LOS ANGELES — For a June game against an American League team, the Dodgers’ game against the White Sox on Thursday night took on an oversized importance. Wanting to avoid a fourth consecutive series loss, and coming immediately after the sting of seeing the bullpen allow six runs to cough up a lead the night before, the Dodgers pulled out all the stops in an 11-inning triumph.
The Dodgers were down 4-0 early, thanks to four solo home runs hit off Michael Grove, who has allowed eight homers in 30 innings this season. But he also recovered to get through the fifth inning, striking out three in the frame to end his night.
“His best inning was his last,” manager Dave Roberts said. “If he doesn’t give you that fifth inning, that’s probably a different game.”
In the sixth, the Dodgers managed to chase Chicago starter Dylan Cease with two singles after the right-hander struck out 10 but needed 102 pitches to do so. James Outman’s two-out single off reliever Reynaldo López loaded the bases. Will Smith, who was on second base, was held at third by coach Dino Ebel rather than test the arm of Luis Robert Jr. in centerfield.
“It was a good hold,” Roberts said. “Robert throws tremendously well, a ball coming right at him, and he threw the ball on a dime.”
Rather than either scoring one run or potentially ending the inning with nothing, the bases were loaded for Chris Taylor, who hit the Dodgers’ eighth grand slam of the season, three more than any other team and six more than they hit all of last season. The Dodgers set a franchise record with 11 grand slams in 2021.
Taylor’s resurgence of late has been largely fueled by a power surge against lefties, against whom he is hitting .230/.273/.623 with a 130 wRC+ and 10 extra-base hits in 67 plate appearances. Though his last two home runs, hit on each of the last two Thursdays, were against right-handed pitchers.
“Obviously I got off to a pretty slow start this year, and it kind of put me in a hole,” Taylor said. “I haven’t gone on any hot streaks or anything like that, but slowly kind of working my way back to normal.”
After hitting .167/.211/.409 with a 63 wRC+ in April, Taylor is hitting .237/.308/.495 with a 115 wRC+ since May 1, while starting games at shortstop, left field, and third base, filling in at the hot corner the last three games while Max Muncy rides out his left hamstring strain.
Shelby Miller was the first Dodgers reliever out of the bullpen on Thursday, used in a role he’s familiarized himself with over the course of the season. He pitched two scoreless innings in his first game since Friday, the team-leading 11th game pitching multiple frames this season.
Yency Almonte was tasked with the eighth inning, one night after he pitched a scoreless seventh but followed by allowing a double by Eloy Jiménez and a home run by Jake Burger in the eighth on Wednesday, starting a barrage of runs against a faulty Dodgers bullpen that entered Thursday with a 4.90 ERA, 29th in MLB.
On Thursday, Almonte started the eighth with Jiménez and Burger again, but this time struck them out, followed by a harmless Andrew Vaughn tapper in front of the plate.
“I have all the confidence in the world in him to go out and execute pitches with the weapons to do what he did tonight,” Roberts said of Almonte. “For me, it doesn’t change my standing towards him. But for him and his confidence, it was good.”
Evan Phillips is the Dodgers’ best reliever, and was called on for not only a spotless, 10-pitch ninth inning but also the 10th. A groundout advanced the free runner on third base with one out, followed by a walk that put runners at the corners. But Phillips struck out Robert and Jiménez to keep the game tied. Two innings was Phillips’ longest outing since June 1, 2022.
In the 11th came Caleb Ferguson, who is firmly in Roberts’ trusted triumvirate to pitch high-leverage innings along with Phillips and Brusdar Graterol, who was unavailable Thursday after pitching three times in the previous four days. But Ferguson has struggled of late, allowing runs in four straight appearances before this series. He suffered three losses last week alone, including two in walk-off fashion.
But on Thursday, Ferguson got through Burger, Vaughn, and old friend Yasmani Grandal in short order, putting the left-hander on the winning side of a walk-off equation this time.
“The difference tonight was the bullpen,” Roberts said. “They covered six innings, and to not give up a run was pretty remarkable. Every single one of those guys, we’re proud of how they responded.”
Freddie Freeman got the walk-off winner with his fly-ball single in the 11th inning, and was set up for a perfect situation thanks to a pair of walks by Garrett Crochet and a clanker of a passed ball by Grandal behind the plate that had Dodgers fans far and wide nodding in remembrance.
The win followed a stretch in which the Dodgers lost seven of their previous 10 games, prompting a team meeting before the game.
“Three and seven for us, even though we did lose on some walk-offs, was just not how we wanted to go about it,” Freeman said. “There were some conversations that we had, and I’m glad that we backed it up.”
The key of the inning was Mookie Betts, who fell behind 1-2 but fouled off seven pitches in a prolonged matchup with Crochet. Three of the foul balls were screaming line drives well foul down the left field line. Batted-ball numbers don’t show up on Statcast for foul balls, but I caught the right field scoreboard at Dodger Stadium for the last two hard ones, measuring 107 mph and 99 mph off the bat.
Betts worked a walk on pitch number 12 from Crochet to load the bases, the second-longest plate appearance of the season for the Dodgers behind only a 15-pitch walk by Freeman against the Giants on April 12.
After the celebratory music died down in the clubhouse, Betts was asked what went through his head during that lengthy battle in the 11th inning.
“I don’t remember what I was thinking, other than don’t strike out,” he said.
With only four starting pitchers on the roster and after an 11-inning game Thursday, the Dodgers will call up Emmet Sheehan to start Friday against the Giants after dominating with Double-A Tulsa. He’ll be the sixth Dodger to make his major league debut this season.
But Sheehan’s debut will follow a Dodgers win rather than a fourth straight series loss.
“It was big. We were sort of exhausting all of our options tonight,” Roberts said. “We needed a win. You could see our guys not quitting.”