PHOENIX — In the dugout before Wednesday’s game, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts admitted he was “still in the enjoying process” after his team clinched the National League West title a night earlier.
That process ended with a thud in the 10th inning Wednesday night when the Dodgers’ season-long problem at the back end of their bullpen rose up again. Craig Kimbrel surrendered a three-run walk-off home run to Sergio Alcantara with two outs in the 10th as the Arizona Diamondbacks beat the Dodgers, 5-3.
It was Kimbrel’s fifth blown save of the season. Four of those came in games when Kimbrel was trying to protect a one-run lead – something he has done successfully just once all year.
“He was one out away from getting a save and preventing runs,” Roberts said. “I thought the stuff was good. I think it just comes down to that last hitter. It’s a guy that he knows he should get out. He fell behind and yanked a couple fastballs, didn’t strike the 1-1 breaking ball and yanked a fastball that was up and in in the guy’s nitro zone.”
It might qualify as breaking news that Alcantara has a “nitro zone.” The 26-year-old infielder had a career slugging percentage of .337 in parts of three seasons with four big-league teams when he stepped to the plate to face Kimbrel – and .323 in parts of eight minor-league seasons.
“In the postseason, that situation wouldn’t happen in extra innings,” Roberts said. “Right now in the regular season, there’s that runner on second base to start an inning. It changes the dynamic. It adds stress. You have no margin to give up a hit or put the ball in play.”
That situation might not happen in the postseason – where there is even less margin for error – because Kimbrel won’t be asked to close out games. But Roberts is still unwilling to close the door on the veteran closer.
“The recent body of work I’m still very bullish on,” Roberts said.
Kimbrel had not given up a hit since Aug. 17, turning in eight hitless appearances before Wednesday.
“If Craig continues to throw the baseball the way he has, I have all the confidence that he will finish games for us,” Roberts said. “But that’s contingent on what he’s been doing. He’s been striking the breaking ball and commanding the fastball. Tonight, it just wasn’t there for various reasons.”
The Diamondbacks tried to end it earlier. With the score tied, Jake McCarthy led off the bottom of the ninth inning with a single and worked his way to third base with two outs.
After a 1-and-0 pitch to Corbin Carroll, McCarthy took off from third base when catcher Austin Barnes threw back to the pitcher, bidding for a walk-off steal of home. But Evan Phillips made a quick return throw home and Barnes applied the tag, sending the game to extra innings only after a replay review affirmed that Barnes had not violated the plate-blocking rule.
“There was a lefty up so you kind of have a visual to the third-base side,” Barnes said. “I saw him jumping around. When he stole second … he didn’t just take off. He kind of jumped a little bit.
“They’re an aggressive team. They try to do a lot of things to try to make a play.”
The Dodgers played with half of their lineup on the bench, basking in the glow of the secured division title. Mookie Betts, Trea Turner, Justin Turner and Freddie Freeman all got the day off Wednesday. It was the first time all season that Freeman was not in the starting lineup – and Roberts said Freeman still tried to talk his way into playing, despite their agreement that Freeman would play every day until after the Dodgers clinched.
With little to play for in the win-loss column, the most important inning Wednesday might have been the seventh inning when reliever Tommy Kahnle saw his first big-league action since May.
Kahnle returned from Tommy John surgery in May, made four appearances with the Dodgers then went back to the injured list for the next four months with a forearm injury.
Back on the mound for the Dodgers on Wednesday, he retired the side in order, striking out two batters with a fastball that touched 97 mph.
“It felt great to be back out there, feeling healthy and pitching like how I used to,” Kahnle said. “It felt great to be out there and feel healthy.”
Kahnle was one of five relievers who followed starter Michael Grove who gave up home runs in each of the first two innings.
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The Dodgers matched those two homers with 910 feet worth of their own – back-to-back homers by Will Smith and Trayce Thompson in the fourth off Diamondbacks starter Zach Davies. Smith’s homer traveled 465 feet, making it the Dodgers’ longest home run of the season.
It stayed tied until the 10th inning when Hanser Alberto led off with a bunt fielded by former Dodgers reliever Reyes Moronta, who fired to second baseman Ketel Marte – standing well behind first base. No one had covered first. Alberto was safe and Barnes (the free runner who started the inning at second) went to third, scoring the winning run moments later on a wild pitch by Moronta.
Kimbrel was one out away from closing out the game when Alcantara sent a 2-and-1 fastball over the wall in right field.
“He definitely put a good swing on it,” said Kimbrel who, despite his struggles, has given up just three home runs this season. “We were trying to throw a fastball up. Two-one count, you want to throw a ball up and in there. I did. And the ball went out of the ballpark.”