LOS ANGELES ― Major League Baseball enacted a rule prior to the 2020 season requiring pitchers to face at least three batters before they are removed from a game. As is always the case when a new rule goes into effect, the game adapted.
Rarely is the effect of a rule felt so acutely as it was Friday night at Dodger Stadium.
The San Diego Padres tapped left-handed reliever Tim Hill to face the Dodgers’ number-9, number-1 and number-2 hitters in a tie game in the eighth inning. Hill retired Trayce Thompson for the first out, then surrendered back-to-back home runs to Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman, the difference in the Dodgers’ 4-2 win before an announced crowd of 49,399.
In the moment, the stunning sequence offered a dramatic example of playing the percentages. Last year, Freeman was the best left-handed hitter in the National League against left-handed pitching. Betts was among the NL’s best right-handed hitters against lefties.
Was Dave Roberts surprised or merely happy to see a left-hander on the mound to begin the eighth inning?
“I think that we had some strength on the bench on the left side,” said the Dodgers’ manager, referring to left-handed hitters Jason Heyward, James Outman and David Peralta. “I think (Padres manager Bob Melvin) made a calculated decision to try to keep those guys on the bench. Fortunately, Freddie and Mookie performed right there.”
The back-to-back homers also extended Dodgers’ winning streak at home to seven games and extended their lead in the National League West to 3 ½ games. The Padres (19-20) are in third place, 4 ½ games behind the Dodgers (24-15).
Freeman’s two-run double in the third inning against Padres starter Blake Snell gave the Dodgers a 2-0 lead. He finished 2 for 3 with three RBIs.
The Dodgers’ top five hitters went 6 for 16. Everyone else went 0 for 14. The Dodgers went 2 for 8 with runners in scoring position and left six men on base.
“We didn’t cash in on some opportunities early situationally, which made it a game in the seventh,” Roberts said. “For those guys (Betts and Freeman) to come up with some big homers gave us a big lift.”
Dodgers starting pitcher Dustin May dominated San Diego for six shutout innings. He did not allow a baserunner until the fourth. He needed only 66 pitches to get through the first six innings, trading strikeouts (only three) for soft contact.
“I was making quality pitches when I needed to,” May said, “keeping the ball down, mixing well, throwing everything for strikes early on.”
The seventh inning was a different story. After getting two quick outs, May surrendered a double to Xander Bogaerts and walked Matt Carpenter, putting runners on first and second base.
Bogaerts stole third base, and both runners scored when Ha-Seong Kim shot a double into the left-field corner, tying the game at 2. That was it for May, who had won his last three starts. He now has a 2.68 ERA through his first eight games of 2023.
Caleb Ferguson (3-0) was credited with the win in his first appearance since being activated from the paternity list.
With the Dodgers leading 4-2 in the bottom of the eighth inning, Evan Phillips relieved Ferguson and got Manny Machado to ground into an inning-ending double play. Phillips remained on the mound for the ninth inning and recorded his team-leading seventh save of the season.
J.D. Martinez’s single in the fifth inning was his first hit since April 23, after which he was placed on the injured list with a sore back.
One week later, the Dodgers moved into a tie for first place in the division and haven’t budged since.
“For us to be able to come back in the (bottom of the seventh inning) and score two runs again,” Freeman said, “I think that’s showing who we are the last couple weeks.”
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