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'I like to be in the spotlight.' Teoscar Hernández powers Dodgers to series win over Yankees

Teoscar Hernández celebrates with Dodgers teammates Will Smith and Shohei Ohtani after hitting a grand slam.

This is what the baseball world was desperate to see.

Shohei Ohtani and Aaron Judge trading big hits early. Two talent-rich lineups keeping opposing pitchers under constant stress. And the sport’s two most star-studded squads turning a routine June weekend into a gripping midseason spectacle.

A day after neither team scored a run until the 11th inning, the Dodgers and New York Yankees traded early jabs in a back-and-forth game Saturday night, before the Dodgers ultimately pulled away late for an 11-3, series-clinching win.

Read more: Yoshinobu Yamamoto stellar in another big-game setting as Dodgers edge Yankees

Teoscar Hernández had the biggest night, collecting six RBIs and two home runs, including an eighth-inning grand slam that served as the knockout blow.

“I like to be in the spotlight, the pressure, those big situations,” Hernández said. "That's what we play for.”

The result, however, was just as memorable as the scene that surrounded it.

For a sport that struggles to draw national attention and doesn’t lend itself to many show-stopping series over an annual 162-game grind, this weekend’s matchup provided a much-needed “shot in the arm,” as Dodgers manager Dave Roberts put it Friday.

Teoscar Hernández celebrates after hitting a grand slam against the Yankees in the eighth inning Saturday.
Teoscar Hernández celebrates after hitting a grand slam against the Yankees in the eighth inning Saturday. (Frank Franklin II / Associated Press)

And if the series opener was a tense, tactical extra-innings marathon, Saturday offered more of the power-packed prize fight everyone around Major League Baseball was hoping to see this weekend.

“This is a little bit different,” first baseman Freddie Freeman said in an on-field interview with Fox moments before first pitch, having to lean in to hear reporter Ken Rosenthal’s question over the buzz of 48,374 fans in the Bronx. “It’s exciting.”

For the first seven innings, the two teams traded body blows to keep the score tight.

Hernández followed his winning double Friday night with a second-inning solo blast into the Dodgers bullpen to open the scoring.

The Yankees (45-21) quickly countered, knotting the score on two singles and a run-scoring grounder in the bottom of the inning.

In the third, Ohtani lined an RBI single the other way, putting the Dodgers ahead 2-1. Minutes later, Judge came to the plate and smacked a center-cut sinker just over the left-field wall, leveling the score again.

“It was a tight ballgame for quite some time,” Roberts said.

Kiké Hernández celebrates after hitting a home run for the Dodgers.

The Dodgers (41-25), however, eventually took control.

They regained the lead on Kiké Hernández’s solo home run in the fifth. They tacked on another run in the sixth, when Freeman hit a leadoff double to left that ex-Dodger Alex Verdugo badly misplayed.

Then, in perhaps the biggest sequence of the night, with the Dodgers leading 4-2 in the sixth, left-handed reliever Alex Vesia escaped a bases-loaded jam, then returned to the mound in the seventh and retired Verdugo, Judge and Giancarlo Stanton in order — including a strikeout of Judge on three whiffed fastballs.

“Felt like it was a shift of momentum for us,” Vesia said, “which was awesome.”

Teoscar Hernández made sure of that with his grand slam in the top of the eighth, setting off a raucous celebration in the bullpen (where his home run ball again landed), dugout (where Vesia jumped up from his seat and held an index finger to the sky) and stands (where waves of blue-clad Dodgers fans erupted as many Yankees faithful quietly filed out).

Dodgers reliever Alex Vesia delivers during the seventh inning Saturday against the Yankees.
Dodgers reliever Alex Vesia delivers during the seventh inning Saturday against the Yankees. (Frank Franklin II / Associated Press)

“You don’t take over Yankee Stadium too often,” Roberts said. “But they did a good job of letting us know they were here.”

This series hasn’t been everything baseball fans hoped for, not with Yankees star Juan Soto out of the lineup again Saturday, and unlikely to play in Sunday night’s finale, because of a forearm injury.

It will still count as only three games in the standings, as well — relatively low stakes for a first-place team such as the Dodgers enjoying a healthy eight-game lead in the National League West.

Just don’t tell that to the thousands of fans who packed the ballpark, a lagging baseball industry at large looking for an early June spark, and a Dodgers team flexing their muscles against the club with the most wins in the majors.

“I think coming in here was a shot in the arm for our guys,” Roberts said, nodding in agreement when asked if the weekend has thus far met the hype. “To play a different opponent, to come in here and what it means to play in this stadium, it’s fun to see our guys play with a little bit more focus.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.