Game Day: Dodgers find a new sense of relief

Editor’s note: This is the Wednesday Oct. 12 edition of the “Game Day with Kevin Modesti” newsletter. To receive the newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.

Good morning. The story out of the Dodgers-Padres series opener last night was the Dodgers unveiling a plan for their bullpen, or a lack of a plan, you might say.

There was other sports news:

The Kings lost their season opener on a Vegas goal with 25 seconds left.
The Ducks open tonight at home against Seattle with these questions to answer.
Former Angels PR man Eric Kay was sentenced to 22 years in prison for his role in the drug death of pitcher Tyler Skaggs.
USC wide receiver Jordan Addison is working to beat opponents’ different coverage.
And columnist Mirjam Swanson says the U.S. women’s soccer team’s world is changing.

Recent generations of Dodgers fans have seen creative use of the bullpen in the playoffs before, most famously when ace starting pitcher Orel Hershiser emerged from it in the 12th inning to nail down the pivotal victory over the Mets in the 1988 National League Championship Series.

No equivalent legends are likely to come out of what happened at Dodger Stadium in Game 1 of this year’s NL Division Series, when Evan Phillips, Alex Vesia, Brusdar Graterol and Chris Martin were called on for an inning apiece from a bullpen lacking a dedicated closer and organizational chart since the well-earned demotion of Craig Kimbrel.

But it worked. After the Padres pulled within 5-3 against Julio Urias, the four relievers kept San Diego off the scoreboard for the last four innings to make that the final score. Though not before the potential tying or go-ahead run came to the plate in the sixth, seventh and ninth.

As reporter J.P. Hoornstra wrote after the game, nobody knew beforehand exactly how those or other relievers would wind up being deployed, and “nobody” might have included manager Dave Roberts.

“Each of their entrances came as somewhat of a surprise. And that’s exactly how Roberts would like to keep it,” Hoornstra wrote. “ ‘We could see something completely different (in Game 2),’ (Roberts) said.”

Columnist Jim Alexander, whose book “Dodgers: An Informal History from Flatbush to Chavez Ravine” tells more than a few old bullpen stories, wrote in his wry way that L.A. fans could learn to love this approach and this bullpen.

“A fan base that had grown accustomed to fearing the worst from its bullpen might even be able to relax a little bit,” Alexander wrote, “assuming the manager makes the right calls every night.”

The risk of bullpen disaster was in the air yesterday hours after Mariners manager Scott Servais called in Cy Young Award-winning starter Robbie Ray as a reliever to try to get the final out against the Astros in their American League Division Series opener and saw Yordan Alvarez hit a game-winning, three-run home run.

“This is the time of year when major league managers turn into Bobby Kennedy,” Mark Whicker wrote on Substack. “They see things that never were and say, ‘Why not?’ Specifically they see pitchers, perhaps the ultimate creatures of routine in sports, becoming relief pitchers in game-deciding situations.”

The plan, or lack of a pre-set plan, devised by the Dodgers’ braintrust acknowledges that you don’t know when the game-deciding situations might be. It might be the ninth inning. It might be the sixth.

It was after Urias’ start had gone from good to bad in the fifth that Roberts called in Phillips. The right-hander had been seen as the likely closer in the post-Kimbrel order. But he was needed more now, with Juan Soto, Manny Machado and the heart of the Padres’ order coming up.

Phillips walked Soto and watched helplessly as a topper by Machado stopped fair along the third-base line for a single. But then he struck out Brandon Drury, and the pitcher’s luck evened out when a one-hop shot by Wil Myers was snared by second baseman Gavin Lux and Trea Turner turned a double play.

This was, as Bill Plunkett’s game story points out, the first night since July 10 that Urias gave up more than two runs in a start.

It also was a rare night when the Dodgers’ lineup looked explosive even as Mookie Betts went 0 for 4 and Freddie Freeman 0 for 3, Trea Turner (homer, double) and Will Smith (two doubles) powering the 5-0 lead.

It was a night when it rained at Dodger Stadium, though never hard enough to test the grounds crew’s tarp-rolling skills.

The biggest thing wasn’t different, the Dodgers continuing to beat the Padres, taking a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five-game series going into Clayton Kershaw’s start against Yu Darvish in Game 2.

“It is the playoffs. But it is still Dodger Stadium,” San Diego Union-Tribune Padres beat man Kevin Acee wrote of how it all seemed new and old at the same time.

The main difference was the Dodgers’ use of their bullpen.

Which, depending on how it goes tonight, probably will be different all over again.

TODAY

Dodgers and Padres play Game 2 of the best-of-five NLDS at Dodger Stadium (5:37 p.m., FS1). With Kershaw facing Darvish, the Dodgers are -196 favorites this morning to win the game. After last night’s win, they’re -500 favorites to win the series.
Ducks open their season against theKraken at Honda Center (7 p.m., BSSC).
Lakers host their second to last preseason game against the Timberwolves at Crypto.com Arena (7 p.m., SPSN, ESPN)
Clippers close out their exhibition schedule vs. the Nuggets at Toyota Arena in Ontario (7:30 p.m., Ch. 5)

NEXT QUESTION

If you were among the 52,047 at Dodger Stadium last night, please tell the rest of us what you’ll remember most from the Dodgers’ first playoff game of 2022. Reply by email to KModesti@scng.com or on Twitter at @KevinModesti.

280 CHARACTERS

Rain is falling at Dodger Stadium. Maybe Mother Nature will close for the #Dodgers.

— Bill Plunkett (@billplunkettocr) October 12, 2022

– Beat writer Bill Plunkett, as the Dodgers weathered the late innings last night

1,000 WORDS

Dodgers Trea Turner, #6, hits a solo home run during first inning action during game 1 of the National League Division Series at Dodger Stadium Tuesday, October 11, 2023. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

VIN SCULLY MEMORIES

Yesterday marked the publication of “Vin Scully: The Voice of Dodger Baseball” (Triumph Books, $19.95), a collection of decades of stories, columns and photography from the Los Angeles Daily News about the Dodgers broadcaster who died Aug. 2 at age 94.

Contributors include current and former Daily News and SCNG writers Bill Plunkett, J.P. Hoornstra, Jim Alexander, Mirjam Swanson, Todd Harmonson, Mark Whicker, Tom Hoffarth, Phil Rosenthal, Paola Boivin, Ryan Kartje, John Strege, Jeff Miller, David Montero and me.

Click here for more about the book and how to order a copy.

TALK TO ME

Thanks for reading the newsletter. Send suggestions, comments and questions by email at KModesti@scng.com and via Twitter @KevinModesti.

Editor’s note: Thanks for reading the “Game Day with Kevin Modesti” newsletter. To receive the newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.

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