The difference between the Dodgers and Pirates is vast — their run differentials are the best and worst, respectively, in the majors — and that played out in Los Angeles’ 5-3 win in the series opener on at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. Tuesday night also featured the Dodgers taking advantage of most opportunities provided them by the home team, and might have provided the winning margin.
Ke’Bryan Hayes provided the most obvious example, the one that will make highlight films. His home run in the first inning should have given Pittsburgh a 1-0 lead, but instead he became the second notable Pirate to fail to touch first base in the last two weeks, albeit by only costing them one run it was the least egregious of the two misplays.
It was catcher Austin Barnes who first spotted that Hayes missed the bag.
“Austin and Clayton [Kershaw] were more down at the end of the dugout, so they had a better vantage point,” manager Dave Roberts explained. “Those guys — Austin, in particular — get credit for getting Chad Chop, the replay guy, on that one. That was a big play.”
Hayes singled in his next at-bat, but then tried to tag up on a fly ball to AJ Pollock, and was thrown out at second. It was a rough night on the bases for the otherwise excellent rookie.
JT Brubaker kept the Dodgers off the board until the fifth, when Gavin Lux singled and advanced to third on an error by right fielder Gregory Polanco. Pollock doubled home Lux for the game’s first run, a ball that just eluded the glove of center fielder Bryan Reynolds.
With two outs in the frame, Mookie Betts drove a ball just out of the reach of Reynolds, bringing home Pollock with a triple, then scored on a single by Max Muncy. A few more inches on either play and the inning might have ended with one Dodgers run instead of three.
At this point, what could have been a 1-1 game was instead 3-0 Dodgers.
On a day that the University of Virginia advanced to the super regionals, inching closer to the College World Series, former Cavalier Chris Taylor hit a two-run home run in the sixth, widening the Dodgers advantage.
“I woke up early and watch that one,” Taylor said of the college baseball game that started at 9 a.m. ET. “That was a big one for us. I’m proud of them.”
Walker Buehler didn’t need all that help, thanks to seven scoreless innings, retiring his first 13 batters faced. But calling his 93-pitch effort efficient doesn’t feel quite right, though maybe I’m underselling his night. He did allow only two singles and a walk, and even if Hayes got his home run Buehler still would have given up only a run on three hits. That will play, even with a season-low two strikeouts.
“When I was younger, I probably tried to throw every pitch as hard as I can for a long time. Being here for a little bit, I think getting deep into games and trying to save the bullpen and things like that are more important to me as a starting pitcher,” Buehler said. “I’m proud of that kind of stuff. I love the punch guys out, but seven innings is seven innings, and I’m happy that way.”
Buehler was working from behind more than usual on Tuesday, throwing first pitch strikes to only 14 of his 24 batters faced (58.3 percent). That’s not bad, but it’s unusual for Buehler, who entered Tuesday throwing 67.4 percent of his first pitches for strikes, 12th-highest in the majors.
The difference between 1-0 and 0-1 is stark. After a first-pitch ball, MLB batters are hitting .247/.375/.428 this season, compared to .208/.254/.337 after a first-pitch strike. But the Pirates were 0-for-10 after getting ahead 1-0 against Buehler on Tuesday, though the first of those “outs” was the Hayes home run that wasn’t.
“I thought this was one of his better outings of the year,” Roberts said. “He used his entire mix as well as he has all year. The bottom line, the goal, is to get as many outs as you can, and be efficient in doing it.”
The cushion provided by and for Buehler was very much needed, with the Pirates chipping away at a 5-0 deficit late. Joe Kelly allowed a run in the eighth, and Nate Jones allowed two solo home runs in the ninth, necessitating the use of closer Kenley Jansen in a game he shouldn’t have been pitching in.
Those little advantages the Dodgers gained early proved very much needed.
Home runs: Chris Taylor (8);
Ke’Bryan Hayes (3), Bryan Reynolds (9), Michael Perez (4)
WP — Walker Buehler (5-0): 7 IP, 2 hits, 1 walk, 2 strikeouts
LP — JT Brubaker (4-5): 4⅔ IP, 5 hits, 3 runs, 6 strikeouts
Sv — Kenley Jansen (13): ⅓ IP, 1 strikeout
Tony Gonsolin will be activated from the injured list on Wednesday (4:05 p.m. PT, SportsNet LA) to make his season debut, with left-hander Tyler Anderson starting for the Pirates.