A patchwork of pitching schemes and shaky defense in crunch moments nearly cost the Dodgers Friday night.
A clutch performance from Mookie Betts, however, saved them in the end.
In a back-and-forth game that featured six lead changes, three ties and 10 innings, Betts’ two home runs, four hits and four RBIs led the Dodgers to a 10-6 victory over the Miami Marlins.
“Unbelievable,” manager Dave Roberts said. “It was just a great performance. We needed every bit of it.”
With the Dodgers trailing 2-1 in the top of the seventh, Betts hit a two-run home run to erase their first deficit.
In the top of the ninth, after the Dodgers’ questionable decision to trust Phil Bickford with a one-run lead backfired, Betts saved the day again with a game-tying hit that stuck just inside the left-field foul pole.
And when the Dodgers couldn’t hold on to another lead after Justin Turner’s RBI single later in the ninth, Betts came through once again in the 10th, putting the Dodgers back in front with an RBI double that led to an eventual five-run rally that put the game. out of range.
“I just want to win,” said Betts, whose 20th career multi-hit game from the top spot passed Alfonso Soriano for the most in major league history. “It doesn’t matter where we are in the standings. I just show up every day and want to win. So I’m doing everything I can to help the team.”
On Friday, he also protected the Dodgers from some self-inflicted outbursts.
After Betts’ seventh-run home run made it 3-2, the Dodgers called on a struggling Bickford to try to protect a one-run lead in the bottom of the seventh.
As expected, his exit did not go well.
Bickford gave up a leadoff single and then walked two batters to load the bases. He was given a gift when Marlins No. 9 hitter Peyton Burdick hit a bunt. But then Bickford gave up a game-tying RBI single to Miguel Rojas on a fastball over the heart of the plate.
Left-hander Alex Vesia entered with two outs to try to clean up Bickford’s mess, but gave up a swinging bunt single to Joey Wendle that put the Marlins ahead — and raised Bickford’s ERA to 5.36 in the process.
“The streak was perfect for Phil,” Roberts said, noting he was facing the bottom of the Marlins’ lineup. “He has to play better.”
What didn’t become clear until after the game was just how shorthanded the Dodgers pitching staff was.
The team had already used top shortstop Evan Phillips to relieve starter Tyler Anderson in the sixth after a groundout by Chris Taylor to second led to the only two runs (one of which was unearned) charged against Anderson in 5 1/ 3 innings.
After the game, Roberts said the Dodgers also predetermined that right-hander Chris Martin and left-hander Caleb Ferguson would not enter the field unless in extreme circumstances.
Roberts said Martin is dealing with an elbow problem and the team is still cautious about Ferguson’s workload as he returns from Tommy John surgery.
With the Dodgers (87-37) where they are in the standings — they lead the NL West by 19 ½ games and have a 7 ½-game advantage for the majors’ best record — Roberts also admitted that Friday was the kind of game where the long-term cost of possible overtiredness of his pitchers (and perhaps their exposure to injury) factored into the short-term choices made in pursuit of a largely inconsequential win.
“We’re putting ourselves in a position where health is paramount,” Roberts said. “And I’m not going to compromise that for any reason right now with where we are.”
However, by failing to thread the needle with Bickford, the Dodgers dropped another major reliever in a difficult situation.
The team was trying not to use Brusdar Graterol on Friday either, after the right-hander had already pitched twice this week in his return from a shoulder injury.
But Bickford then made a leadoff run in the seventh before David Price, who was called on to earn the save after Craig Kimbrel pitched the eighth, carved out another one-run advantage in the ninth on a solo home run to Burdick .
That meant needing three more outs in the bottom of the 10th, the Dodgers eventually turned to Graterol — with infielder Hanser Alberto looking like their only other option, according to Roberts.
“We didn’t play good defense tonight,” Roberts said. “I don’t think we played as well as we could.”
But thanks to Betts, as Roberts later exhaled, “we finally won a ballgame.”
Even if it was more dramatic than it should have been.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.