A patchwork pitching plan and shaky defense in critical moments almost cost the Dodgers on Friday night.
A clutch performance by Mookie Betts, however, bailed them out in the end.
In a back-and-forth game that featured six lead changes, three ties and 10 innings, Betts’ two home runs, four hits and four RBIs lifted the Dodgers to a 10-6 win over the Miami Marlins.
“Unbelievable,” manager Dave Roberts said. “It was just such a great performance. We needed every bit of it.”
With the Dodgers trailing 2-1 in the top of the seventh, Betts hit a two-run home run to erase their first deficit.
In the top of the ninth, after the Dodgers’ questionable decision to entrust Phil Bickford with a one-run lead backfired, Betts saved the day again with a game-tying blast that hooked just inside the left-field foul pole.
And when the Dodgers failed to hold another lead after Justin Turner’s RBI single later in the ninth, Betts came through once more in the 10th, putting the Dodgers back in front with an RBI double that keyed an eventual five-run rally that put the game out of reach.
“I just want to win,” said Betts, whose 20th career multi-homer game from the leadoff spot passed Alfonso Soriano for most in major league history. “It doesn’t matter where we are in the standings. I just show up every day and I want to win. So I just do everything I can to help the team.”
On Friday, he shielded the Dodgers from some self-inflicted implosions too.
After Betts’ seventh-inning home run made it 3-2, the Dodgers summoned a struggling Bickford to try to protect the one-run lead in the bottom of the seventh.
Predictably, his outing didn’t go well.
Bickford gave up a leadoff single and then walked two batters to load the bases. He was gifted one out when the Marlins' No. 9 hitter, Peyton Burdick, popped out on a bunt. But then, Bickford gave up a tying RBI single to Miguel Rojas on a fastball over the heart of the plate.
Left-hander Alex Vesia entered with two outs to try and clean up Bickford’s mess, but gave up a swinging bunt single to Joey Wendle that put the Marlins in front — and raised Bickford’s ERA to 5.36 in the process.
“The lane was perfect for Phil,” Roberts said, noting he was facing the bottom of the Marlins lineup. “He’s just got to pitch better.”
What didn’t become clear until after the game was just how shorthanded the Dodgers’ pitching staff was.
The team had already used top set-up man Evan Phillips to relieve starter Tyler Anderson in the sixth, after a dropped catch by Chris Taylor at second led to the only two runs (one of which was unearned) charged against Anderson in 5 1/3 innings.
After the game, Roberts said the Dodgers also predetermined that right-hander Chris Martin and left-hander Caleb Ferguson wouldn’t pitch unless in extreme circumstances.
Roberts said Martin is battling an elbow issue, and that the team is still practicing caution with Ferguson’s workload in his return from Tommy John surgery.
Given where the Dodgers (87-37) are in the standings — leading the NL West by 19½ games and holding a 7½-game advantage for the majors’ best record — Roberts also conceded Friday was the kind of game where the long-term costs of potentially overworking his pitchers (and perhaps exposing them to injury) factored into the short-term choices made in pursuit of a largely inconsequential win.
“We put ourselves in a position where health is paramount,” Roberts said. “And I’m not going to compromise that for any reason right now with where we’re at.”
By failing to thread the needle with Bickford, however, the Dodgers thrust another important reliever into an awkward situation.
The team was trying not to use Brusdar Graterol on Friday, either, after the right-hander had already pitched twice this week in his return from a shoulder injury.
But then Bickford blew one lead in the seventh, before David Price, who was asked to get a ninth-inning save after Craig Kimbrel pitched the eighth, coughed up another one-run advantage in the ninth on a solo home run to Burdick.
That meant, needing three more outs in the bottom of the 10th, the Dodgers ultimately turned to Graterol — with infielder Hanser Alberto looming as their only other option, according to Roberts.
“We didn’t play good defense tonight,” Roberts said. “I don’t think we pitched as well as we could have.”
But thanks to Betts, as Roberts exhaled afterward, “ultimately we won a ballgame.”
Even if it was more dramatic than it needed to be.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.