The Dodgers bullpen seemed well-positioned to finish off the San Diego Padres on Sunday night, even with manager Dave Roberts giving closer Kenley Jansen and setup men Blake Treinen and Scott Alexander the night off and ace short man Corey Knebel lost to an injury.
Starter Dustin May, mixing an electric sinking fastball with a sharp-breaking curve, tossed six superb innings, giving up one run and two hits, racking up a career-high 10 strikeouts and walking one, before handing a six-run lead to David Price.
It would not have been a stretch for Price, who hadn’t pitched in six days and needed the work, to cover the final three innings and give the rest of the bullpen a much-needed night off. At the very least, Price could pitch two innings and leave Roberts with plenty of options for the ninth.
But Price suffered a hamstring strain while allowing two runs and three hits in the seventh, triggering a domino-like series of moves that led to Jimmy Nelson blowing his first career save opportunity in the ninth and Garrett Cleavinger making only his second big league appearance in the decisive 11th inning.
By the end of another marathon game between the National League West rivals — this one lasted 4 hours, 59 minutes — five Dodgers relievers combined to produce a historic collapse in Chavez Ravine, giving up seven runs and nine hits in five innings of an 8-7, 11-inning loss to the Padres.
In the last 50 seasons, teams trailing by six runs or more in the seventh inning or later had a win-loss tally of 100-13,547 — or a winning record of 0.7%. The Padres improved that to 101-13,547 after erasing a 7-1 sixth-inning to start the seventh inning Sunday night.
“We just didn’t play good baseball, we didn’t play clean baseball, we gave up runs late,” Roberts said. “Dustin had a fantastic outing, and we didn’t pitch well on the back end of the game.”
May was dominant, retiring nine straight before giving up a leadoff homer to Fernando Tatis Jr. in the fourth. The right-hander responded to Tatis’ fifth homer of the series by striking out Trent Grisham and Manny Machado with 99-mph fastballs and Eric Hosmer with an 88-mph curve, punctuating his final pitch of the inning with a primal scream.
May let out a similar scream after striking out Victor Caratini with a 99-mph fastball to end the fifth with a runner on second.
“It was competitiveness,” May said of his outbursts of emotion. “I was throwing the ball well, so I was excited about that, on top of the big situations that I got myself out of.”
May threw 93 pitches, 61 for strikes. He finished five of his strikeouts with a fastball that averaged 97.6 mph and five with a curve that averaged 86.7 mph.
“Dustin was fantastic,” Roberts said. “He pounded the strike zone, landed the breaking ball, shortened it when he needed to. The cutter was good; he got ahead of guys. … It was fun to watch tonight.”
The rest of the night, Roberts probably wanted to pull his face covering over his eyes. After Price’s rocky seventh, in which he gave up three hits, including Caratini’s two-run single that cut the Dodgers’ lead to 7-3, Roberts summoned Brusdar Graterol for the eighth.
The hard-throwing right-hander walked Tatis, got Trent Grisham to fly out to center and gave up a single to Machado.
“Brusdar didn’t execute pitches tonight,” Roberts said.
Left-hander Victor Gonzalez replaced Graterol and gave up an RBI single to Hosmer, a walk to Jake Cronenworth and an RBI fielder’s-choice grounder to Jorge Mateo that made it 7-5.
Determined not to use Jansen, who threw 23 pitches in a four-out save Saturday night, on back-to-back days, Roberts turned to Nelson, who was roughed up for two runs and four hits, including RBI singles by Grisham and Machado, in the ninth.
“There just weren’t a lot of quality strikes,” Nelson said. “Some balls didn’t break our way. A couple of hits were against the shift. That’s just how the game is.”
Nelson did well to strike out Tatis with runners on second and third to end the 10th, but Cleavinger, the hard-throwing left-hander who was called up from the alternate training site Saturday, walked Grisham to put two on to open the 11th.
Cleavinger didn’t pay enough attention to Tatis, who started the inning on second, and Tatis and Grisham pulled off a double steal. Machado popped out to third, but Hosmer’s sacrifice fly to center drove in the eventual winning run.
“The hope was for [Price] to go a couple of innings there,” Roberts said. “It did throw off the plan for the rest of the game.”
Roberts didn’t blame the bullpen meltdown on inexperience or pitchers thrust into unfamiliar roles. Asked if, with Knebel out for several months, there would be an adjustment period for some relievers, Roberts said, “No, no — no adjustment period. They just have to not walk guys and execute pitches.”
The offense could have provided an even bigger cushion for the bullpen had hitters not gone three for 17 with runners in scoring position and left 18 men on base. They loaded the bases with no outs in each of the second and third innings against Padres starter Joe Musgrove and came away with just two runs.
“There were so many plays you could look at,” Chris Taylor, who hit a three-run homer in the sixth, said when asked which missed opportunities hurt the most. “It’s hard to pick one.”
The Padres went four for 21 with runners in scoring position but produced several clutch hits in the final three innings of regulation.
In doing so, they took a 4-3 edge in the season series against the eight-time NL West-champion Dodgers and continued to prove to themselves — and everyone else — that they are good enough to compete with and beat the defending World Series champions.
“I think we certainly made a statement,” Hosmer said. “The whole baseball world was locked into our series. I think they see we can compete with these guys. That’s the statement we made: that we’re going to come with everything we’ve got and we’re going to fight these guys to the end.
“We respect what they’ve done, we respect who they are, but we’re certainly not going to back down from them. We’re going to give them our best shot every single time, and that’s the statement we made this series.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.