The Arizona Diamondbacks had won 12 of 15 games when they arrived in Los Angeles this week, rebounding from a brutal six-week stretch in which they lost 25 of 32 to gain grip on a wild-card spot, and they had their two best pitchers, Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly, lined up for the first two games of a three-game set against the Dodgers.
“They’re gritty, they’re tough, and we’re seeing two of their best guys,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said before the series, “so it should be two close games here, and we’ll see who plays the cleanest baseball to win.”
Sixteen runs and 27 hits — six of them homers — later, it’s clear Roberts may have underestimated baseball’s hottest club.
One night after pounding Gallen, the Dodgers shredded Kelly for seven runs and 12 hits in five innings of a 9-1 victory before a crowd of 42,323 in Chavez Ravine on Tuesday night, with David Peralta, Jason Heyward and Chris Taylor leading a 16-hit attack with three hits each and Mookie Betts and Will Smith hitting solo homers.
The Dodgers (82-49) improved to 23-4 this month, and with two games left — against the Diamondbacks and Atlanta Braves — before the calendar turns to September, they have a chance to tie the franchise record of 25 wins in a calendar month, set by the Brooklyn Dodgers in July 1947 and August 1953.
“I really did think it was going to be a dogfight,” Roberts said. “I have a lot of respect for Merrill and Zac. They’ve both had great years and … you typically don’t make your money against guys like them. But we really took great at-bats. We grinded them. We won a lot of big counts, a lot of big at-bats.”
Veteran left-hander Clayton Kershaw, in his fourth start back from a six-week stint on the injured list because of a sore shoulder, gave up one run and three hits in five innings, struck out five and walked three to improve to 12-4 with a 2.48 ERA in 20 starts. Kershaw got win No. 209, tying Don Drysdale for second most in franchise history behind Don Sutton (233).
“I think it just means I’ve been here for a long time and I’ve been part of some really great teams,” Kershaw said. “It’s great company. Drysdale and Sutton are two of the best, especially in Dodgers history, so it’s cool.”
In nine games since June 2, a span interrupted by his IL stint, Kershaw is 6-0 with a 1.44 ERA, a 50-inning stretch in which he has given up eight earned runs and 31 hits, struck out 45 and walked 11.
But Kershaw’s last start in Cleveland last Wednesday was suspended because of rain after two innings, and he looked a little rusty Tuesday night, walking two batters in a 24-pitch first inning and escaping a two-on, one-out jam in the second by getting Gabriel Moreno to ground into an inning-ending double play.
“That was another one that wasn’t super pretty,” Kershaw said. “I don’t know if it was rust or I just wasn’t good, but lots of stuff to work on. I was thankful to get through five and only give up on the one homer. It wasn’t great, but I’ll take it.”
One man’s struggles was another man’s triumph.
“I mean, this guy is one of the greatest competitors I’ve ever seen,” Roberts said of Kershaw. “What I saw was… will … compete and just tenacity. He wasn’t going to be denied. Clearly, he didn’t have his best stuff. But he was going to give you five innings and find a way to give us a chance to win a ballgame.”
Kelly entered with a 10-5 record and 2.97 ERA in 23 starts, the fourth-best ERA among pitchers who have thrown at least 130 innings this season behind San Diego’s Blake Snell, the Chicago Cubs’ Justin Steele and the New York Yankees’ Gerrit Cole.
That didn’t intimidate the Dodgers, who dominated Kelly just like they did Gallen in Monday night’s series opener, when they scored three runs in the first inning and three in the sixth against the Diamondbacks ace en route to a 7-4 win.
The Dodgers scored three runs in the first after an apparent inning-ending 3-6-1 double play was overturned by replay, which showed that Max Muncy had beaten out the grounder.
Peralta rifled a double past first baseman Christian Walker to score Betts, who led off with an infield single, and Heyward followed with a double to right-center to score Muncy and Peralta for a 3-0 lead.
The Dodgers pushed the lead to 4-0 in the second when Taylor, who celebrated his 33rd birthday and his bobblehead night, walked, stole second and scored on Miguel Rojas’ single to center. They added two more runs in the third for a 6-0 lead, Muncy leading off with a double to left-center and scoring on Peralta’s single to center. Heyward grounded into a 4-6-3 double play, but James Outman singled to right and scored on Taylor’s double into the left-field corner, the fourth two-out RBI of the game giving the Dodgers a major league-leading 293 two-out RBIs.
Arizona got on the board in the fifth when Corbin Carroll led off with a home run, his 23rd, to center off Kershaw, only the third time in his 16-year career that a left-handed hitter hit one of Kershaw’s signature curveballs for a homer.
But the Dodgers got that run back in the bottom of the fifth when Muncy walked, Peralta and Heyward hit bloop singles and Outman hit a sacrifice fly to center for a 7-1 lead.
Betts then led off the sixth with his team-leading and career-high 36th homer, a 428-foot shot deep into the left-center pavilion off reliever Scott McGough, and Smith hit a towering solo homer to left, his 17th, for a 9-1 lead.
“I think it’s pretty impressive what our team’s doing right now,” Kershaw said. “I mean, those are two good pitchers in Gallen and Kelly, and for us to put up those kinds of runs and just keep the line moving, everybody all the way down the lineup contributing, it’s just really impressive.”
Tony Gonsolin: “It didn’t work out”
Tony Gonsolin knew after undergoing an MRI test in mid-June that he had torn the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow, but the Dodgers right-hander continued to pitch to prop up an injury-depleted rotation, an effort that ended with Monday’s announcement that Gonsolin will undergo Tommy John surgery and miss next season.
“Kershaw was down at the time, Julio [Urías] was down, we had Bobby [Miller] and [Emmet] Sheehan called up from double-A, so I feel like I was pitching out of necessity,” Gonsolin said Tuesday. “I thought I could do it. It just got to the point where the stuff wasn’t performing. I was hoping I could make it through the season, put up good numbers and post. It didn’t work out.”
Gonsolin went 8-5 with a 4.98 ERA in 20 starts, muddling his way through most of the season with a diminished fastball and a four-pitch mix that wasn’t nearly as crisp as it was last season, when Gonsolin went 16-1 with a 2.14 ERA in 24 starts and made the All-Star team for the first time.
Gonsolin, 29, continued to pitch with the injury because the discomfort “felt more like normal soreness,” he said, “but overall, the stuff went down, and my command just was not where it needed to be.”
Gonsolin’s contract includes incentives that, with his 20 starts, will increase his salary next season from $3.4 million to $5.4 million, but he claimed money was not his his primary motivation to pitch through the injury.
“I didn’t really think about it, honestly,” he said. “I was just trying to go out there and help the team and eat up important innings.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.