Max Muncy and Justin Turner lead the Dodgers past the Giants.
The Dodgers were a little hot under the collar through four innings against the San Francisco Giants on Wednesday, and it had nothing to do with the scorching 99-degree temperature at first pitch.
Baseball’s most prolific offense had failed to score despite loading the bases with no outs in the second inning, putting two on with one out in the third and two on with two outs in the fourth, the Dodgers going hitless in six at-bats with runners in scoring position and stranding eight baserunners.
Four innings of frustration then gave way to two innings of fury, Justin Turner crushing a three-run homer in the fifth and Max Muncy smacking a three-run homer in a four-run eighth, as the Dodgers muscled their way to a 7-3 victory before a sunscreen-drenched crowd of 39,237 in Chavez Ravine.
Clayton Kershaw looked sharp in his second start since returning from his latest back injury, giving up two runs and five hits, striking out eight and walking none in six innings to help the Dodgers (94-42) reduce their magic number to clinch their ninth National League West title in 10 years to six.
The Dodgers won two of three games in a series in which 16 homers were hit — nine by the Giants, seven by the Dodgers — and 28 of 30 runs were scored via the long ball.
“Anyone who’s played here knows that at night, when the weather cools off, it becomes a pretty difficult place to hit,” said Muncy, who has three homers and six RBIs in his last two games. “When the weather stays warm, it’s fun to hit here. With triple-digit [temperatures], the ball was definitely flying.”
Muncy’s eighth-inning homer, which followed an Austin Barnes single, a Trea Turner tie-breaking RBI double and a Freddie Freeman walk, traveled 381 feet to right field and turned a 4-3 Dodgers lead into a 7-3 advantage.
But it was a 10-foot tapper by the left-handed-hitting slugger that helped swing momentum toward the Dodgers.
San Francisco had taken a 2-0 lead in the top of the fifth when Mike Yastrzemski singled and David Villar drove a center-cut, 2-and-2 slider from Kershaw for a two-run homer to right-center.
The Dodgers countered with three in the bottom off the fifth when Freeman singled, Muncy beat an infield shift with a tapper that traveled 10 feet in the air before rolling past third base and Justin Turner drove a three-run homer to center.
“Going back to early in the year, Doc wanted us just to play the game more,” Muncy said, referring to manager Dave Roberts. “That was a situation where it just presented itself. First pitch of the at-bat, they abandoned [the left side]. At that point in the game, it made sense to do it.”
Muncy has bunted twice for shift-busting hits this season, but it’s not his forte. He has zero sacrifice hits in 690 big league games over seven years.
“Everybody thinks it’s an easy thing to do, right?” Kershaw said. “You see the shift there, but it’s not so easy, especially when you don’t do it very much. So that was an awesome play by Max right there. Obviously got J.T. up in a big spot for us.”
Turner came through in the clutch, reaching for a 1-and-2 splitter below the strike zone and lofting it over the wall in left-center for a 3-2 lead. The third baseman is batting .441 (26 for 59) with a 1.229 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, three homers, eight doubles and 15 RBIs during his 16-game hitting streak.
“Yeah, it’s impressive,” Kershaw said of the Dodgers’ counter-punching abilities. “Our guys are doing a great job of situational hitting and getting big hits when we need them.”
Villar’s solo homer off Dodgers left-hander Justin Bruihl tied the score 3-3 in the top of the seventh, preventing Kershaw from a win, but the Dodgers were very encouraged by the performance of Kershaw, who is 24-15 with a 2.01 ERA in 56 games against the Giants, with 388 strikeouts and 61 walks in 377 innings.
Mixing a fastball that averaged 90.8 mph with an 86.8-mph slider and 73.2-mph curve, Kershaw induced 18 swinging strikes and 15 called strikes among his 86 pitches Wednesday.
The left-hander has given up three runs and six hits in 11 innings of two starts off the injured list, striking out 14 and walking three, giving Roberts confidence that the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner, who missed the playoffs last season because of a flexor tendon strain, will be effective this October.
“Absolutely,” Roberts said. “I feel like he’s strong. He didn’t lose anything with the arm because [he was out for] only three weeks. The way he threw the ball today kind of validated that.”
Have these two starts convinced Kershaw that his stuff and his back will hold up this October?
“I mean, that’s such a loaded question,” Kershaw said. “I feel great right now. I feel great until I don’t. So right now, I feel great. I don’t expect that to change.”
Left fielder Joey Gallo left the game in the fourth inning after being hit in the right elbow by a pitch in the second. X-rays were negative and Gallo was diagnosed with a bruised elbow. … Reliever Tommy Kahnle, who is trying to return from a forearm injury that has sidelined him since mid-May, pitched on consecutive days for the first time on his triple-A rehabilitation assignment, retiring all six batters on 18 pitches in the two games. The Dodgers expect the right-hander to return in mid-September.