By Jon Weisman
When Alex Wood took the mound to start the bottom of the fifth inning today at San Francisco, he had a 4-0 lead and a 31-inning scoreless streak by Dodger pitching behind him.
One of the unsung aspects of that streak was that the Dodgers had gone 23 straight innings without walking a batter. Wood had done his part, zipping through his first four innings with first-pitch strikes to 14 of the 15 batters he had faced. Three Giants had hits in three different innings, but each was stranded without much drang, let alone any sturm.
For whatever reason, when Wood began pitching in the fifth, he lost command. His first three pitches to Brandon Crawford missed, and then after getting two called strikes, Wood missed badly for what became the Dodgers’ third walk of the season.
Kelby Tomlinson, pinch-hitting for Jake Peavy, then laid down a bunt that died on the grass just inside fair territory. Suddenly, for the first time all season, a Dodger opponent had two on with none out.
On such little events do seasons make their first pivot.
“If I throw that changeup for a strike (to Crawford), we’re not having this conversation,” Wood said to SportsNet LA’s Alanna Rizzo after the game. “I probably should have just thrown a heater and challenged him a bit more.”
The next two San Francisco batters grounded out, and if this inning had begun like any of the previous 31, it would have ended with the Dodgers tying the Major League record for most scoreless innings to start the season. Instead, Denard Span’s groundout brought home the first run.
And then the pendulum truly swung. Joe Panik tripled, Buster Posey doubled, and no longer were the Dodgers the invincible force that had taken a record 29-0 lead on the National League West. It was now 29-3, and more to the point, 4-3 heading into the sixth inning.
With two out and none on in the top of the sixth, Dave Roberts decided not to waste one of his five reserves (or Kenta Maeda) and let Wood bat for himself in a low-leverage situation. But in the bottom of the sixth, Wood pitched from behind again, and gave up singles to Matt Duffy and Crawford. Then came Yimi Garcia, who had thrown shutout ball in his first two innings of 2016 but couldn’t hold off the Giants from scoring four times for a 7-4 lead. For the first time this season, the Dodgers trailed.
“At 74 pitches, as far as stamina and where he was at, I didn’t see him missing arm-side, I didn’t see him losing velocity, I think his stuff held,” Roberts said of the decision to bring Wood back for the sixth inning. “Duffy hits a ball, seeing-eye grounder through the four hole, and a little jam shot, seeing-eye thing off Crawford’s bat. … It wasn’t like they were taking a bunch of great swings. I think in that last inning-and-a-half, it was two hard-hit balls.”
Joc Pederson’s two-run homer in the eighth cut the deficit to a single run, making the bonus runs the Giants scored ache that much more. In fact, the Dodgers’ offensive start remained very much a thing: Adrian Gonzalez had two doubles and a single, Yasiel Puig had two more laser hits, Chase Utley had a couple of singles, Scott Van Slyke (in his first start of the year) an RBI double that just missed being a three-run home run. Los Angeles began the game with an overt game plan to swing early and often against Peavy, who allowed 10 hits in his five innings, and it worked.
But by the end, the Giants had locked in, adding five runs in the bottom of the eighth off J.P. Howell and Pedro Baez, capped by a Hunter Pence grand slam, and the 12-6 score was made final. The Dodgers’ streaks are over, and the NL West battle has been joined.