First, there was October magic.
The sky still contained traces of smoke from fireworks. The building was still filled with echoes of Vin Scully’s welcoming voice. Dodger Stadium was still shaking off the remnants of a rousing pregame show and settling in for the first game of the National League Division Series between the Dodgers and San Diego Padres and …
Trea Turner, the second Dodgers hitter, walloped a fastball from Mike Clevingerand drove it into a left-field pavilion that was still filling up with stunned fans.
Take your seat, here comes a home run!
Cue the dugout dancing. Cue the Ravine shaking. Cue the hopes that baseball’s best team can produce a postseason worthy of the hype.
But then, there was October madness.
The Dodgers grabbed a 5-0 lead but their bats disappeared. Julio Urías threw four good innings but his curveball collapsed. The Dodgers needed a dozen outs from an anonymously brilliant bullpen. The sold-out crowd needed to catch its breath between screams and sighs.
And three hours into the game, it began to rain.
Worrisome night at the Ravine. Wonderful night at the Ravine.
The skies eventually cleared, Randy Newman eventually sang, and the Dodgers survived a 5-3 victory to win the first game of a best-of-five duel that might require every bit of them.
“They’re not going to give up, you saw that tonight,” said Turner of the Padres. “It’s not going to be easy.”
In their effort to accumulate the 11 postseason victories required to win a World Series championship, it was a somewhat shaky first step, but maybe shaky is good. Maybe scared is good. Maybe they needed to see that teams aren’t just going to bow to those 111 wins even when knocked flat.
“We don’t take anybody lightly on any given day,” protested Turner. “We don’t think that way.”
They certainly don’t think that way now.
Trailing by those five runs after three innings, the Padres could have quit but didn’t, fighting back to put the potential tying run on base in the sixth. Dominating with eight of nine batters reaching base in those three four innings, the Dodgers should have closed the deal but couldn’t, as 16 of their last 17 batters were retired.
Could be a compelling month. Could be a crazy month. Should be both.
The story of the opener begins with the closers, four Dodgers reliever who threw four scoreless innings while providing a lengthy answer to a nagging question.
With Kenley Jansen in Atlanta and Craig Kimbrel in the doghouse, who is going to finish games in October?
Turns out, everybody!
The game’s deciding inning was engineered by that bullpen in the sixth, after the Dodgers’ early surge and the Padres initial comeback. It occurred with Evan Phillips on the mound, making only the third postseason appearance of his career and first in a high-leverage situation.
Leading 5-3, Phillips walked Juan Soto and gave up an infield single to Manny Machado and suddenly everything got real, the Padres seemingly on the verge of stealing this thing.
But Phillips bore down and struck out pinch-hitter Josh Bell, then induced Wil Myers into a sharp grounder that Gavin Lux neatly grabbed and spun and tossed to Turner to start an inning-ending double play.
When is the last time Dodger Stadium shook after a ground ball? The cheers were that loud. The fear was that real.
Dave Roberts thought the ball was going through.
“I thought it was past gap but Gavin got a good jump on it,” said the Dodgers’ manager. “For me that was the play of the game.”
Turner thought it was way cool.
“It was a tough one, he’s got to make that 360 [degrees], a lot has to go right to make that play,” he said.
Lux compared it to a dance.
“It takes two to tango with the double play,” he said. “So Trea did a good job coming across the bag and avoiding Manny on the slide.”
After Phillips, the Dodgers survived through parts of two innings with Alex Vesia, recorded an out from Brusdar Graterol, and then nailed down the final three outs from Chris Martin in what turned out to be a postseason tribute to Roberts’ ability to juggle relievers.
“We could certainly see something completely different tomorrow,” said Roberts. “The luxury and latitude we have with our guys … willing to pitch in any inning or leverage … it’s as good of a group in the pen as I’ve had.”
It was assumed the Dodgers would have a clear opening game advantage with league ERA-leader Urías against a wild-card weary Padres team and their blue-phobic pitcher Clevinger, who entered the game with an 0-2 record against the Dodgers this year with a 9.69 ERA and five home runs given up in 13 innings.
And in the beginning, they used that advantage.
About 10 minutes after the first pitch, Turner shook the stadium and his critics with a home run into the left-field pavilion. He was supposed to be the offense’s biggest question mark with a career postseason batting average of .228 with one homer in 167 at-bats. He not only homered in the first, but doubled and scored in the third. Question answered?
“I feel like this year my body has felt as good as it has in a long time,” Turner said.
Max Muncy added a perfectly placed opposite-field RBI single to make it 2-0, then the Dodgers tacked on three more runs in the third on RBI doubles from Will Smith and Lux and a mishandled grounder by first baseman Myers.
All of this handed that big lead to Urías, 26, making his first Game 1 postseason start, filling the ace’s role even with a healthy Clayton Kershaw in the dugout. Even though he recorded an ERA of 2.16 and was 3-0 with a 1.50 ERA in four starts against the Padres, some wondered whether this new adventure would be too big. It didn’t seem like it … and then it did.
“I thought he was good … I just thought that the breaking ball started not to be as sharp,” said Roberts.
Urías was cruising through four one-hit innings when he and his curveball found trouble in the fifth. First, Myers hit a hanging curveball just barely into the left-center field pavilion for a home run. Jake Cronenworth then singled to right, then Ha-Seong Kim lined a ball to left field that appeared catchable, but Trayce Thompson got a bad jump and ended up diving in vain at what became a double. Cronenworth and Kim both eventually scored on a grounder and a fly ball and suddenly the 5-0 lead was only 5-3.
That’s how it eventually ended.
And thus another nutty October begins.