Every one of the first three Dodgers games has had something odd happen, and Saturday night was no different. This time it was Zach McKinstry, whose inside-the-park home run in the eighth inning was the go-ahead run in a 6-5 win over the Rockies at Coors Field.
The Dodgers, who lost a home run on Thursday thanks to a baserunning mishap, now have their seasonal home run total match the number of balls they hit over the fence.
McKinstry, who entered the game on a double switch in the seventh, drove a ball with two outs in the eighth against Mychal Givens. Just like Cody Bellinger’s ball on Thursday, this one was hit in the direction of left fielder Raimel Tapia, who on Saturday got a glove on McKinstry’s drive, and kept the ball in play, though he didn’t seem to realize it until it was too late.
Inside-the-park home run alert! pic.twitter.com/hpTP2rAfBv— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) April 4, 2021
McKinstry scored standing up, giving the Dodgers a 5-4 advantage. He said his first high school home run, hit at Tincap Stadium in Fort Wayne, Indiana, was also an inside-the-park job.
“This one was definitely a little cooler. I think I hit this one a little harder, too,” McKinstry said. “And my parents were here, so that was awesome.”
McKinstry’s parents made the trip to Denver in time for Friday’s game, and will end up seeing the final three games at Coors Field, the first time they’ve seen him play in the majors in person. McKinstry is expected to start on Sunday.
Gavin Lux, batting leadoff on Saturday with Mookie Betts resting, followed McKinstry with a walk, stole second, and scored on a double by Chris Taylor.
After Victor Gonzalez, in the first back-to-back outing by a Dodgers reliever this season, struggled in the eighth, he left with two runners on and a run in with one out. Kenley Jansen was brought in with a one-run lead, and though C.J. Cron’s drive sure sounded like a potential three-run homer off the bat, it died harmlessly into McKinstry’s glove in deep left. Jansen then struck out Ryan McMahon to end the threat.
“I thought there was some good contact, and here if you just get the right trajectory, sometimes it just keeps going,” Dave Roberts said. “There was a little bit of a sigh from me, for sure.”
Jansen stayed in and, though he walked a batter in the ninth, he kept Colorado off the board, throwing 24 pitches for his five outs. It was Jansen’s first save of longer than an inning since September 17, 2019, and his first five-out save since July 14 that year.
“When I’m at my best, I always come out, take it one day at a time, and give it all I got, so that’s the mindset,” Jansen said. “Today was a good day, now we’ll worry about tomorrow, and try to get better each day.”
A strong start
The Dodgers got exactly what they needed out of Walker Buehler, who allowed two runs in a start at Coors Field. After an RBI double by McMahon in the fourth inning gave Colorado a 2-0 advantage, Buehler stranded him and retired his final seven batters faced.
That Buehler lasted six innings wasn’t necessarily a surprise, since he’s done it in over half (34) of his 62 career starts. But that he did it so early in the season was notable. It took Buehler five starts until he completed six innings in 2020, four starts in 2019, and not until his third major league start in 2018.
He started out 2018 in Triple-A before getting called up to the majors three weeks into the season, and in 2019 he had a 5.22 ERA in six starts before May. Last year, after not throwing much during the shutdown, Buehler was methodically ramping up in the early part of the season and had a 5.21 ERA through four starts.
“Over the last two, three years, this is as good as he’s looked finishing spring training,” Roberts said before Saturday’s game. “Early on he was figuring some things out mechanically, but the last couple of starts I thought he was throwing the baseball extremely well.”
Back and forth
The game turned earlier on a pair of plays that weren’t made.
Rockies reliever Yency Almonte got two quick outs in the sixth, but Max Muncy cashed in Seager with a ball off a shifted Josh Fuentes that was ruled a single, then after another single and a hit by pitch, Austin Barnes dumped a ball into shallow left for a two-run single, giving the Dodgers their first lead of the night.
Up 4-2 in the seventh, Blake Treinen issued a leadoff walk, then on a potential double play ball, second baseman Gavin Lux threw wide to Corey Seager, whose subsequent delayed turn helped McMahon beat the throw to first base. Two pitches later, Fuentes homered to right center, tying the game.
That the Dodgers had a lead at all was thanks in part to getting into the Rockies bullpen earlier than expected.
Jon Gray had the best start by any pitcher in this series, pitching five scoreless innings with seven strikeouts. Corey Seager, as hot as any hitter in baseball at the moment, greeted Gray with a double to open the sixth inning, which ended Gray’s night after a lengthy discussion on the mound with manager Bud Black and a team trainer. Seager later scored, the only run charged to Gray on the night.
The Rockies announced that Gray left the game with full body cramping.
- McKinstry is the first Dodger to hit an inside-the-parker as his first major league home run since Duke Snider on May 2, 1948, per Sarah Langs of MLB.com. McKinstry was the first major leaguer to do it since Dansby Swanson on September 6, 2016, per Elias.
- Corey Seager doubled, singled twice, and walked, becoming the first Dodger ever to reach base four times in each of the first three games of the season.
- Lux scored twice from the leadoff spot, and hit his second triple in three games.
Home runs: Zach McKinstry (1); Raimel Tapia (1)
WP — Blake Treinen (1-0): 1 IP, 1 hit, 2 runs, 1 walk, 1 strikeout
LP — Mychal Givens (0-1): 1 IP, 2 hits, 2 runs, 2 walks, 1 strikeout
Sv — Kenley Jansen (1): 1⅔ IP, 1 walk, 1 strikeout
Julio Urías is on the mound as the Dodgers go for the series win on Sunday, facing left-hander Austin Gomber for the Rockies. Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger are expected to be out of the lineup.