The Dodgers returned to the scene of their greatest triumph in 35 years on Friday night, the stadium where they hunkered down for 24 days amid a worldwide 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 most valuable player of the 2020 World Series, hit a tiebreaking homer 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 runaway 11-5 victory before a sold-out crowd of 39,808 in Globe Life Field.
Freddie Freeman hit a two-run double and a solo homer, Will Smith and J.D. Martinez delivered clutch two-out, run-scoring hits in the eighth, and center fielder Jonny DeLuca made spectacular catches on back-to-back plays in the fifth, as the Dodgers (56-40) snapped the Rangers’ winning streak at six games.
“It was just a night where you can take a step back and realize what this whole team is capable of doing,” Freeman said after the Dodgers won for the 17th time in 24 games. “We can beat you in all different ways. This lineup, the way we’ve been swinging the bats lately, a lot of guys are feeling good.”
Seager’s solo shot off reliever Alex Vesia to lead off the sixth gave Texas a 5-4 lead, but Mookie Betts sparked the seventh-inning rally against Rangers reliever Alex Speas with a leadoff walk.
Freeman got ahead, 2-and-1 in the count, at which point Texas manager Bruce Bochy issued an intentional walk, putting the potential go-ahead run on base. Smith flared a single to shallow right-center to load the bases with no outs, and Martinez took a full-count cutter off the plate for a walk to force home Betts for a 5-5 tie.
Left-hander Brock Burke got Chris Taylor to pop out to first base for the first out, but Max Muncy avoided a potential inning-ending double play by beating out a fielder’s-choice grounder to shortstop, Freeman scoring for a 6-5 lead.
Miguel Rojas led off the eighth with a single to right off right-hander Grant Anderson and took second on Yonny Hernandez’s sacrifice bunt. Rojas got a running jump and stole third, and Betts walked, putting runners on the corners with one out.
Freeman struck out looking, but Smith found the gap in right-center with a double that scored Rojas and Betts for an 8-5 lead, and Martinez grounded a single to center to make it 9-5.
Betts noticed center fielder Leody Taveras bobble Smith’s hit and never slowed around third.
“It speaks to the baseball IQ of our ballclub in the sense of, you see a guy coming into the game and he can’t find the strike zone, so you make him make pitches and take walks when needed,” manager Dave Roberts said. “You see an opportunity to steal third base and create a run-scoring situation, we can do that, and Mookie with his head up … those runs matter.”
Dodgers reliever Brusdar Graterol retired the side in order in the seventh, and left-hander Caleb Ferguson escaped a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the eighth with help from the Rangers (58-40).
Josh Jung flied to right, with pinch-runner Josh Smith holding at third, but Nathaniel Lowe, who was on second, ran halfway to third before slipping and falling. Betts made a strong throw home to Smith, who relayed a throw to shortstop Rojas, who tagged Lowe to end the inning.
The Dodgers then tacked on two more runs in the ninth when Betts drove a two-out, two-run double over the head of Taveras for an 11-5 lead.
DeLuca’s web gems kept the score tied 4-4 in the fifth. Taveras hit a one-out drive to left-center, but DeLuca, making his first start since July 8, raced 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 up and thrust his glove in the air.
Dodgers starter Tony Gonsolin pointed toward DeLuca in salute. Three pitches later, Gonsolin shook his head in disbelief after DeLuca raced to the wall in left-center, covering 98 feet in 6.6 seconds, and made a leaping catch two feet above the fence to rob Marcus Semien of a home run.
“The first one, the dive, I was like, ‘All right, that was pretty sick, like thank you,’ ” Gonsolin said. “And the next one I looked up and saw the exit velo and thought it was a homer for sure. Like way gone. And then he just came out of nowhere, jumped real early and just floated. It was really cool to have those back to back.”
DeLuca said he was “very surprised” that he caught the first ball.
“I kind of ran as hard as I could, made a courtesy dive, and it ended up going in my glove,” DeLuca said. “The second one, I almost made it a little harder than it needed to be. I didn’t take the best route on it. But it was fun to make two pretty good plays, so I’m excited.”
What did Gonsolin say to DeLuca when they got back to the dugout?
“Thank you,” Gonsolin said. “Whatever you need, I got you.”
DeLuca had one meaty request. Well, actually two.
“Two ribeyes,” DeLuca said. “Medium, bone-in, for sure, 32-ounce.”
The euphoria didn’t last long. Seager, who left Los Angeles to sign a 10-year, $325-million deal with the Rangers in 2021, greeted Vesia with a 434-foot homer to right-center, his 15th of the season, to lead off the sixth for a 5-4 Texas lead. Seager left the game in the eighth after suffering a right-thumb sprain on a slide into second base.
The Rangers took a 2-0 lead in the first when Seager walked and the left-handed-hitting Lowe got enough of his barrel on a full-count, up-and-away, 95-mph fastball from Gonsolin to loft a 353-foot homer just inside the left-field foul pole.
Gonsolin shook off the early blow to strike out the side in the second — Jonah Heim with an 83-mph splitter and Travis Jankowski and Ezequiel Duran with 94-mph fastballs, and the Dodgers rallied for three runs in the top of the third for a 3-2 lead.
Rojas led off with a walk and Hernandez grounded a single to left field. Betts flied out to deep center, Rojas taking third, and Freeman laced a two-run double to the gap in left-center. Martinez followed with an RBI single to left-center for a 3-2 lead.
Texas pulled ahead with another two-run, one-hit rally in the fourth as Lowe walked, Adolis García lined a double to left, Jung walked to load the bases and Heim and Jankowski hit sacrifice flies.
That lead disappeared in the fifth when Freeman lined a first-pitch slider from Rangers left-hander Andrew Heaney over the wall in left-center for his 18th homer and a 4-4 tie.
“We’re not gonna stop,” Betts said of the Dodgers’ relentless 13-hit attack. “You’re gonna play 27 outs. That’s it. The game’s over when the game’s over, but in the meantime, we’re not going to stop putting pressure on you.”
Clayton Kershaw, out since July 3 because of shoulder soreness, threw an aggressive, 40-pitch bullpen session, his second such workout this week. The next step will be to throw to hitters in a three-inning simulated game of 45 to 50 pitches Monday in Dodger Stadium. At that point, the Dodgers will decide whether to activate Kershaw late next week or have him throw another simulated game of four innings and 65 to 70 pitches before returning. … Outfielder Jake Marisnick (hamstring strain) will be out for at least three weeks, Roberts said. … ESPN has picked up the Aug. 6 game at San Diego for “Sunday Night Baseball,” moving the start time in Petco Park from 1 p.m. to 4.