Jake Reed knew he was going to play Tuesday night.
But even he could not imagine such an unlikely scene.
Protecting a one-run lead in the bottom of the ninth against the New York Mets — in the first game of a series that manager Dave Roberts called a potential playoff preview — the Dodgers treated the moment like anything but a tense October night.
Closer Craig Kimbrel was not called upon to pitch in back-to-back games. Reliever Evan Phillips was not asked to return to the mound for the second inning. The team had already decided that any other unused relievers would be rested.
So, in a battle between the two best teams in the National League … in front of a roaring crowd of 40,607 at Citi Field … in the kind of dramatic series that could be repeated two months from now … it was a pitcher who had been cut by both two clubs in the last two seasons and had only been re-added to the Dodgers’ roster that afternoon, who came out of the bullpen for the most unlikely of save opportunities.
Three outs later, it became the best night of Reed’s journeyman career.
Reed recorded the save in the Dodgers’ 4-3 win with a scoreless ninth, erasing a lead-off single with a double-play grounder before hitting a comebacker to end the game.
As he walked through the handshake line, his mind began to race and his emotions began to swell.
While doing a television interview with SportsNet LA, he pursed his lips and held back tears.
“I’m very grateful to be back here in Los Angeles,” Reed said. “To have the confidence to be given the ball in that opportunity, it just means a lot. Just a full-circle crazy thing.”
Reed’s appearance was based less on confidence and more on attention.
The Dodgers decided to prioritize their workload and the health of their pitching staff, a luxury that comes with a 191/2-game lead and a nine-game advantage for the top NL playoff seed.
On Tuesday, that meant five of their nine relievers had gone down, leaving just four arms to cover the final four innings after Andrew Heaney gave up three runs (two earned) through five.
Veteran right-hander Heath Hembree pitched a shutout sixth on the day he was called up from triple-A Oklahoma City.
After Gavin Lux put the Dodgers up 4-3 with a single — his third RBI of a two-hit, one-walk night — reliable pinch-hit relievers Alex Vesia and Phillips pitched the seventh and eighth. Reed was saved for the ninth inning, in part, out of fear of blowing the lead.
Had there been extra innings, the Dodgers could have sent him back for the 10th and avoided burning another reliever slated to rest.
“We just had to put it together,” Roberts said. “If you think about having Jake in the backfield, he has the most coverage for us to get back out there. … We just didn’t have anyone available.”
Reed led off a shaky single, giving up a single to Eduardo Escobar. He then grounded into the count of favorite fielder Daniel Vogelbach, bringing a near-capacity crowd roaring to its feet.
But in a season in which the Dodgers (90-38) have pulled one rabbit after another in terms of their upgraded, ever-evolving pitching staff, Reed pulled one last magic trick.
He got Vogelbach to hit a pitch to right, where shifted third baseman Max Muncie turned a tough tag-’em-out, drop-’em-out double play.
Reed then had Brandon Nimmo hit a fan. After knocking it down and throwing to first, Reed pumped both fists to celebrate what he called the best moment of his career.
“It was a lot more than my debut, a lot more than getting my call,” said Reed, who made his major league debut with the Dodgers last July, then was designated for assignment and claimed by Tampa Bay Rays. DFA’d again and claimed by the Mets, then DFA’d a third time this July and claimed back by the Dodgers, who moved him to the cab team.
“Okay guys, you’re starting to get a little carried away with your career,” he said. “It’s crazy to be here and to be working with this team. Sometimes it just blows my mind. So I think there were a lot of things that came out with a couple of screams and a few tears.”
Roberts announced that Clayton Kershaw will return from the injured list for Thursday’s finale against the Mets. … According to a person with knowledge of the situation, prospect Miguel Vargas will be one of the team’s invitees when rosters expand to 28 for September on Thursday.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.