LOS ANGELES ― The Dodgers can play another 50 games before they see the San Diego Padres again.
That should come as a relief.
The Dodgers lost their first series of 2021 by dropping three of four games to the Padres, capped by Sunday’s 8-7 loss in 11 innings before an announced sellout crowd of 15,316 at Dodger Stadium.
Between four games here, and three in San Diego last week, the Padres managed to expose some potential weaknesses in the Dodgers’ arsenal. Often, the Dodgers found themselves needing a hit to break open a close game. Often, their biggest hits came with the bases empty. This is one reason why the seven games were so close. The Dodgers scored 30 runs and allowed 32.
Sunday, they faced the added difficulty of closing a game without Kenley Jansen, Blake Treinen, or Scott Alexander, who were given a day off after pitching the night before. Starter Dustin May pitched six masterful innings but David Price, Brusdar Graterol, Victor Gonzalez and Jimmy Nelson could not protect a 7-1 lead.
“We just didn’t play good baseball,” Manager Dave Roberts said. “Just didn’t play clean baseball. We gave up runs late. Dustin had a fantastic outing, and we didn’t pitch well on the back end of the game.”
The Padres waited until the 11th inning to complete their comeback.
Fernando Tatís Jr. was automatically placed on second base under the pandemic-era extra inning rules. In his Dodgers debut, rookie left-hander Garrett Cleavinger (0-1) walked the first batter he faced, Trent Grisham, to end a 7-pitch at-bat.
Critically, Tatís and Grisham executed a double-steal without a throw. That allowed Eric Hosmer to hit a sacrifice fly to deep center field, scoring Tatís with the go-ahead run. In a game defined by missed chances, the small-ball sequence made a big difference.
San Diego went 4 for 21 with runners in scoring position and left 11 men on base. The Dodgers went 3 for 17 with runners in scoring position and left 18 men on base.
“They outplayed us,” Roberts said of the Padres. “All the games were close but yeah, seven games, they outplayed us. That’s baseball. We’ve got to regroup and get ready for the Reds.”
The scent of futility drifted in and out of Chavez Ravine for 4 hours and 59 minutes.
The Dodgers loaded the bases for the bottom of their lineup with nobody out in the second inning. Padres starter Joe Musgrove struck out Luke Raley, allowed a bloop single to Austin Barnes that scored a run, struck out May, then got Mookie Betts to ground out to end the inning.
In the third inning, the Dodgers loaded the bases for Raley. Again, the rookie outfielder struck out, this time flailing at a curveball. Musgrove retired Barnes on a routine groundout to end the inning.
In the fifth inning, the Dodgers loaded the bases, this time for Barnes. Again, the inning ended without a run, this time when Craig Stammen got Barnes to chase a curveball for strike three.
In spite of their missed chances, the Dodgers led 2-1 when May exited after six innings. The right-hander matched a career high with 10 strikeouts. He did not allow a hit until Tatís led off the fourth inning with a solo home run, his fifth homer in a span of three days.
May allowed only two runners to reach second base, and lowered his earned-run average to 2.53.
“My fastball command was better today,” said May, who lost in his previous start in Seattle. “My breaking ball was sharp. Overall it was just in the zone. I was more competitive.”
When the Dodgers scored five runs in the sixth inning to take a 7-1 lead, May appeared to have the victory in tow.
Sheldon Neuse greeted Padres reliever Nick Ramirez with a solo home run. Back-to-back singles by Betts and Corey Seager, followed by a sacrifice fly by Justin Turner, gave the Dodgers a 4-1 lead. Max Muncy drew a walk ― one of five in the game ― which set the stage for Chris Taylor.
Swinging away on a 3-0 count, Taylor pummeled a fastball from Ramirez to center field for a three-run homer.
The Dodgers have hit 11 home runs in seven games against the Padres. Eight came with the bases empty.
San Diego began to whittle its deficit against Price, who pitched the seventh inning. A hamstring injury prevented the left-hander from pitching the eighth, Roberts said. The extent of the injury will be determined Monday.
Price allowed just three singles, but was hurt by an error in the field when Neuse fumbled a routine ground ball to second base. When Victor Caratini hit a line drive off Seager’s glove and into left field, two runs scored.
Graterol took over in the eighth inning, promptly walked Tatís, then allowed a one-out single to Manny Machado. Gonzalez jogged in from the bullpen and offered little relief. A single, a walk, and an RBI groundout allowed two more runs to cross the plate.
Down 7-5 in the ninth inning, Roberts turned to Nelson for the save. The right-hander allowed singles by Caratini, Tatís, Grisham, and Machado, tying the game at 7.
“My command overall wasn’t up to my standard,” Nelson said. “I’ll see if there’s anything mechanically, timing wise. Just not quality strikes.”
By the 10th inning, both sides had used all their position players. That paid off for Nelson when the Padres sent pitcher Ryan Weathers to the plate as a pinch hitter with runners at the corners and one out. Weathers struck out, and Nelson got Tatís to swing and miss at a two-strike fastball to end the inning.
The Dodgers returned the favor in the bottom of the 10th, sending Clayton Kershaw up as a pinch hitter with the bases loaded and one out. Kershaw fouled off a couple fastballs from the left-hander Tim Hill (1-2), only to strike out. The inning ended when Hill struck out rookie DJ Peters, who has four strikeouts in the first five plate appearances of his career.
The five-hour, knock-down battle was an appropriate ending to a series between two division rivals. Three games now separate the first-place Dodgers (15-7) from the third-place Padres (13-11). Asked whether the series was more physically or emotionally taxing, Taylor hesitated to choose.
“I don’t know,” he said. “That one, I guess I’ll let you know tomorrow.”