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Dodgers vs. Padres continues to be a wonderful spectacle

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LA holds on Saturday to snap two-game skid

MLB: San Diego Padres at Los Angeles Dodgers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

We are six games into the Dodgers-Padres experience in 2021, and so far every game has provided compelling action. Saturday was no different, with a series of fascinating battles defining the Dodgers’ slump-busting 5-4 win at Dodger Stadium.

After a week of barely any scoring opportunities, and doing very little with the chances they did have, the Dodgers threatened the bulk of the night against San Diego, and broke out with more runs (five) and hits (12) than any two-game stretch dating back to last Saturday.

That included 15 plate appearances with runners in scoring position, more than double the six per game they got in the six-game slump. The Dodgers were 4-for-14 with runners in scoring position on Saturday, plus a bases-loaded walk by Mookie Betts that brought home the tying run in the sixth.

They had six hits with runners in scoring position over the previous six games.

Blake Snell vs. 6th inning

Snell last completed six innings in a start on July 21, 2019. Shortly after that game he underwent arthroscopic elbow surgery and missed eight weeks. Friday was his 25th start since then — first with the Rays, then with the Padres — and he has yet to complete six innings in any of them. Most famously, Snell was rolling through the Dodgers lineup with nine strikeouts before getting pulled with one out in the sixth inning, leading by a run in Game 6 of the World Series.

There was no Game 7.

On Saturday, again leading the Dodgers by a run in the sixth inning, Snell was again pulled with one out, this time by Jayce Tingler, and this time with no stragglers left on base to be charged to Snell’s ledger.

San Diego’s bullpen came in with a clean slate, and the Dodgers made an absolute mess of it. Sheldon Neuse started things with a single off Pierce Johnson, which brings us to another battle.

Dodgers pinch hitters vs. a goose egg

Entering Saturday, Dodgers pinch hitters had two walks to their name, and were 0-for-19 with 13 strikeouts. The only other major league team without a pinch hit was the Yankees, who are 0-for-1 with a walk, with limited opportunities since American League teams don’t have to hit for pitchers.

That all changed after the Neuse single, when Chris Taylor batted for DJ Peters — the latter making his first major league start — and promptly singled to left. Then, Matt Beaty — just called up today — pinch hit for Trevor Bauer, and also singled to left, loading the bases. A true embarrassment of pinch-hitting riches for the Dodgers.

“I was aware of [no pinch hits before Saturday], but I just felt we were due,” manager Dave Roberts said. “CT came out aggressive, and that was a big at-bat. Matty, getting him back with us from the alt site, just getting into a count, getting ahead in the count, and hitting that backdoor breaking ball the other way was a big boost to his confidence.”

After Betts’ walk tied the score, Corey Seager smashed a grounder 107.7 mph that on most nights of the last week would have surely been turned into a double play. But this ball found the outfield, and scored a pair of runs.

Fourth inning vs. logic

The Dodgers were able to tie the game earlier as well, in the fourth inning on a roller up the third base line by Sheldon Neuse, that was inexplicably fielded by Snell, with Manny Machado stunned that his pitcher didn’t let it roll foul.

But after receiving such a gift, and with the Dodgers having runners at the corners with Bauer up with one out and Mookie Betts on deck, Neuse inexplicably got picked off trying to steal against Snell, which quieted that particular rally considerably.

Fernando Tatis Jr. vs. mere mortals

The Padres amazing young shortstop already reached the sublime on Friday, hitting two home runs in the same stadium on the 22nd anniversary of his father’s two-grand-slam game.

But on Saturday, Fernando Tatis took it to another level.

First came a leadoff homer in the first against Bauer, which even included a nod to Bauer’s spring training one-eye antics against San Diego.

Then came a sixth-inning shot — how did he do that do a pitch out there? — that not only gave the Padres the lead, but allowed Tatis to showcase another Bauer go-to, the Connor McGregor strut while reaching home plate.

Bauer, who exchanged sword celebrations of his own with Eric Hosmer in the game as well, relishes the celebration, from both sides.

“I like it. I think pitchers who have that done to them and react by throwing at people or getting upset and hitting people or whatever, I think that’s pretty soft,” Bauer said. “If you give up a homer, a guy should celebrate it. It’s hard to hit in the big leagues, so I’m all for it. I think it’s important that the game moves in that direction and we stop throwing at people because they celebrated having some success on the field.”

If that weren’t enough, both Tatis homers on Saturday came against Bauer, who won the 2020 National League Cy Young Award. His home runs Friday came off three-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw. History.

Luckily for the Dodgers, Blake Treinen kept both eyes open to strike out Tatis on a slider with the tying and go-ahead runs on base in the eighth, preserving the Dodgers’ one-run lead.

Trevor Bauer vs. Manny Machado

Another subplot to the matchup was Bauer vs. Manny Machado, the target all weekend of the loudest jeers at Dodger Stadium. Machado has owned Bauer in his career, with 12 hits in 19 at-bats, including four home runs, entering Saturday. Bauer has talked numerous times about Machado’s success against his fastball, and in a video last year broke down a 2018 game in which he tried mostly offspeed pitches against him.

But on Saturday, Bauer took that approach to the extreme against Machado. He threw 13 pitches against his nemesis, all of them sliders, and it worked like a charm. Machado struck out twice and grounded out, marking the only time in nine career games against Bauer that he didn’t get a hit. Saturday was also the first time Bauer struck Machado out twice in a game.

That helped Bauer get through six innings for the fifth time in as many starts as a Dodger, on this night with nine strikeouts and no walks. Bauer has 45 strikeouts against only six walks, an excellent strikeout-to-walk ratio (7.50) that ranks 11th in the majors, but third on the Dodgers.

Kenley Jansen vs. Father Time

On the day they lost reliever Corey Knebel for a few months with a right lat strain, the Dodgers asked their other two main high-leverage relievers to pitch parts of two innings on Saturday. Treinen recorded three outs in the seventh and eighth innings, and then Kenley Jansen was tasked with the final four outs, trying for his second save longer than an inning this season.

With two runners on base, Jansen got the final out of the eighth on a harmless grounder. But he issued a walk and a stolen base in the ninth, only to get Tatis and Trent Grisham to end it. The Padres stranded the tying run in scoring position in each of the final three innings on Saturday.

It’s been that kind of a series, and there’s still one more game Sunday night. What a treat.

“It was a fun baseball game to be a part of,” said Roberts. “We needed all 27 outs to beat those guys.”

Saturday particulars

Home runs: Fernando Tatis Jr. 2 (6)

WP — Trevor Bauer (3-0): 6 IP, 5 hits, 3 runs (2 earned), 9 strikeouts

LP — Pierce Johnson (0-1): 0 IP, 3 hits, 3 runs, 1 walk

Sv — Kenley Jansen (5): 1⅓ IP, 1 walk, 2 strikeouts