The Dodgers returned to the scene of their biggest triumph in 35 years on Friday night, the stadium where they hunkered down for 24 days amid a global pandemic to win two playoff rounds and the 2020 World Series, and for a minute it looked like their bubble might be burst by the player who led them to that title.
Corey Seager, the former Dodgers shortstop who was the 2020 World Series Most Valuable Player, hit a game-breaking home run for the Texas Rangers in the sixth inning, but the Dodgers rallied for two runs in the seventh, three in the eighth and two in the ninth for a blistering 11-5 win in front of a sold-out crowd of 39,808 at Globe Life Field.
Freddie Freeman hit a two-run double and a solo homer, Will Smith and JD Martinez delivered two-hit hits in the eighth, and center fielder Jonny DeLuca made spectacular catches in consecutive plays in the fifth as the Dodgers (56-40) snapped the Rangers’ six-game winning streak.
Learn more: The Dodgers have holes to fill. Here is an overview of potential trade targets
“It was just a night where you can step back and realize what this whole team is capable of,” Freeman said after the Dodgers won for the 17th time in 24 games. “We can beat you in different ways. This formation, the way we’ve been swinging the sticks lately, a lot of guys feel good.
Seager’s solo shot on reliever Alex Vesia to lead in the sixth gave Texas a 5-4 lead, but Mookie Betts sparked the seventh-inning rally against Rangers reliever Alex Speas with a walk ahead.
Freeman took the lead, 2 and 1 in the count, at which point Texas manager Bruce Bochy issued an intentional walk, putting the potential green light on the base. Smith flared a straight-to-shallow right cross to charge the no-out bases, and Martinez took a full plate cutter for a walk to force Betts in for a 5-5 tie.
Southpaw Brock Burke brought out Chris Taylor at first base for the first out, but Max Muncy avoided a potential late-inning double play by beating a ground defensive player at shortstop, with Freeman scoring for a 6-5 lead.
Miguel Rojas led the eighth with a single to right-hander Grant Anderson and took second on a sacrificial bunt by Yonny Hernandez. Rojas got a running jump and stole third, and Betts walked, putting runners in the corners with one out.
Freeman struck looking, but Smith found the gap to right center with a brace that scored Rojas and Betts for an 8-5 lead, and Martinez anchored a single to center to make it 9-5.
Betts noticed that center fielder Leody Taveras blew Smith’s base hit and never slowed around third.
“It speaks to the baseball IQ of our ball club in the sense that you see a guy come into the game and he can’t find the strike zone, so you have him pitching and taking walks if necessary,” manager Dave Roberts said. “You see an opportunity to steal third base and create a scoring situation, we can do that, and Mookie with our heads held high…these runs matter.”
Dodgers reliever Brusdar Graterol retired the team in order in the seventh, and left-hander Caleb Ferguson escaped a goal-laden jam and an out in the eighth with help from the Rangers (58-40).
Josh Jung flew to the right, pinched runner Josh Smith holding on to third, but Nathaniel Lowe, who was second, ran halfway to third before slipping and falling. Betts made a solid pitch to Smith, who relayed a pitch to second baseman Hernandez, who tagged Lowe to end the inning.
The Dodgers then tacked on two extra runs in the ninth when Betts drove a two-out, two-run brace off Taveras’ head for an 11-5 lead.
DeLuca’s web gems tied the score 4-4 in the fifth. Taveras hit a one-out drive to left center, but DeLuca, making his first start since July 8, ran into the gap, covering 70 feet in 4.1 seconds, and made a full-extension diving catch for the second out, his hat covering his face as he sat down and pushed his glove into the air.
Dodgers starter Tony Gonsolin pointed to DeLuca in salute. Three pitches later, Gonsolin shook his head in disbelief after DeLuca ran for the wall at left center, covering 98 feet in 6.6 seconds, and made a bounding catch two feet over the fence to deny Marcus Semien a home run.
“The first one, the dive, I was like, ‘All right, that was pretty sick, like thanks,'” Gonsolin said. “And the next one I looked up and saw the exit bike and thought that was a circuit for sure. As a journey. And then it came out of nowhere, jumped up very early and just floated. It was really cool to have them back to back.
DeLuca said he was “very surprised” to have caught the first ball.
“I kind of ran as hard as I could, took a courtesy dive, and it ended up falling in my glove,” DeLuca said. “The second one, I almost made it a bit harder than necessary. I didn’t take the best path. But it was fun to make two really good plays, so I’m excited.
What did Gonsolin tell DeLuca when they got back to the dugout?
“Thank you,” Gonsolin said. “Anything you need, I got you.”
DeLuca had a meaty request. Well, actually two.
“Two rib eye,” DeLuca said. “Medium, bone-in, of course, 32 ounces.”
The euphoria did not last long. Seager, who left Los Angeles to sign a 10-year, $325 million deal with the Rangers in 2021, hosted Vesia with a 434-foot homer to right center, his 15th of the season, to lead the sixth for a 5-4 Texas lead. Seager left the game in the eighth after suffering a sprained right thumb on a slide to second base.
The Rangers took a 2-0 lead in Game 1 when Seager walked and left-hander Lowe had enough of his cannon on a 95-mph fastball from Gonsolin to homer 353 feet just inside the left-field foul post.
Learn more: You didn’t get the icing on the cake. Dodgers recall muted 2020 title celebration
Gonsolin rocked the first shot to hit the team in the second – Jonah Heim with an 83mph splitter and Travis Jankowski and Ezequiel Duran with 94mph fastballs, and the Dodgers rallied for three runs top of the third for a 3-2 lead.
Rojas started with a walk and Hernandez anchored a single to left field. Betts rocketed to deep center, Rojas took third and Freeman scored a brace from two wide to left center. Martinez followed with an RBI single to left center for a 3-2 lead.
Texas took the lead with another two-run rally and a hit in the fourth as Lowe walked, Adolis García fielded a left double, Jung walked to load the bases, and Heim and Jankowski hit sacrifice flies.
That lead disappeared in the fifth when Freeman lined up a first-pitch slider by Rangers southpaw Andrew Heaney on the wall to left center for his 18th home run and a 4-4 draw.
“We’re not going to stop,” Betts said of the Dodgers’ relentless 13-hit offense. “You’re going to play 27 outs. That’s it. The game is over when the game is over, but until then we’re not going to stop putting the pressure on you.”
Clayton Kershaw, out since July 3 with shoulder pain, threw an aggressive 40-pitch bullpen session, his second such practice session this week. The next step will be to pitch to the batters in a mock three-inning 45-50 pitch game Monday at Dodger Stadium. At that point, the Dodgers will decide whether to activate Kershaw late next week or have him pitch another four-inning, 65-70 pitch mock game before returning. … Outfielder Jake Marisnick (hamstring strain) will be out for at least three weeks, Roberts said. … ESPN resumed the Aug. 6 game in San Diego for “Sunday Night Baseball,” moving the start time to Petco Park from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Sign up for more Dodgers news with Dodgers Dugout. Delivered at the beginning of each series.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.