The Dodgers and Colorado Rockies are separated by 24½ games in the National League West, a Grand Canyon-sized gap that was on full display during a fateful four-run sixth inning that pushed the Dodgers toward a 6-1 victory before a crowd of 49,315 in Chavez Ravine on Friday night.
The Dodgers had only two hits in the rally but took advantage of a walk, two hit batsmen and Rockies left fielder Jurickson Profar’s gaffe to seal their sixth consecutive victory, their 10th win in 11 games, and push their division lead over San Francisco to 7½ games.
Lance Lynn, the burly right-hander who was making his third start for the Dodgers after being acquired from the Chicago White Sox on July 28, gave up one unearned run and four hits in five innings, striking out nine and walking one, to improve to 3-0 with a 2.00 ERA for his new club.
Left-handers Caleb Ferguson and Alex Vesia each threw hitless innings for the Dodgers, and right-hander Yency Almonte got five outs in the seventh and eighth before departing because of a right-knee injury that could send him to the injured list. Ryan Brasier struck out Michael Toglia for the final out.
“Right now we're in that mode of we just know how to win, we're finding ways to win baseball games,” manager Dave Roberts said. “Whether it's a great pitching performance or a big hit late or pouring it offensively … ultimately, every night, we feel like we're gonna score more runs than the other team.”
The Dodgers (69-46) took a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the sixth, an inning that began with a Kiké Hernández groundout against Rockies reliever Justin Bruihl, the left-hander who was acquired from the Dodgers for cash considerations on Aug. 1.
James Outman walked, Chris Taylor singled to left, David Peralta lined an RBI double to right-center for a 3-1 lead, and Miguel Rojas was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Right-hander Jake Bird replaced Bruihl and plunked Mookie Betts in the back with an 81-mph curve to force in a run for a 4-1 lead.
Freddie Freeman followed with a fly ball to the warning track in left that Profar simply missed, the sacrifice fly pushing the Dodgers’ lead to 5-1 and the error allowing the Dodgers to keep the bases loaded. Will Smith’s sacrifice fly to center made it 6-1.
“It was a tight ballgame that could have gone either way,” Roberts said. “Then we [get a walk, some hit-by-pitches], and some big hits when we need them. Offensively, we just kind of hang in there, and if you give us an opportunity, we're going to take advantage.”
Lynn prides himself on pitching deep into games, but his high whiff total and the Rockies’ ability to spoil some good pitches pushed his pitch count to 94, prompting Roberts to pull the starter after five innings.
The Rockies (45-71) scored their only run off Lynn in the fourth when Ezequiel Tovar singled, Ryan McMahon walked and Hernández threw wildly past first base on Brendan Rodgers’ slow roller to third, allowing Tovar to score for a 1-1 tie.
The error allowed Colorado to put runners on second and third with no outs, but Lynn snuffed out the rally by striking out Elias Diaz with an 82-mph curve, Nolan Jones with an 84-mph slider and getting Toglia to fly out to left field.
“I can’t tell you exactly what I tell myself,” Lynn said when asked how he girds himself for battle in such jams. “But it’s time to get going, for sure. You have to try and make every pitch. You obviously can’t overhype the situation because you make mistakes. But you know you have to make pitches.”
Lynn gave up a leadoff single to Harold Castro in the fifth before closing his outing with strikeouts of Brenton Doyle, Profar and Tovar. He has yielded only four earned runs and 13 hits in 18 innings for the Dodgers after going 6-9 with a major league-high 6.47 ERA and 28 homers given up in 21 starts for the White Sox.
“It’s exciting,” Lynn said of his move from the out-of-contention White Sox to the first-place Dodgers. “This season has been a rebirth for me. I’m excited and enjoying my time here. I’m doing everything I can to help the team win.”
The Dodgers took a 1-0 lead in the third when Peralta and Rojas singled, Betts walked and Freeman poked an RBI single to center, and they still had the bases loaded with one out against Rockies left-hander Austin Gomber. But Smith struck out looking at a 78-mph curve, Rosario popped out to first and Hernández flied out to left field.
After the Rockies tied the score in the fourth, the Dodgers took a 2-1 lead in the fifth when Betts doubled to left, took third on Freeman’s fly ball to deep center and, following a walk to Smith, scored when Rosario beat out a potential double-play grounder.
The Dodgers retired Fernando Valenzuela’s No. 34 jersey in a pregame ceremony attended by Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax, former Dodgers catcher Mike Scioscia, fellow Mexican left-hander Julio Urías and U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla, the start of a three-day celebration of the pitcher who spawned the Fernandomania craze of 1981.
“It never crossed my mind that this would ever happen,” said Valenzuela, whose number had been unofficially retired by clubhouse manager Mitch Poole for more than three decades. “It caught me by surprise. It’s hard to put into words what this means.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.