The first inning couldn’t have gone much worse for the Dodgers on Monday night.
Rookie center fielder James Outman misplayed a fly ball on a leadoff double, leading to one run. Rookie right-hander Gavin Stone, called up for the second big league start of his career, yielded a three-run home run a few batters later.
By the time the side was retired, the first-place Atlanta Braves had sent nine batters to the plate, forced Stone to throw 34 pitches and surged out to an early four-run lead — one that felt close to insurmountable in front of a sold-out Truist Park.
“After that first inning,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, “there was a lot of stress.”
From then on, however, the Dodgers staged a rally that could have hardly been any better.
Stone settled down, charged with only one more run in four-plus total innings. The offense came to life, getting to Braves starter Charlie Morton (5-4) en route to 12 total hits.
And slowly but surely, the team clawed its way back into the game, taking the lead on a three-run homer by Freddie Freeman in the fifth and hanging on from there for an impressive, unexpected 8-6 win.
“It’s too early to say it was like a playoff game,” Roberts said. “But … there was some urgency there.”
The comeback was rich in storylines.
There were big contributions from Freeman, the former Braves star who, after an emotional homecoming visit to Atlanta last year, was all smiles Monday. He received a standing ovation before his first at-bat, doffing his helmet to the crowd. Then he punished his former club in the top of the fifth, hooking a go-ahead homer inside the foul pole in right field.
“It felt good,” Freeman said, after adding a single and double to extend his hitting streak to 12 games. “A lot more normal than last year, I can tell you that.”
There were two home runs and four total hits from J.D. Martinez, who put the Dodgers on the board in the second inning with a solo blast before adding some insurance with another homer in the seventh.
“It just seems like, it doesn’t matter how far out of reach the game might feel, our offense is dangerous,” Martinez said. “We can snap a finger and get back in a ballgame real quick.”
There was nearly a benches-clearing dust-up sparked by catcher Will Smith and Braves designated hitter Marcell Ozuna after Ozuna’s bat struck Smith, who recently returned from a concussion, in the head on the follow-through of a swing in the fourth.
Smith started barking at Ozuna as he flied out to left. Then Ozuna returned to the plate to offer words of his own.
“It’s not the first time he’s done it to me. He’s done it to other catchers around the league,” said Smith, who had another heated conversation with Ozuna in the sixth inning. “I just felt like there comes a point where I need to say something there. In the moment, it kind of got a little heated. It’s something he’s not doing on purpose, but you do it enough times, you’d think he’d fix it.”
The biggest driver in the win for the Dodgers (30-19), though, was perhaps the five stressful innings the team got out of its recently overworked bullpen.
Facing a jam in the fifth inning — with runners on the corners after a pair of leadoff walks from Stone and a mental lapse from the defense that allowed Ronald Acuña Jr. to steal third base — Roberts summoned his best reliever first, inserting Evan Phillips (1-0) against the heart of the order for the Braves (29-18).
“Once we caught a lead, I just felt that it was important to deploy [our best arms] and keep it,” Roberts said.
The right-hander did that, giving up one inherited run on an RBI double from Austin Riley but limiting the damage with the help of his defense.
Shortstop Miguel Rojas snared a well-struck ball, one of several strong defensive plays to go along with two hits at the plate. Then Outman came up with a diving snag in center, saving a run after Sean Murphy failed to tag up at third base.
In the sixth inning, Caleb Ferguson worked around a leadoff single with the help of a double play. In the seventh, struggling right-hander Yency Almonte delivered three key outs, retiring the top of the Braves’ lineup in order.
The Dodgers gave one run back in the eighth, after Brusdar Graterol replaced Phil Bickford and yielded an RBI double to Ozuna.
But Graterol escaped that inning, then returned to finish things off in the ninth, completing a come-from-behind win with his third save.
“We exhausted a lot tonight,” Roberts said, “but it feels good to win this one.”