The disaster unfolded in slow motion, a train wreck of an inning, a playoff, a once-promising and historic 2022 season.
The Dodgers entered bottom of the seventh Saturday night, leading the San Diego Padres by three points.
They finished the frame trailing by two, a combination of poor execution, confusing decision-making and relentless Padres hitting setting the stage for a 5-3 loss in Game 4 of the League Division Series. national team that knocked the Dodgers out of the playoffs.
In their worst nightmares, they couldn’t have concocted a more poignant scene.
“The shock factor is very high,” manager Dave Roberts said. “Very high disappointment. It’s overwhelming.
The deciding seventh inning began with a walk from reliever Tommy Kahnle, then a first-pitch single from Padres playoff hero Trent Grisham.
It escalated when Austin Nola reached single base at second base, scoring a run and putting the tying runs on board.
Things got worse when Roberts went to the bullpen, bypassing his top reliever, Evan Phillips, on a ninth-inning stoppage opportunity and instead calling Yency Almonte, who quickly surrendered a double RBI to Ha-Seong Kim and an RBI single to Juan. Soto who tied the score.
Then it all culminated in a shocking moment now doomed to infamy.
Early in a two-strikeout against Jake Cronenworth, a dugout go signal, which was intended to give left-handed reliever Alex Vesia more time to warm up in the bullpen, was missed. Almonte fired a first pitch at home plate instead.
Despite the error, Roberts still decided to make the pitching change in the middle of the innings. It backfired moments later when Vesia gave up a two-run single that broke the tie and ultimately decided the match.
That 2019 loss to the Washington Nationals in Game 5 of the NLDS?
He suddenly has company.
“We didn’t hit our target, and that’s the bottom line,” Roberts said. “Yeah, this one hurts.”
It wasn’t supposed to happen to the Dodgers this year.
Not after winning a franchise-record 111 games, earning them the top seed in the playoffs.
Not after saying it was their most talented roster, their deepest bullpen, their most complete team in the last 10 years.
Especially not after Roberts eagerly secured a World Series title before the start of the season, when he said on a radio show that the Dodgers would be champions as long as “we play a full season and there’s playoffs”.
A full season is coming to an end. But the Dodgers unfortunately failed to hold out until the end.
On the day he made his title prediction, Roberts also added a caveat about the need for a healthy tee shot. In their disastrous loss at Petco Park, however, it was a bullpen capitulation that sealed their three-game loss to one in the best-of-five series.
After the bullpen was one of the team’s few strengths in the first three games, three relievers combined to allow five runs on five hits and two walks in the fateful seventh inning.
Roberts also answered questions about several team decisions.
“Nothing I can say is going to make the situation any better,” Roberts said. “Obviously we didn’t expect to be in this position.”
The seventh-year manager, whose tenure includes a 2020 World Series but October failures every other season, has always tried.
Despite insisting for weeks that the team felt comfortable not designating a closer and allowing matchups to dictate in-game pitching decisions instead, they apparently changed course on Saturday, opting to save Phillips for a potential ninth-inning opportunity once they took an early lead.
That means once Kahnle got in trouble in the seventh, it was Almonte who came to the mound.
It didn’t go well.
While Almonte had a strong streak, he was ineffective in Game 4. Kim sent a bouncing ball past Max Muncy in the third to make it 3-2. Soto ripped a high lead on the right to make it 3-3.
As Vesia started to warm up, Almonte got a few outs, stoking Manny Machado before prompting a Brandon Drury pop-up on the next pitch.
But with Cronenworth, a left-handed hitter, coming to the plate, Roberts said the plan was to get Almonte to first base and give left-hander Vesia – who later said he was already hot by then – a few more moments. before coming.
Instead, the sign was missed, Almonte pitched the pitch, and suddenly Roberts was faced with a decision with no right answers: leave Almonte for the rest of the bat, or go to Vesia even in a count of 1 and 0.
He chose the latter.
“I always liked the game there,” Roberts said.
It didn’t matter.
After Soto stole second to score, Vesia threw a 2-and-2 slider just wide of the plate that Cronenworth curled to center, giving the Padres a lead they wouldn’t give up.
“I had the right warm-up, I went out,” Vesia said. “Made it a 2-2 count, left a slider up and he got a good chunk out of it.”
Catcher Will Smith – whose wife Cara gave birth to their daughter earlier on Saturday – admitted there was “a little misunderstanding” during the streak with Almonte and the sign of the missed pitch.
“Somehow the sign didn’t get there,” he said. “That’s not why we lost the match.”
That certainly didn’t help, though, not after a string of other missed chances by the Dodgers earlier in the game.
As they opened the scoring on Freddie Freeman’s two-run brace in set two – breaking the team’s 0-for-20 skid with runners in scoring position dating back to Game 1 – and stayed ahead thanks to the Tyler Anderson’s scoreless start in five innings, they failed to completely put the game away.
They have always gone just two for nine with runners in scoring position. They still blocked nine men on the base. And although they made it 3-0 in the top of the seventh on a sacrificial volley from Smith, it was the only run they made from a loaded, non-out baseline situation.
Overall, they scored just seven points while dropping the final three games of the series.
“I’m sure there was a three-game stretch in the regular season that we didn’t do so well either,” Freeman said. “It’s just a shame it happened in October.”
After the seventh inning, they couldn’t respond either, going six straight out to end the game in a sudden – and all too appropriate – downpour of rain.
“We had our chances,” right fielder Mookie Betts said. “We just never had that shot.”
“It sucks, really sucks, you know?” Chris Taylor added amid a dreary post-game scene. “Every year you don’t win, it’s really difficult. We always expect to win, so that’s nothing new. We have been here before. I never feel better. I feel the same.
The way it played out, however, will go down as some of the most shocking meltdowns the Dodgers have ever seen.
The bottom of the seventh inning, from the poor pitch to the missed pickup to the roaring scene of 45,139 fans cheering in disbelief, will sting long into the winter — one that for the Dodgers has once again come too soon.
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