Hernández: Dodgers' championship mettle keeping them in NL West title chase

·4 min read
DENVER, COLORADO - SEPTEMBER 23: Gavin Lux #9 and Austin Barnes #15 of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Gavin Lux, left, is congratulated by Trea Turner after scoring a two-run single by Corey Seager (not pictured) during the second inning Thursday in a 7-5 win over the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field.

Their star pitcher was knocked around. Their offense was lifeless. Their lack of depth forced their second baseman to start his first-ever game in center field.

And the Dodgers won.

They won a game they had to win, their triumph at Coors Field on Thursday potentially the difference between a ninth consecutive division title and a place in a winner-take-all wild-card game.

They won a game in which they were down by a run when they were down to their last out, tying the score with three consecutive two-out singles in the ninth inning and securing a 7-5 victory over the Colorado Rockies on a two-run home run by Max Muncy in the 10th.

What else did you expect?

Did you really think that after winning the World Series, after capturing three pennants in the last four seasons, they would just fold and hand the National League West to the San Francisco Giants?

“We have a lot of guys on this team that have been in those situations,” Muncy said.

By now, the Dodgers were expected to have overwhelmed the Giants with their superior talent. But as many of their long-standing frustrations have persisted, the Dodgers have relied on a less tangible strength: their culture.

Call it experience, call it know-how, whatever it is, it’s why they’re now only a game behind the Giants with nine games remaining in their regular season, their come-from-behind victory and the Giants’ come-from-ahead defeat against the San Diego Padres marking a two-game swing in the standings.

Consider the predicament in which they were in the finale of a three-game series against the Rockies: Two outs, bases empty, trailing the Rockies by a run, 5-4.

Mookie Betts singled to right field against Carlos Estevez.

Corey Seager followed with another single, this one that ricocheted off Estevez's right shin and bounced toward shallow left field.

Back in the clubhouse, Max Scherzer was explaining to some of the other pitchers how Trea Turner thrives in these kinds of circumstances. Scherzer and Turner were teammates on the Washington Nationals for 6 1/2 seasons before they were acquired by the Dodgers at the trade deadline.

“We just had a good feeling about what was happening,” Scherzer said. “We saw the momentum. We felt good about Trea at the plate.”

Turner stroked a single to left field and drive in Betts. The game was tied, 5-5, and headed into extra innings.

Turner has lived moments like this before. So has Scherzer. Both were part of the Nationals team that won the World Series in 2019.

“You learn that there’s not any moment that’s too big,” said Muncy, who led off the 10th inning by depositing a down-the-middle slider by Lucas Gilbreath over the center-field wall.

This remains a disconcerting time for the Dodgers.

A stretch of good health has permitted Betts and Seager to find offensive rhythms, but the offense as a whole remains inconsistent. With Walker Buehler posting a 7.32 earned-run average this month and Julio Urias’ fastball velocity declining over his last two starts, what was once an imposing postseason rotation appears vulnerable. The Dodgers don’t have the depth they were known for in recent seasons, which is why Gavin Lux started in center field.

But the countless victories over the years have infused a confidence in the team.

“We know we’re a great team,” Muncy said. “We know we can come back from any situation. We know we can win any game.”

The mindset is now as much of a part of the Dodgers as their blue caps. The mindset has become their culture.

“My six years, this is as good as I’ve seen guys, as far as wanting to pick each other up, liking and caring about each other and pulling for guys,” manager Dave Roberts said.

Roberts offered the example of Scherzer.

Dodgers starting pitcher Max Scherzer calls for the ball after giving up a run-scoring single.
Dodgers starting pitcher Max Scherzer calls for the ball after giving up a run-scoring single in the second inning Thursday. (David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

Scherzer was 7-0 with a 0.78 earned-run average in his previous nine starts with the Dodgers. He lasted only five innings against the Rockies and was charged with five runs, all of them earned.

“He was the happiest guy in the clubhouse when we came in to shake hands,” Roberts said.

These Dodgers have problems. Their uneven roster will force Roberts to sacrifice offense or defense to a degree that would make any manager uncomfortable. Their rotation could be low on fuel. But they know how to win and aren’t about to just give up their title. If another team wins it this year, it will have to take it from them.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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