Not many people can say they’ve hit a home run in the major leagues. Even fewer people can say their first homer was a walk-off. Will Smith finds himself in elite company, as his ninth-inning home run gave the Dodgers the 4-3 victory over the Phillies.
For Smith, who hasn’t even been in the show for a full week, has already given Dodgers fans one of the most memorable regular-season moments in recent years.
“It felt pretty good off the bat,” Smith said. “I gave it a good luck, luckily it got out.” This is the first time a Dodger has hit a walk-off for their first home run since Dioner Navarro on August 12, 2005.
A walk-off regardless of the occasion is pretty cool. For Smith, this is an entirely new experience for him. “It’s the first walk-off I’ve ever had,” he said. “Couldn’t ask for a bigger stage and bigger moment. I’ll remember that forever.”
Prior to the homer, the Dodgers and Phillies exchanged in a back-and-forth battle. The Dodgers jumped on the board first with a run in the third. After a Max Muncy single and Cody Bellinger walk, Enrique Hernandez stepped up to the plate. With two strikes, he was able to squeak one up the middle for an RBI single.
Philadelphia tied the game in the fourth thanks to some shaky defense behind Clayton Kershaw. Smith let one get by him that allowed Bryce Harper to advance to second. An error by Max Muncy would then allow there to be runners on first and third with one out. J.T. Realmuto singled to left, tying the game at one a piece.
The game wouldn’t be tied for long, as David Freese would hit a go-ahead homer in the fifth.
Sun is down, Freesin’ cold. pic.twitter.com/UNFLjBkGFo— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) June 2, 2019
Though it was only a one-run lead, it looked as if Kershaw was going to win yet another start. Yet again, he looked great on the mound. “I thought this, from recent memory, was the best I’ve seen Clayton throw,” Roberts said. “I think that his entire mix was there. As far as how he attacked guys, all quadrants really, it’s a credit to Clayton that there’s really no one way to kind of prepare for him now.”
He’s thrown at least six innings in every start this year, throwing seven tonight. He allowed only one run, while striking out six and walking none. “As many times over his last few starts he says the offense picked him up, tonight, he picked us up.” Roberts said.
The Phillies threatened in Kershaw’s final innings, but he was able to work around both of them. A Hoskins triple in the sixth would put the tying run only 90 feet away. With his biggest test of the night, Realmuto stepped into the box. He hit a sharp liner, but Hernandez was right there to grab it, sending the Dodgers into the sixth with the lead in tact.
“He was mowing guys down,” Smith said. “He had all three pitches working, he was locating, and just keeping guys off balance. He did what he did, and got us in good position to win that game.”
Fast forward to the eighth, and the Dodgers are five outs away from the victory. After a rocky outing in his last appearance, Julio Urias looked to have a bounce-back performance. He hit Jean Segura with a pitch, and then Bryce Harper, to the sound of thundering boos from Dodger Stadium, crushed an 82-mph slider into left center field to tie the game at three.
Urias went back out for the ninth, throwing a 1-2-3 inning and giving LA a chance to walk it off in the bottom of the inning. “For him to come out for the ninth inning was heroic. It shows character.” Roberts said.
With a full count, Alex Verdugo grounded out, bringing the rookie Smith to the plate. Just like Verdugo, Smith was able to work out a full count. On the sixth pitch of the at-bat, Smith sent one into the night sky. It safely landed a few rows deep into the bullpen field box section right behind the foul pole, giving his team the win.
BIG WILLIE STYLE. pic.twitter.com/Mk00qhIUSr— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) June 2, 2019
“We talk about the moment,” Roberts said. “The moment never gets too big. This will be memorable for him. Great players rise to the occasion like that, good to see him do that at such an infancy in his career.”
With Austin Barnes’ time on the IL coming to an end soon, Smith may find himself back in triple-A until another roster spot opens. Or, he could stay on the team while the Dodgers roll with three catchers. With uncertainty, he’s not too worried. “I’m just coming every day and giving my best effort. The rest will take care of itself.”
WP: Julio Urias (3-2) 2 IP, 2 ER, 1 SO
LP: Hector Neris (1-2) 1⁄3 IP, 1 ER
Home runs: David Freese (5) Bryce Harper (11) Will Smith (1)
The Dodgers will look to complete the sweep on Sunday as Rich Hill (1-1, 2.73 ERA) takes the mound for LA. First pitch is at 1:10 p.m. PT.