LOS ANGELES — As we’ve seen this season, the moment isn’t too big for rookie Alex Verdugo. Last month, we saw him get his first career walk-off, as he hit a sacrifice fly to beat the New York Mets. On Saturday night, the 23-year-old added another highlight to his already impressive resume, as his second home run of the night gave the Dodgers the 5-4 victory in the 11th inning.
“We just call it black out,” Verdugo said on hitting his first career walk-off homer. “Just black out up there. When you black out, usually good things happen. I try not to think of the outcome, I just try to get a good pitch and go from there.”
WALKIN' OFF IS A HABIT, PUT IT IN THE AIR. pic.twitter.com/VyVuxvVcqP— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) June 23, 2019
It was a perfect pitch. A 95 mph fastball down the heart of the plate that Verdugo sent into the visiting bullpen. “Felt good,” he said. “Off the bat, I hit it decent, but didn’t know if I hit enough of it to get out. At the very end I was like ‘Damn did it hit the wall?’ and I saw he [Charlie Blackmon] gave up fully and I was like ‘Let’s go!’”
For Verdugo, it took him three seasons to finally get his chance as a full-time big-leaguer. Over the last two years, he spent time in Los Angeles and Oklahoma City, but a crowded outfield made it difficult for him to find playing time at the big-league level. Though he is still technically a rookie, the last few years have taught him a lot, and from seeing his demeanor on and off the field, you would think he’s a polished veteran.
“Huge day for him,” Dave Roberts said. “He loves the big moment. He doesn’t run from it. Having a young player with that kind of confidence, wants to be there, not afraid to fail. Obviously with his talent and energy it couldn’t have ended better for us.”
Verdugo went through a bit of a dry spell, going 40 games without hitting a home run. He’s now hit three over his last eight games, and his total on the season is seven. During his minor-league career, he never really showed much power, with 13 being is high for a season with Tulsa in 2016.
“Taking your chances,” Verdugo said as to why the power has started to show at this level. “The more I’m playing and seeing pitches, you take your chances. Just trying to hit a line drive. For me, that’s when I hit my most home runs.”
It’s the second night in a row that the Dodgers have won courtesy of a walk-off home run. As mentioned earlier, both came from different rookies. It’s the first time in major-league history rookies have hit walk-off homers in back-to-back games. Though they haven’t spent much time in the show, Verdugo isn’t surprised that he and other rookies have been showcasing their talents.
“We’ve all done it growing up,” he said. “Now you guys are all seeing it. You guys are getting the taste of what our offense is like. I’ll keep saying it, we grind away our at bats and we don’t give anything away.”
You would think that after hitting two home runs in a game along with your first career walk-off homer, it would be the most memorable game of your life and that’s all you can think about. While that is true for Verdugo, hit number one focus was the fact that he was able to help his team get the victory.
“For me, it’s a huge game,” he said. “This is ideal, you dream about these type of days. The biggest part for me is helping the team win. I just want to make it easier for the guys to my left and right.”
Going back to earlier, it’s hard to believe this kid is a rookie. While it’s obvious he goes out there and has fun every day, there’s no question he already has the leadership of an experienced player.
“Alex is very confident,” Roberts said. “He understands how talented he is. When you take talent and the big moment, to be able to calm yourself — he has that ability. Most guys try to do too much, he doesn’t. He stays in the strike zone, has the ability to shorten his swing, and swing a strikes. When you can do that, good things can happen.”