get the Game 4 start.

It could have been Roberts being sly. It could also have been the front office’s overthinking process at work.

That’s another ritual of any Dodgers postseason.

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