It took 120 games, 125 at-bats and what felt like hundreds more frustrating little moments along the way.
With a line drive blast to left field in the bottom of the eighth inning, Barnes broke a scoreless tie against the Milwaukee Brewers to lift the Dodgers to a 1-0 win, extending the team’s season-long winning streak to 11 games while completing a series sweep of the National League Central’s first-place team.
“It’s obviously been a while,” a smiling Barnes said postgame after hitting his first home run since Sept. 20 of last year. “It’s been a struggle this year. … But it was nice to put that run across and give our team a shot to win.”
In a win streak that has been fueled by superstar performances from Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman, improved pitching from the rotation and bullpen, and well-rounded production from the Dodgers platoon-heavy lineup, Barnes became the latest — and unlikeliest — hero Thursday night.
Entering the game, the team’s longtime backup catcher was mired in a career-worst year. He was batting just .123. He’d driven in only six runs in 138 plate appearances. And he hadn’t hit a single home run all year, a lack of slugging prowess that highlighted his struggles at the plate.
“It’s been a grind this year,” Barnes said. “A lot of … tough nights.”
But, after catching seven scoreless innings from starter Lance Lynn, the ninth-year veteran made sure the outing didn’t go to waste.
After taking a first-pitch strike from Brewers reliever Joel Payamps, Barnes turned on an elevated slider, launching a scorched line drive into the Dodger bullpen.
“It’s just nice when you have a veteran backstop who can spell Will [Smith] and you can trust him,” manager Dave Roberts said. “He had a heck of a ballgame. It was really fun to see.”
Until Barnes’ home run, Thursday’s game had been hanging in the balance.
Brewers ace Corbin Burnes held the Dodgers (74-46) scoreless through seven innings, striking out nine while giving up only two hits and two walks.
Lynn, the Dodgers veteran, matched him, however, continuing his sudden resurgence since being dealt before the trade deadline.
Lynn didn’t get much swing-and-miss, collecting just three strikeouts and seven whiffs. But he again worked efficiently by generating early-count outs, completing seven innings for his second time in four starts since coming to Los Angeles.
“[I’m just getting] better results, better luck, great defense behind me,” said Lynn, who has a 1.44 ERA with the Dodgers after posting an MLB-worst 6.47 ERA (and giving up an MLB-high 28 home runs) in 21 starts with the Chicago White Sox to start this season. “It’s been a little bit of everything.”
Lynn’s only real jam Thursday came in the sixth, when the Brewers (65-57) had runners on the corners with no outs.
William Contreras had the first crack at opening the scoring, but bounced a comebacker to Lynn on the mound. Initially, Lynn was planning to throw to second for a potential double play. But when he saw baserunner Tyrone Taylor bolt toward home from third, Lynn turned back toward the plate, lobbed the ball to Barnes, then watched his catcher tag Taylor in a rundown, paving the way for a crucial escape.
“That’s always fun, when you have first and third and don’t give up any,” Lynn said.
And a couple of innings later, it set the stage for Barnes’ heroics at the plate.
“I know it’s been his toughest season,” Roberts said. “But he’s not a quitter. He works as hard as he’s ever worked. He prepares as much as he’s ever prepared. And for the game to honor him tonight was really good.”
J.D. Martinez scratched again
For the fourth time in the last month, designated hitter J.D. Martinez was a late scratch from the Dodgers lineup because of groin tightness — suffering another setback in his ongoing battle with what he described as an adductor injury that has been difficult to pinpoint.
The good news for the Dodgers: Martinez and Roberts said Thursday’s recurrence was less severe than his previous bouts of discomfort. Martinez said he could have even played if needed, though Roberts wanted to rest him as a precaution.
“It wasn’t bad,” Martinez said. “But I felt it a little bit my second-to-last swing of BP. They were just being cautious with it.”
Still, Martinez’s status remains an ominous uncertainty for the Dodgers, who have counted on him as their primary cleanup hitter behind Betts, Freeman and Smith.
Since first encountering the issue on July 23, Martinez has missed 14 games and gotten several MRIs. Last week, he got an epidural shot in his back, where he had also felt some tightness. Now, however, he said the team believes the adductor — a muscle group in the hip area — is causing the pain.
“If it was the end of September, I’d be like, ‘We have to tough it out,’ ” said Martinez, who is listed as day-to-day but is hopeful of returning to the lineup Friday. “But we have some time now. And I want to be ready for the stretch down the road. So I’m gonna stay positive with it. It feels great now. So let’s see how it goes tomorrow and just build from there, really.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.