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Chris Taylor, Will Smith power Dodgers over Rockies

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Pitching staff makes 3 solo home runs hold up

Colorado Rockies v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images

Chris Taylor homered twice, and Will Smith hit a game-winning solo shot in the eighth inning to back a strong combined pitching performance in the Dodgers’ 3-2 win over the Rockies on Sunday afternoon at Dodger Stadium.

Smith, whose walk-off homer won Tuesday’s game against San Francisco, broke a tie in the eighth inning Sunday with his fourth home run over his last seven games, and his second against Rockies reliever Carlos Estévez in eight days.

Joe Kelly worked around an infield single in the ninth inning to close it out, the seventh Dodgers pitcher to earn a save in 2021. He also injured his hamstring while fielding that infield hit, and will receive treatment on Monday before the Dodgers fly to San Francisco.

Kelly concluded a stellar day for the bullpen, with a combined five scoreless innings with no walks, three singles allowed, and five strikeouts. That included a pair of weekend returns — two perfect innings from Brusdar Graterol, and a scoreless frame with two strikeouts for Jimmy Nelson.

Phil Bickford pitched a scoreless eighth for his first major league win.

Red hot at the top

Before Sunday’s series finale against the Rockies, the Dodgers honored the 40th anniversary of the 1981 championship team, with 18 players from that team, two coaches, plus then-PR director (and future general manager) Fred Claire and then-owner Peter O’Malley all on the field at Dodger Stadium.

Derrel Thomas, a jack of all trades who in five years with the Dodgers started seven different positions — including three times at catcher! — was introduced by master of ceremonies Charley Steiner as “Chris Taylor, nine years before Chris Taylor was born,” alluding to renowned versatility, including starting at six different positions this season.

Thomas, more of a speed merchant in his day, hit 12 home runs in his five years with Los Angeles. Taylor’s offense is the separator between the two, especially with Taylor having his best year.

At the moment, Taylor is having his best stretch of his best season.

Taylor homered in the first inning, his sixth straight hit in the opening frame out of the leadoff spot. That stretch includes four extra-base hits, and three home runs.

Taylor also homered in the fifth, like his earlier shot a game-tying home run.

“He’s invaluable, having regular players out,” manager Dave Roberts said. “For him to step up, play a premium defensive position, have a huge day offensively, taking at-bats, obviously the homers, we needed every bit of it.”

He has a six-game hitting streak that includes four multi-hit games, during which he’s hitting .480/.500/1.160 with seven extra-base hits.

“This week, I’ve just been in a good place, and mechanically been pretty consistent,” Taylor said. “When the fastball slows down a little bit for me, I usually hit the breaking stuff better. That’s kind of been the case.”

Taylor’s home runs on Sunday came off a slider and curveball from Jon Gray. The first-time All-Star is now hitting .284/.380/.497 with a 141 wRC+ and 16 home runs on the season.

Missing bats

Josiah Gray in his first major league start continued to show the promise that has him rated as the Dodgers best pitching prospect. On Sunday he induced 19 whiffs, a number exceeded by only one Dodgers pitcher (Clayton Kershaw, three times) this season. Not bad for his first start and second major league game.

That translated into six strikeouts for Gray — giving him a 37-percent strikeout rate through two games — including two against the bottom of the Rockies order to escape a bases-loaded situation in the fourth.

“I had to dig deep. That’s honestly what I told myself,” Gray said. “I got a righty [Josh Fuentes] coming up, I got the pitcher next I saw in the on-deck circle. So I knew if I got the righty there, I’d have a great chance of getting out of the inning.”

That Gray was in that situation was because of a pair of one-out walks, followed by an intentional walk.

Gray was done after four innings and 79 pitches, a perfectly reasonable outing for someone who missed two months with a shoulder impingement and has pitched into the fifth only once since the beginning of May.

Colorado scored two runs against Gray, the first starting with another walk, to Raimel Tapia in the first. Tapia stole second, advanced to third on a grounder, and scored on a single by Trevor Story. Catcher Elias Díaz homered off Gray in the second, his fourth allowed in two games.

“When he can locate that fastball with the characteristics it has, keep guys honest with the breaking balls — two different breaking balls — it’s going to be really fun to watch. He’s a special player,” Roberts said.

He’s still a little rough around the edges, but the stuff is clearly evident. Tapia later stole another base off Gray, which seems to be a requirement for a Dodgers pitching staff that has allowed 79 stolen bases this season, 16 more than any other MLB team.

Gray will fit right in.

Sunday particulars

Home runs: Chris Taylor 2 (16), Will Smith (14); Elias Díaz (9)

WP — Phil Bickford (1-1): 1 IP, 1 hit

LP — Carlos Estévez (2-2): 1 IP, 2 hits, 1 run

Sv — Joe Kelly (1): 1 IP, 1 hit, 1 strikeout