Mookie Betts ran as fast as he could, jumped as high as he could, reached as far as he could. But on his best night yet as a Dodger, the lasting image will be a ball that soared just beyond his outstretched glove.
In the bottom of the eighth inning Friday night, Christian Walker’s bases-clearing three-run double turned a two-run Arizona Diamondbacks deficit into a one-run lead, the fatal blow in the Dodgers’ 5-3 loss at Chase Field.
Before the decisive eighth inning, Betts had helped push the Dodgers (5-3) in front with his bat and his arm.
In the bottom half of the first inning, the right fielder retrieved Ketel Marte’s broken-bat line drive near the foul line and fired an on-the-fly rope to third base that easily beat Marte, trying to stretch a double into a triple, to the bag.
“That’s over 300 feet in the air on a dime,” manager Dave Roberts said, awed once again by the four-time Gold Glove winner. “Whether it’s the glove, the bat — he had a good offensive night — or the arm. Guess that’s why he’s wearing gold out there.”
Betts later put the Dodgers on the board first in the fourth, turning on a two-strike changeup several inches inside the plate to loop a solo home run inside the left-field foul pole, his first homer since signing a 12-year, $365 million contract with the club last week.
“I was just swinging to stay in the at-bat,” Betts said. “I don’t know how that stayed fair.”
An inning later, he extended the Dodgers’ lead by whacking a first-pitch cutter the other way to drive home a runner from third, then added a double in the ninth to complete his first three-hit game of the year.
After individual moments of brilliance in his first seven games — scoring from third on a grounder on opening day, doubling home a run in extra innings Wednesday in Houston, making two heads-up plays on the basepaths and a diving catch in right Thursday — Betts’ performance Friday was his best all-around effort.
“I was searching, trying to find the right mechanics for my swing,” he said, having raised his batting average to .256 and on-base-plus-slugging percentage to .720. “It’s kind of tough with everything going on. It’s hard to get enough work in, but fortunately I was able to get some good work in today.”
Yet it all was for not after Arizona’s four-run eighth inning. After right-handed reliever Blake Treinen began the inning with a strikeout, a ground ball from Marte skipped off the mound and over the glove of third baseman Justin Turner, who was shifted to the middle of the infield.
Following the error, the offense for the Diamondbacks (3-5) — which was limited to a single hit over four scoreless innings from starter Tony Gonsolin and had only managed a run against Dodgers reliever Victor González, who was making his big league debut — finally kicked into gear.
Kole Calhoun drew a one-out walk. Starling Marte advanced the two runners with a soft grounder to shortstop. And the Dodgers intentionally walked switch-hitting Eduardo Escobar to get to the right-handed Walker.
Roberts debated letting Treinen, who the manager said was lacking his normal depth and command on his signature sinker, face Escobar instead of putting the go-ahead run on base.
But “I liked the matchup with Blake versus Walker more,” Roberts said, adding: “It’s different for me on the road, where I’m not trying to play to tie. I’m trying to play to win that game and get that hitter out.”
Instead, Walker laced a first-pitch 97-mph fastball to right-center. Betts, who had moved to the middle of the outfield earlier in the night, took an aggressive route to the ball but couldn’t elevate high enough to cut it off. The ball, which had an exit velocity of 107.5 mph, rolled to the wall. All three Diamondbacks runners scored standing up.
“I think if I take a deeper route there, maybe I have a chance [to catch it],” Betts said. “But that’s the route I took. He definitely squared it up. It carried through the gap pretty good. He’s got some thump in his bat.”
Walker slammed his hands together in celebration as Roberts took the ball from Treinen, who in the first week of the season had been a key cog of a Dodgers bullpen that entered Friday ranked second in the majors in earned-run average (1.02) and innings pitched (35 1/3).
Joe Kelly entered after that and allowed Walker to score on an RBI single by David Peralta.
Betts’ double in the ninth gave life to a comeback bid. But with two outs and the tying runs on second and third, Cody Bellinger flew out to shallow left field to end the game.
Wearing the same even-mannered expression during a videoconference call afterward as he did on the field, Betts downplayed any postgame emotions and rejected the notion he might have been pressing too much in the season’s opening week.
Rather, he said he’s still adjusting to an awkward, shortened, socially distanced season — a visual reminder in Friday’s game: all eight Dodgers defensive starters wore face covering around their neck in the field — that has forced him to change routines and adapt to new norms.
“That’s the rough part people don’t see,” he said. “But … it’s like that for everybody. It’s not an excuse. You have to find a way to get it done.”
Three observations on the Dodgers
— Though he came up just shy of making a game-changing catch in the eighth, Mookie Betts still had his best game as a Dodger on Friday night. He gunned down Ketel Marte for his first outfield assist. He hooked his first home run around the left-field foul pole. He drove in another run on a single to right. And in the ninth, he doubled in a failed Dodgers comeback bid.
— Tony Gonsolin threw four near-perfect innings in his first start of the season for the Dodgers, giving up only one hit (the double Marte unsuccessfully tried stretching into a triple) and one walk in his scoreless outing — the first Dodger starter not to yield a run this season.
— Corey Seager launched his third home run in as many games in the eighth, depositing a down-and-in slider about a dozen rows deep in right field. The shortstop is hitting .344 with an on-base-plus-slugging percentage of 1.104.