Dodgers bullpen collapse resurrects grim October memories in loss to Padres

Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, right, takes the ball from relief pitcher Yency Almonte.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, right, takes reliever Yency Almonte out of the game in an 8-3 loss Saturday to the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. Almonte and Caleb Ferguson allowed seven earned runs in a disastrous eighth inning for the Dodgers. (Gregory Bull / Associated Press)

That saying about history repeating itself? Apparently it applies to baseball, as well.

Just like their playoff elimination here last October, the Dodgers watched a winnable game slip away Saturday in an 8-3 loss to the San Diego Padres.

And just like last year, their defeat was sealed during a late-game collapse, the Padres mounting a seven-run, eighth-inning rally that was eerily full of eerily familiar sights.

There was the score, with the Dodgers holding a late 3-1 lead just as they had during Game 4 of last year’s National League Division Series.

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There was the pitcher, with right-hander Yency Almonte featuring prominently in another bullpen meltdown.

There was more unrelenting offense from an underdog Padres squad, which began the night two games below .500 and 10 games behind the Dodgers in the National League West.

And, of course, there was the age-old chant from a sold-out Petco Park crowd, which sent passionate screams of “Beat LA!” pulsing through the San Diego night.

“The inning got away from us right there,” manager Dave Roberts said. “We just couldn’t minimize damage.”

Granted, the stakes on Saturday were nowhere near last October’s meltdown. The repercussions will be limited, too, with two games remaining in this early August series.

Still, for a Dodgers team that had won four consecutive games since an underwhelming trade deadline, Saturday’s result sent them plummeting back to earth.

Dodgers relief pitcher Ryan Yarbrough delivers against the San Diego Padres in the second inning Saturday.
Dodgers relief pitcher Ryan Yarbrough delivers against the San Diego Padres in the second inning Saturday. (Gregory Bull / Associated Press)

In a series they could have potentially put a fork in their Southern California rivals, they instead gave the fourth-place — but nonetheless supremely talented — Padres (55-56) a sudden burst of new life.

“I think tonight they’re feeling pretty good about themselves, like we felt last night,” Roberts said. “But with baseball, it’s a new day and we have to be ready to go tomorrow.”

Through the first seven innings, Saturday was going to a tee for the Dodgers (63-46).

Michael Grove got four strikeouts as the opener. Left-handed deadline acquisition Ryan Yarbrough followed with 4 ⅓ solid innings of bulk relief, giving up just a Manny Machado solo home run.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers lineup built a lead, getting a first-inning home run from Will Smith, a second-inning sacrifice fly from Kiké Hernández and a fifth-inning RBI single from Freddie Freeman.

With six outs remaining, the Dodgers had most of their high-leverage arms available, too.

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Almonte, however, immediately created a jam at the beginning of the eighth.

He gave up a leadoff single to Gary Sánchez. Then he walked Ha-Seong Kim and Fernando Tatis Jr. in consecutive at-bats — missing badly in a full count to Kim, then firing four straight balls to Tatis — to load the bases.

“He just wasn’t good,” Roberts said of Almonte, who left the clubhouse before speaking with reporters postgame. “He just completely lost command.”

Left-hander Caleb Ferguson wasn’t much better.

Summoned into the bases-loaded jam with one out and left-handed slugger Juan Soto at the plate, Ferguson induced a weak ground ball to the right side of the infield.

As Hernández charged in from second, however, he turned a potential spectacular play into yet another self-inflicted mistake.

With an off-balance, underhand flip, Hernández sent the ball wide of first base and into the home dugout — allowing the tying run to score and the Padres’ other runners to move into scoring position.

“I haven’t seen the replay to tell whether we had a play or not,” Hernández said. “Maybe tomorrow I’ll have an answer for you.”

The tie didn’t last long.

Ferguson’s next pitch was a fastball over the plate that Machado one-hopped to left field for a two-run single. Then, with two outs, Ferguson seemingly had Machado picked off — only to throw the ball away on a soft toss to first base, further extending an inning in which the Padres would tack on three more runs.

“You have a guy dead to rights in Machado, and to throw the ball away, those are things that add to pitch counts, add to runs,” Roberts said, after Ferguson also walked out of the clubhouse without talking to reporters.

While Ferguson remains the Dodgers’ top left-hander — his ERA actually dropped to 2.98 on Saturday, as all four of the runs charged to him were unearned — Almonte’s place in the bullpen hierarchy is much more tenuous.

After emerging as a top option for the Dodgers last year, the right-hander has struggled to find consistency this campaign.

He struggled mightily early in the season, with an ERA of 9.00 ERA in mid-May. He’d been better recently, going 15 outings without an earned run to get his ERA back under 5.00.

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However, after giving up three runs in a loss to the Cincinnati Reds last week, then three more in Saturday’s collapse against the Padres, his ERA is now 5.36 — inviting more questions about his role as a leverage option.

“It’s pretty easy in my chair,” Roberts said. “You give guys opportunities, and they play themselves into their own roles. I’ll leave it at that.”

On Saturday, both relievers Roberts put his trust in faltered, leading to an all-too-reminiscent result that, compared to last year, was only lacking a missed pickoff sign and mid-at-bat pitching change.

“Unfortunately, it was the end to a really good night through seven innings,” Roberts said of a pitching plan that unraveled with his eighth-inning relievers. “It’s up to those guys to do their jobs, too.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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