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Dodgers bullpen was the key to winning NLDS Game 1

MLB: San Diego Padres at Los Angeles Dodgers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

LOS ANGELES — Julio Urías proved hittable for the first time in three months, but the Dodgers bullpen picked up the slack, highlighting the depth that has become a hallmark of a franchise in the postseason for a tenth year in a row.

All signs were pointing to a blowout early, with the Dodgers up five runs. Urías struck out six and retired 12 of his 13 batters faced through four scoreless frames. But postseason games can change in a hurry, with three straight hits to open the fifth leading to three runs. That three runs in five innings — just the sixth time in 32 starts Urías has allowed that many — counts as one of his worst starts of the year is a testament to just how good he was all season.

But he needed help, perhaps a bit earlier than expected, and at least two more trips through the Juan Soto/Manny Machado gauntlet.

Evan Phillips got the first crack, and allowed both to reach base, with a walk and a dribbler up the line that stayed fair. In a matter of just over one inning, a five-run lead turned into the Padres having the tying run on base.

Phillips rebounded with a strikeout, then was rescued by Gavin Lux turning a hot shot by Wil Myers into a double play, turned with a strong throw by Trea Turner. That was the key play of the game, but it didn’t end the tension.

Alex Vesia struck out two to begin the seventh, but a single brought the tying run to the plate. He struck out Austin Nola to end the threat, then stayed in to get Jurickson Profar and Soto to open the eighth. Vesia’s five outs recorded matched his longest outing of the season.

The Dodgers acquired Vesia from the Marlins prior to the 2020 season along with minor league pitcher Kyle Hurt for Dylan Floro. Vesia pitched in five major league games at that point. Phillips was a waiver claim from Tampa Bay in August 2021, at that time with a 7.26 ERA in 57 career innings.

With the Dodgers, Phillips has a 1.47 ERA in 73 innings.

“They’ve just come in and continued to grow and get better. I wish I could have seen the leverage they’d be pitching in a couple years removed,” manager Dave Roberts said of Vesia and Phillips. “Tonight Alex doing an up-and-down, and Evan finding a way to navigate that inning, and Evan’s been huge for us all year. Very dependable guys.”

The Dodgers began the season with Craig Kimbrel as closer, and Blake Treinen and Daniel Hudson as the top setup pitchers. But they lost Hudson in June, Treinen was sidelined by shoulder problems and pitched only five games (though he’s active again now), and Kimbrel lost his closer role in September and was left off the roster.

But it’s a completely different cast of characters taking down high-leverage innings, with a depth of quality arms.

“I think we just do the jobs that we’re supposed to do,” Clayton Kershaw said Tuesday. “We’ve got a lot of guys that can do a lot of jobs really well.”

Also doing their jobs in Game 1 were Brusdar Graterol, who got Machado on one pitch to end the eighth, and Chris Martin, the 36-year-old veteran who recorded his first career postseason save.

The mix-and-match pattern of the Dodgers bullpen allows for flexibility in that they don’t have to rely on a Capital C Closer for every save situation. Instead, they’ve compiled a cadre of arms they feel comfortable with in big situations, to deploy when they need.

“We certainly could see something different tomorrow,” Roberts said. “It’s the luxury and latitude we have with our guys, willing to pitch in any inning, in any leverage.”

Like all bullpen decisions, it’s a great plan if the pitchers get outs. And so far, the plan is working for the Dodgers.