PHOENIX — Two things were abundantly clear about the Los Angeles Dodgers on Monday night, and both propelled them into their second straight National League Championship Series.
First: Yu Darvish, a trade-deadline acquisition brought in specifically for this time of the year, gave the Dodgers exactly what they needed.
Second: Even before Darvish was added, the Dodgers were baseball’s best team with top-to-bottom excellence, featuring a deep roster that had been unexpectedly bolstered by the right-on-time arrival of the National League’s top rookie, Cody Bellinger.
All of this was on display Monday, as the Dodgers stymied the Arizona Diamondbacks 3-1 to complete the only three-game sweep of the four division series this season.
“Yu really stepped up huge for us,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “He was in command and control from the first pitch, working to both sides of the plate.
“It was just fun to watch him have his nerves calm and just compete. He was out there having fun.”
With Diamondbacks ace Zack Greinke on the mound, the efficiency of the Dodgers’ lineup waited out Greinke time after time.
Chris Taylor worked Greinke deep in the count to lead off the game, then unloaded on a slider for a double. He scored on Bellinger’s roller for the first run, all the scoring there was until the fifth inning.
But the Dodgers worked Greinke for five walks — the most he’d allowed since Aug. 15, 2014, when he pitched for L.A. By the end of the fifth, his pitch count had topped 100.
“It’s just a collective group of guys willing to do whatever it takes to win a ballgame,” Bellinger said. “Unselfish and the way guys pass the baton and pick each other up is incredible.”
Meanwhile, Darvish was dealing. Only Ketel Marte‘s first-inning bunt single dented his armor. After that, Darvish retired 13 straight. He struck out the side in the fourth, and Jake Lamb to start the fifth.
“I think his competing was unbelievable,” said emerging L.A. backstop Austin Barnes. “When he’s on his game, he’s tough for any lineup.”
This was the deadline hammer the Dodgers were applying, Darvish coming over to carry them to a series clincher. But that’s not how the Dodgers are built. It’s never one guy.
“If I was the manager, I’d do the same thing,” Darvish said, demonstrating his buy-in to a program he has been a part of for a little over two months. “Use all the bullpen [options] because we have an off day tomorrow and the day after tomorrow.”
Back to Bellinger. He guessed right on a Greinke changeup in the top of the fifth and sent it well back into the seats beyond left-center field, giving the Dodgers a two-run advantage that seemed much larger with the way Darvish was dealing. In doing so, Bellinger became the youngest Dodger to homer in a postseason game and, as a native of nearby Scottsdale, Arizona, he did it in familiar environs.
“It was really cool coming back here to Chase Field,” Bellinger said. “I played here in high school and went to a lot of games as a kid. To celebrate here with the Dodgers is pretty special.”
Darvish finally made a mistake in the fifth, one that postseason dandy Daniel Descalso deposited into the pool area behind the right-field wall.
Before that mistake could be compounded, Bellinger headed off a potential rally by chasing a Jeff Mathis pop fly over to the first-base dugout. He reached far over the railing, snared the ball, flipped over the railing and into the dugout. As Bellinger held his glove up to show he’d held onto the ball, his teammates and coaches pounded on his back in congratulations.
“I just tried to get to the railing as fast as I could,” Bellinger said. “I just jumped. Then I hit the ground. It all happened really fast.”
Greinke was back out for the sixth, but was greeted by a solo blast from Barnes, and you couldn’t help but wonder if by that point the Dodgers’ relentless efficiency had ground Greinke into a baseball form of hamburger meat. Anyway, D-backs manager Torey Lovullo came out to send Greinke to the showers.
“I thought Zack did a good job,” Arizona manager Torey Lovullo said. “He handled Barnes fairly well for the majority of the night. Made a mistake and Barnes took advantage of it.”
So all that was left was for Darvish, who’d thrown fewer than 70 pitches, to roll deep into the game, right? Of course not. You’re thinking of the wrong century. He almost hit pinch-hitter Christian Walker with a pitch — it caromed off the knob of his bat — then he did hit Walker, on the bill of the helmet.
Roberts was taking no chances. That was it — Darvish was done, with five innings and 74 pitches under his belt.
“Yu was in control,” third baseman Justin Turner said. “That’s as poised as I’ve ever seen him.”
Tony Cingrani came on to get a double-play roller.
Then the Dodgers’ bullpen relay race was on. Brandon Morrow handed to starter-turned-high-leverage reliever Kenta Maeda, who handed to the irrepressible Kenley Jansen. Jansen slammed the door on the Diamondbacks, striking out Paul Goldschmidt with a man on base to end it after a splendid eight-pitch battle.
“You look at the three games in the series, and they’re all team wins,” Roberts said. “Guys in certain roles, now relegated to certain roles, like Kenta, Austin Barnes in a different role, and Cingrani to get a lefty, it was special. It really was.”
That’s how it was all series long for the Dodgers, and it’s why on the biggest night of the Diamondbacks’ season, their season came to an end. The Dodgers followed their procedures and processes to each letter and number, each player doing his job and no more.
So the Dodgers made it back to the NLCS, the hurdle they haven’t been able to clear for 29 years. If the division series was any indication, the pressure of the drought is not going to alter the course of the L.A. corporate machine.