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Dodgers reward Dave Roberts’ faith to pull even in NLDS

NLDS is tied 1-1

Division Series - Los Angeles Dodgers v San Francisco Giants - Game Two Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images

We learned a few things in Saturday’s Game 2 of the National League Division Series. First, one loss isn’t enough to bury a team, let alone one with triple-digit victories. Second, some decisions work out and some don’t. The Dodgers had far more of the former to beat the Giants 9-2 at Oracle Park in San Francisco, pulling even in the NLDS.

Among the many traits that earn Dave Roberts accolades as a manager is that he will constantly go to bat for his players. On Saturday, three of the players he specifically asked to go to bat for his team came through in key spots.

Chris Taylor got his first start of the postseason, and doubled in his first at-bat, and later walked, singled, and scored twice. To get Taylor in the lineup, Cody Bellinger was moved to first, negating the bulk of his value (excellent centerfield defense) while adding a struggling bat to the lineup.

“For me it’s not even about the swing mechanics right now. It’s about approach and executing a plan and getting him in the zone,” Roberts told reporters in San Francisco before the game. “So for me I’m looking for guys to use a big part of the field and take good at-bats. That’s it.”

Bellinger did just that, jumping on a first-pitch fastball over the plate, driving the ball to nearly the deepest part of the ballpark in centerfield for a two-run double that helped break the game open in the sixth.

AJ Pollock was hitless in seven at-bats this postseason, with four strikeouts and a walk, when he came to the plate later in the sixth. Before the game, Roberts was asked if he thought about swapping in the left-handed Gavin Lux after a hot September stretch for the right-handed Pollock.

“To kind of default to a two-week sample, I just don’t — I just felt that the body of work should win out,” Roberts said.

That faith paid off with a double by Pollock, driving in another two runs for a 6-1 lead. He later singled.

The bottom three spots in the Dodgers’ lineup on Saturday each drove in two runs, including a pinch-hit RBI single by Game 1 starter Matt Beaty in the eighth.

Decisions, decisions

After Taylor immediately capitalized on his playing time with a double in the second inning, it took an unusual circumstance for the Dodgers to score their first runs of the series. With two outs and a 2-0 count on the eighth hitter Pollock, Giants manager Gabe Kapler intentionally walked the .297/.355/.536, 137-wRC+ hitter (the impressive body of work Roberts alluded to), bringing up the pitcher Urías, who tied for the lead among National League pitchers with nine runs batted in, but only hit .203/.217/.237, a 24 wRC+.

Despite the matchup advantage tilted in San Francisco’s favor, Urías lined a single to right field for the game’s first run, and the Dodgers’ first hit with a runner on base in the NLDS. Pollock advanced to third on the hit, and scored on a single by Mookie Betts, even cashing in the free pass as well.

Urías is the fourth Mexican-born pitcher with an RBI in a postseason game, joining Fernando Valenzuela, Jaime García, and Yovani Gallardo, per ESPN Stats & Info. Urías is the first Dodgers pitcher with a postseason RBI since Yu Darvish’s bases-loaded walk in Game 3 of the 2017 NLCS, and the first LA pitcher with an RBI hit in the postseason since Zack Greinke’s single in Game 5 of the 2013 NLCS.

Though the game was only 2-0, the Dodgers were making Kevin Gausman work, to the tune of 37 pitches through two innings. Kapler had Tommy La Stella in the on-deck circle with a runner on third base and one out, prepared to pinch hit for Gausman. But after Donovan Solano cut San Francisco’s deficit in half with a sacrifice fly, Gausman stayed in, to the Giants’ benefit.

After the Betts RBI single in the second, Gausman retired 10 straight batters, and was through five innings on 74 pitches, with the score 2-1 Dodgers.

With Solano batting to lead off the fifth, this time it was Mike Yastrzemski in the on-deck circle for Gausman, but after an out, Gausman was again allowed to hit.

This time the Dodgers made them pay, with a double by Trea Turner and a one-out walk by Will Smith to chase Gausman three batters into the sixth inning. That brought in Dominic Leone in relief, and set the stage for Bellinger and Pollock to widen the Dodgers advantage.

With a five-run advantage and with an off day looming and a rested bullpen, Roberts was aggressive in pulling Urías after just five innings and 72 pitches, and retiring 12 of his last 13 batters faced. The Urías odometer after Saturday’s start is 190⅔ innings this season, 63 more than his previous high, set in 2016.

More insurance, including a home run by Smith, allowed the Dodgers to back off the higher-leverage relievers after Joe Kelly and Corey Knebel were used, meaning the back end of the bullpen will be even more rested heading into Monday and Tuesday in Los Angeles.

Urías might even be used in relief if needed later in this series.

“He’ll be alive later in the series, I’m sure,” Roberts said after the game.

The NLDS is now best-of-three.

NLDS Game 2 particulars

Home run: Will Smith (1)

WP — Julio Urías (1-0): 5 IP, 3 hits, 1 run, 1 walk, 5 strikeouts

LP — Kevin Gausman (0-1): 5⅓ IP, 4 hits, 4 runs, 3 walks, 7 strikeouts

Up next

The two teams will travel back to Los Angeles for a workout at Dodger Stadium on Sunday’s off day. Max Scherzer gets the start for the Dodgers in Game 3 on Monday (6:37 p.m., TBS). The Giants will start left-hander and old friend Alex Wood.