Chris Taylor provides muscle, Dustin May offers grit in Dodgers' victory over Padres
At every mention of their rivalry with the Padres this past week, or every reference to revenge after last year’s playoff elimination, the Dodgers preached nothing but poise and control.
Emotions have been downplayed.
The importance of a single early-season series kept in perspective.
“If you want to let the outside noise control you, then sure,” outfielder Mookie Betts said when asked if the intensity was different for this trip, the Dodgers’ first to San Diego since being eliminated by the Padres in the National League Division Series last year.
“But,” Betts added, “it’s still the same game we always play.”
That attitude was apparent Saturday night, as the Dodgers coolly navigated their way to a 2-1 win over the Padres that quieted a sold-out crowd at Petco Park and evened a three-game series against their Southern California foes.
The Dodgers (20-14) managed only three hits but got a big one when they needed it — opening the scoring on a two-run blast from Chris Taylor in the top of the fourth.
The team’s pitching staff, meanwhile, made the lead stand up, combining Dustin May’s scoreless six-inning start with a couple of high-wire escapes by the bullpen to turn Sunday’s national TV finale against the Padres (18-16) into a weekend rubber match.
“There’s been a lot of consistency,” said bench coach Danny Lehmann, who was the acting manager Saturday with Dave Roberts away for his son’s college graduation.
“I think that’s one of our strengths, is kind of going throughout this season and not getting too high or too low, but having high expectations for ourselves.”
Before the game, it was Clayton Kershaw who took the Dodgers’ latest turn ratcheting down the emotions of this series.
Following the Padres’ series-opening win Friday, in which Kershaw took the loss, the Petco Park scoreboard flashed a meme of the future Hall of Famer with a string of superimposed tears rolling down his face.
Video of the meme was widely circulated on social media Friday night and Saturday afternoon, drawing online ire from the Dodgers’ fan base.
But when asked about the prank before first pitch Saturday, Kershaw defused the controversy, declining to “take the bait” on a situation he seemed to care little about.
“Someone showed it to me this morning,” he said. “If you don’t like it, pitch better. I don’t think they do it if we win.”
Indeed, the scoreboard showed little for the home crowd to cheer Saturday.
Early on, May and Padres left-hander Blake Snell traded zeros in a pitchers’ duel, each taking advantage of a wide strike zone from home plate umpire Edwin Jimenez to breeze by their first turn through the order.
While May continued to cruise in the fourth, however, Snell finally blinked.
After retiring 11 in a row to start the game, Snell issued a two-out walk to Will Smith. Two pitches later, he hung a center-cut changeup to Taylor.
The result: a two-run blast that went sailing into the second deck of seats on the Western Metal Supply Co. building in left field.
“Just a mistake pitch,” said Taylor, whose sixth home run of the season continued his recent uptick at the plate. “I was just trying to get something up because all his offspeed is good down in the zone. So yeah, it was just something over the plate.”
That was all the breathing room May needed, completing his scoreless outing with six strikeouts while lowering his earned-run average to 2.68 and improving to 4-1 on the season.
“He just pitched, battled, went at guys,” catcher Smith said.
“Gave us six good innings.”
The Dodgers' bullpen — much improved in recent weeks after aligning Caleb Ferguson, Brusdar Graterol and Evan Phillips as their highest-leverage arms — completed the win with contributions from all three.
Ferguson stranded a one-out walk in the seventh, in his 10th straight outing without giving up a run.
Graterol limited damage in the eighth inning, giving up just one run despite back-to-back leadoff doubles from Brett Sullivan and Fernando Tatis Jr.
That set the stage for Phillips to pitch the ninth — an opportunity he never got in Game 4 last year when the Dodgers squandered a late lead in their elimination loss.
This time, the right-hander took advantage, finishing off a victory in which the Dodgers still struggled to manufacture much at the plate, once again going hitless with runners in scoring position, but this time managing to overcome it all anyway, calmly collecting their first defeat of the Padres to maintain first place in the division standings.
“I think we know that these two teams are probably going to be involved in the postseason race, and each of us are building up toward winning the World Series,” Phillips said. “But we’re not trying to put too much stock into the outside factors.”
Roberts was attending son Cole’s graduation from Loyola Marymount. … Max Muncy was back in the lineup Saturday as the designated hitter after leaving Friday’s game early with “flu-like symptoms.” Muncy, who leads the majors with 12 home runs, was 0 for 2 with a walk and a strikeout.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.