LOS ANGELES — A lot of the focus of Monday’s game was on fingers, both the blistered and covered right index digit of pitcher Noah Syndergaard and the figurative middle finger extended by Dodgers fans to Carlos Correa. But the series opener turned into a messy, back-and-forth affair, ultimately becoming The Phil Bickford Game in LA’s 9-8 win over the Twins in 12 innings at Dodger Stadium.
Bickford has been referred to as having a rubber arm in the past, but on Monday he was stretched further than ever, pitching three innings and throwing 48 pitches, all in extra innings to close out the win.
His outing was nearly over very quickly, allowing a walk and then a bunt single after hesitating on his throw, loading the bases with nobody out in the 10th. Bickford walked Christian Vazquez to give the Twins their first lead of the game.
Minnesota had chances for more, but Bickford struck out Donovan Solano and Alex Kirilloff, with some assistance from home plate umpire Phil Cuzzi, and got Michael Taylor to fly out to amazingly keep it a one-run game.
Fireballer Jhoan Duran opted against his triple-digit fastball to J.D. Martinez, who got a curveball and singled home Will Smith for the equalizer in the 10th, which meant more time for Bickford, who struck out two more in a scoreless 11th.
“I was in the dugout, obviously hoping for a walk-off win,” Bickford said, “But when it didn’t happen, I just locked it in, and wanted to do everything I could do to give the team another chance.”
In the 12th, Bickford walked Donovan Solano with two outs — his fourth walk of the game, though one was intentional — but got Kirilloff to fly out to keep the game tied.
The Dodgers won on a bases-loaded walk by Trayce Thompson, who was in an 0-for-30 slump when he entered the game in the 10th inning as a pinch-runner, only to get picked off.
“It’s tough, but that’s baseball. You just try to take the good with the bad,” Thompson said. “I feel like this is the ultimate sport where, if you let things affect the other, it can drag along for a long time. Just try and be optimistic each day, try and prepare to help these guys win a game.”
Thompson took a full-count fastball for the game-winning walk.
GAME. pic.twitter.com/ejXnKtVBMj— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) May 16, 2023
“It’s a tough at-bat,” manager Dave Roberts said. “For Trayce to take that 3-2 pitch and not just swing the bat and try to make something happen is really tough.”
The walk-off made a winner of Bickford, who never got more than six outs in a major league game, pitched three innings Monday, and his 48 pitches were a career high.
“I can’t say enough about Phil. That’s as good of an outing from him that you’ll ever see,” Roberts said. “Everyone in that room knows he really cares. He cares more about being a good teammate than being a good baseball player, truth be told. And he left it all out there.”
Bickford was the last man standing in the bullpen, sort of.
Syndergaard was effective for his four innings, reaching his limit after only pitching one inning in the previous two weeks. He allowed two runs but struck out five, one more than he previous three real starts combined (he also didn’t strike out anyone in his one inning last Tuesday in Milwaukee). Syndergaard’s 10 swinging strikes were his most since April 14.
“With Noah, I was trying to bank health,” Roberts said of removing him after four innings. “We’re still going to see how he comes out tomorrow. I’m certain he feels he’s good to go, but until we see it tomorrow and the training staff looks at [the finger] to make sure we’re really out of the woods, we don’t know.”
Syndergaard lasting only four innings asked a lot from the bullpen, even before the game went to extras. Though he did leave with a 5-2 lead, thanks to two home runs by Max Muncy and another by Will Smith.
Justin Bruihl pitched a scoreless fifth, and Shelby Miller a scoreless sixth. Miller ran into some trouble in the seventh before being relieved by Caleb Ferguson, who allowed an inherited runner to score on a wild pitch.
Yency Almonte entered the eighth with a three-run lead, but allowed a single and double to open the frame. Twins right fielder Trevor Larnach, who lined into outs twice with triple-digit exit velocities earlier in the game, hit a 112-mph screamer off Almonte for a game-tying three-run home run.
Evan Phillips allowed a run in the ninth. He’s pitched three out of the last four days, as has Ferguson.
Brusdar Graterol, who pitched Saturday and Sunday, and Victor González, who got five outs and threw 27 pitches Sunday, were unavailable Monday. But even Graterol was warming up in the 12th in case the game needed to go 13 innings.
It did not, and now the Dodgers have won 10 straight games at Dodger Stadium.
Home runs: Will Smith (7), Max Muncy 2 (14); Jorge Polanco (4), Trevor Larnach (5)
WP — Phil Bickford (1-1): 3 IP, 1 hit, 1 unearned run, 4 walks (1 intentional), 4 strikeouts
LP — Jorge López (1-1): 1⅔ IP, 1 unearned run, 3 walks (1 intentional), 3 strikeouts
For the second time in a week, the Dodgers asked their relievers to pitch eight innings after Syndergaard, and turn to Clayton Kershaw the next day. Kershaw starts Tuesday night (7:10 p.m.; SportsNet LA, MLB Network), with Bailey Ober pitching for Minnesota.
The Dodgers plan to make at least one pitching addition on Tuesday, maybe more.
“It’s a combo. There’s a Noah coverage potentially, there’s usage with the relievers,” Roberts said. “There’s a lot of ways — the bottom line is someone’s going to be coming.”