But in the two biggest plays of the Dodgers’ 8-7 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday night, it was Will Smith who was in the middle of it all.
The Dodgers catcher first saved the game in the bottom of the ninth, his risky baserunning decision paying off to complete the team’s four-run comeback in the inning.
Then, Smith kept the score level in the top of the 10th, hauling in a wide throw from Betts in right field, making a sprawling tag on Kevin Kiermaier at the plate, and setting up James Outman for a walk-off double just moments later.
“It would have been a different game,” manager Dave Roberts said of Smith’s tag, “if he doesn’t make that play.”
The Dodgers were on the verge of a very different ending.
Despite a gritty six-inning, three-run start from Julio Urías and home runs from Freddie Freeman and J.D. Martinez, the team had suffered from a lack of opportunistic offense and shaky performances from the underbelly of the bullpen.
They trailed 7-3 entering the bottom of the ninth. They were in danger of losing three straight games for the first time in more than a month.
But then, Blue Jays reliever Erik Swanson faltered, losing command of the strike zone while getting little help from his defense.
Outman led off with a single. Miguel Rojas got aboard on a ground ball in the infield. Betts began chipping away with an RBI single. Then Smith hit a chopper to third that Matt Chapman couldn’t field cleanly, everyone reaching safely to load the bases with one out.
Max Muncy worked a full count in the next at-bat, before laying off a high splitter for a run-scoring walk.
With the deficit trimmed to two runs, Taylor came to the plate and hit a ground ball to the right side, triggering a rapid turn of events that ended with Smith racing home from second for the tying tally.
“It honestly happened so quickly,” Roberts said. “That was one of those, it worked out really well.”
After Toronto first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. initially deflected Taylor’s ground ball with a diving effort, Dodgers third base coach Dino Ebel waved Smith home as he approached the bag.
A split-second later, however, Ebel put up the stop sign, trying to hold Smith up upon seeing Toronto second baseman Santiago Espinal going to recover the ball near the edge of the infield.
Smith never saw Ebel change his mind. With his head down, and his focus fixed on scoring, he kept steaming toward the plate and likely would have been out if Espinal saw him.
Alas, the Toronto infielder first bobbled the ball, then looked toward first well after Taylor had reached safely.
By the time Espinal realized Smith had kept running, it was too late. The score was tied. The Dodgers had forced extra innings.
“You’re thinking ‘score’ right when he hits it,” Smith said. “It’s a mindset that I had, just get a big secondary and score. That’s it. If [Dino] holds me up, he holds me up. But last thing I saw was him waving me, so I’m putting my head down and going.”
Asked if Smith’s decision was good baserunning or an overaggressive gamble that worked out, Roberts smirked.
“It was an overaggressive one that worked out,” the manager said. “But I’m glad he made that decision.”
Smith’s defensive play in the top of the 10th was even more impressive.
With one out, Bo Bichette hit a single to right field that appeared deep enough to score the speedy Kiermaier from second base. But, even after an off-line throw from Betts, Smith was able to haul in the ball and lunge toward the plate, tagging Kiermaier on the knee just before he slid across the plate.
“I can’t speak enough to that play,” Roberts said. “It’s a bang-bang play that he executed.”
That set the stage for Outman to win the game in the bottom of the 10th, the rookie capping his three-hit, two-walk night with a double off the top of the wall for the team’s fifth walk-off win of the season.
“His at-bats all night long were great,” Roberts said of Outman, who has snapped an extended midseason slump by batting .320 in his last 16 games.
“Young player, taking walks, and then when he gets an opportunity to put the ball in the strike zone, he puts good swings on it,” Roberts added. “He’s growing up pretty quickly. The last few weeks have been really telling.”
So, too, was the Dodgers rally Tuesday, in a game that seemed all but over after reliever Justin Bruihl gave up three runs in the top half of the ninth inning.
“They really kind of punched us,” Smith said. “But we punched right back, tied it up and in the 10th, went ahead.”