The difference was in the stands. For the first time since Game 5 of the 2019 National League Division Series, the last heartbreaking defeat in the club’s tortured championship drought, Dodger Stadium was filled to capacity. With it came the persistent buzz between pitches unique to baseball. The deafening, ground-shaking cheers. The players feeding off the energy.
In the end, a sellout crowd of 52,078 squeezed into seats, filling nearly every section in the ballpark for the Dodgers’ 5-3 win. The team said it was the largest crowd for a professional team sports league game in the United States since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.
The capacity crowd witnessed the Dodgers, winners of seven of eight, improve to 41-26 and a season-high 15 games over .500. It roared the loudest in the seventh inning when Mookie Betts, playing his first game in front of a full home crowd as a Dodger, blasted an 0-2 changeup for a go-ahead solo home run.
Dodger Stadium trembled once the homer landed over the wall in center field. A woman in a white Betts No. 50 jersey battled traffic to catch it with her glove. Betts pumped his fist as his trot reached second base for his eighth home run of the season. The last time he had heard cheers that loud at Dodger Stadium, he was on the other side, playing for the Boston Red Sox in the 2018 World Series.
“Finally playing in a full Dodger Stadium on the right team is definitely something I’ve been looking forward to,” said Betts, who finished three for five. “And being able to play a good game was the cherry on top.”
It was the crescendo for what the Dodgers coined “Reopening Day.” The team busted out the uniforms it wore for the home opener in April — home whites with gold trimming and a cap to match. Brad Paisley sang the national anthem. Justin Turner bobbleheads were given to the first 25,000 fans who arrived.
They saw the Dodgers take a 3-1 lead against right-hander Zach Eflin through four innings. Will Smith drove in the first run in the first inning with a fielder’s choice. Zach McKinstry swatted a two-out RBI double in the fourth. Julio Urías followed with a ground-rule double down the right-field line for his eighth RBI of the season, all in his last five starts. No pitcher in the majors has collected more RBI this season.
On the mound, Urías gave up a solo home run to Andrew McCutchen in the second inning but otherwise breezed through the Phillies’ lineup until the fifth. The Phillies (32-33), buoyed by two Dodgers errors, scored two runs to chase Urías with two outs. Victor González replaced Urías and retired the next batter to squash the threat. Urías was charged with three runs, two earned, on six hits over 5-2/3 innings. He recorded five strikeouts with one walk.
Betts then provided his power to break the tie before the crowd boomed again in the eighth inning. The inning didn’t start promising for the home team. Right-hander Phil Bickford, another Dodger making his debut in front of a home capacity crowd, walked the first two batters he faced. That prompted a visit from pitching coach Mark Prior. Bickford emerged on track. He struck out the next two batters before getting Luke Williams to ground out to end the inning.
Minutes later, Betts lined a two-out RBI single up the middle for an insurance run and another round of thunder. The performance coaxed a serenade from some fans when he took his spot in center field for the ninth inning.
“I definitely soaked it all in while I could,” Betts said.
From there, he watched Blake Treinen strike out J.T. Realmuto to end the game, stranding a runner at second base and giving the people who stuck around one last chance to roar.
Cody Bellinger to IL
The Dodgers put center fielder Cody Bellinger on the injured list because of left hamstring tightness minutes before first pitch Tuesday. He joins fellow sluggers Max Muncy and Corey Seager on the IL. Right-hander Mitch White was recalled to take Bellinger’s spot on the roster.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts on Monday said the team was hopeful that Bellinger, out since Friday with the hamstring injury, could return to the lineup by Wednesday if he made the necessary progression.
He didn’t by Tuesday, but Roberts, when addressing the media Tuesday afternoon, said the club planned on waiting at least until Wednesday to put Bellinger on the injured list. That changed over the next three hours.
Injuries have hampered Bellinger since the end of last season. He dislocated his right shoulder celebrating a home run in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series. Less than a month later, he underwent surgery and didn’t appear in spring training games until mid-March.
On April 5, Oakland Athletics reliever Reymin Guduan stepped on Bellinger’s left leg. He was diagnosed with a fractured fibula 11 days later and didn’t return to the Dodgers until May 29. He then appeared in 12 games before leaving Friday’s game against the Texas Rangers in the fifth inning.
The 2019 National League MVP has missed 51 of the Dodgers’ 67 games this season. He’s slashing .226/.324/.323 with one home run and 19 strikeouts in 71 plate appearances.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.