Roberts makes all the right moves as Dodgers sweep Diamondbacks to reach NLCS
Dave Roberts wore a smile on his face and held a can of Coors Light in his hand. He stood a few feet away from madness, a rising tide of Budweiser and Korbel Brut floating across the floor of the visitors clubhouse at Chase Field, the sight of a 3-1 Dodgers victory to sweep Arizona out of the National League division series.
After a tidy 27 innings, the Dodgers made a righteous mess. Streams of booze soared through the air. Kenley Jansen dumped a cooler of ice on Yasiel Puig’s head. Even Chase Utley managed a grin as he flicked beer at Joc Pederson.
Roberts stayed out of the fray. A few specks dotted his goggles. Otherwise he was dry, hanging back, greeting players, coaches and executives as they escaped the chaos in the middle of the room.
The moment belonged to the players. The night belonged to Roberts, who manipulated this game like it was his own personal marionette, pulling each string with the proper force at the proper time. In a postseason already littered with managers undone by indecision and miscalculation, Roberts offered a rejoinder: At least one man knows what he is doing.
“When a manager can make it seem like all the pieces fit together perfectly,” Dodgers general manager Farhan Zaidi said, “that’s when you know he’s really done a great job, using the whole roster and strategizing to the absolute maximum. He did an amazing job.”
Roberts could not insure a victory on his own. Cody Bellinger barreled over a dugout railing and blasted a home run. Austin Barnes sent Diamondbacks ace Zack Greinketo the showers with a sixth-inning homer. Yu Darvish struck out seven in five innings of one-run baseball, but Roberts opened his bullpen when Darvish lost his control in the sixth. The Dodgers survived an 0-for-10 night with runners in scoring position by limiting Arizona to only three hits.
The bullpen operated at an impeccable clip. Tony Cingrani bailed out Darvish by inducing a double play. Brandon Morrow ripped through the heart of the Arizona lineup. Kenta Maeda embraced his new role as a reliever with three quick outs. Jansen left no doubt.
On the back of these relievers, the Dodgers completed their first postseason sweep since downing St. Louis in the first round of the 2009 playoffs. They will await the winner of the Cubs series against the Nationals, with Washington facing elimination in Game 4 on Tuesday.
“There is no preference,” Roberts said. “Both clubs are very good, very talented. So we’re going to have our hands full.”
The Dodgers have reached this stage in three of the past five years. To get there on Monday, they overcame a dangerous, familiar opponent.
The history between these teams lasts beyond 2017. After Jansen’s final cutter hissed past the bat of Arizona slugger Paul Goldschmidt, a cordon of police mounted on horseback ringed the field. A pair were stationed by the pool in right field, which had the Dodgers had celebrated inside after clinching a division title in 2013. In the bubbly aftermath, team president Stan Kasten giggled at a picture of the security force. No Dodgers ventured toward the water.
The mood had been light all day. The front-office duo of Andrew Friedman and Zaidi waved to a few adoring fans as they watched batting practice. An errant warmup toss by first-base coach George Lombard sailed past Puig and bounced into Kasten. Corey Seager clanged a batting-practice homer off the lifeguard stand by the pool. Scoring runs would not come that easy.
Greinke was not at his best on Monday. He had not pitched beyond the fourth inning in his previous three outings. The Dodgers welcomed him to the mound with malice. Chris Taylor worked the count full before smashing a leadoff double into the left-field corner.
After a walk by Seager, Taylor took third on flyout. He scored on a groundout off Bellinger’s bat. Unable to finish at-bats, Greinke required 29 pitches to complete the inning. Greinke did not generate a swinging strike until his 54th pitch, a slider which Darvish swung over to end the second.
“Going through that first time through the order, I don’t think they swung at one pitch out of the zone,” Greinke said. “They’re really tough to beat when they’re not chasing anything or anything close.”
Darvish had not pitched since Sept. 25. He skipped his final outing of the season. The Dodgers assigned him the third game of this series in deference to his success on the road in 2017. Roberts acknowledged the possibility of rust. “There’s always that chance, but I think he’s going to be fired up,” Roberts said. “There are going to be some emotions. He’s just got to recoil those emotions and make pitches.”
Darvish did not crumble. His postseason career was brief but checkered: Two starts, two defeats and a 5.40 earned-run average. He aimed to rectify that history on Monday. Darvish faced one batter over the minimum on his first turn through Arizona’s lineup. The Diamondbacks lacked experience against Darvish — only outfielder J.D. Martinez had more than six at-bats against him.
In the fourth, Darvish flabbergasted the heart of Arizona’s lineup. He unleashed a 2-2 slider that nipped the outside corner to freeze shortstop Ketel Marte. His fastball touched 98 mph before he struck out Goldschmidt with another slider. Darvish finished the inning with a wicked, two-seam fastball that induced a futile swing by Martinez.
“That was the best I’ve ever seen him,” Barnes said.
The gap between Darvish and Greinke, in terms of aesthetics, was immense. The actual difference in the game was only one run. Greinke walked five batters in the first four innings but held the Dodgers to six hitless at-bats with runners in scoring position.
After flying out in the third inning, Bellinger met with Roberts for a moment. Roberts reminded Bellinger how often the rookie carried the Dodgers in 2017, how vital he was to this team’s cause. Bellinger received the message. In his next at-bat, with two outs in the fifth, he unleashed a lighting strike with his lumber, detonating a 3-1 changeup for a homer.
Darvish gave back a run in the bottom of the inning, on a solo shot by second baseman Daniel Descalso, but Bellinger helped Darvish escape the inning. Bellinger raced to the Dodgers dugout and settled beneath a foul ball lofted by Arizona catcher Jeff Mathis. Bellinger kept his eyes on the ball as he rolled over the railing and tumbled into Roberts. His teammates reached to pull Bellinger back to his feet.
“I should have been a little quicker to save him,” Roberts said. “But it was a heck of a play, going over the rail.”
Greinke had thrown 104 pitches. Despite his subdued arsenal, he dragged himself through five innings. Arizona manager Torey Lovullo was not satisfied. He sent Greinke out for the sixth. The mistake became obvious after an 0-1 fastball to Barnes, who lashed a solo shot beyond the left-field fence.
In the celebration afterward, Alex Wood grabbed Barnes.
“Open your mouth!” Wood shouted, before dumping a bottle of Budweiser on the catcher. “You deserve it!”
Darvish did not last much longer. Roberts allowed him to bat with a runner on third in the fifth. Darvish grounded out and the runner would be stranded. Back out for the sixth, Darvish clipped pinch hitter Christian Walker in the helmet with a 94-mph fastball. Roberts jumped up from the dugout and called in Cingrani, who promptly induced a 3-6-3 double play to erase Walker and ease the Dodgers’ exit from the inning.
“We didn’t want to give them any chances,” Darvish said. “If I was the manager, I would do the same thing.”
From there, Roberts conducted a clinic. He allowed Morrow to face four batters, including left-handed hitter Jake Lamb. Morrow retired them all. Maeda pitched a spotless eighth. And waiting at the end was Jansen, the game’s most trustworthy closer. He finished the job, working around a one-out single by outfielder David Peralta.
As the final out disappeared inside Barnes’ glove, Roberts was engulfed in a series of bearhugs from his coaches. He climbed the railing to join the team on the field, before retiring into the clubhouse.
After a few minutes, Piles of corks and beer caps littered the floor. The room reeked of fermented grapes. Roberts looked exhausted but thrilled. He beamed when Puig walked by.
“Two more times,” Puig said, referencing the celebrations necessary to snap this team’s 28-season championship drought.
“That’s right,” Roberts said. “That’s right.”