LOS ANGELES — In the decades ahead, when baseball historians look back at photos and video from the 2020 season and see the masks and empty stadiums filled with cardboard cutouts, they will remember how odd baseball looked in the midst of a pandemic.
Hopefully, they will also see this year’s extra-innings rule as a long-forgotten remnant of a bizarre one-year detour.
After a well-played pitchers’ duel for nine innings Wednesday night, the Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks started playing like a couple of teams as new to the game as the “free runner” experiment.
Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen came into trouble with the free runner on second base to start the 10th inning and promptly made more of his own. He walked two batters and hit another, forcing in the go-ahead run.
But in the bottom of the 10th, Diamondbacks reliever Junior Guerra had his own stumble — literally. Guerra fielded Chris Taylor’s bunt and tried to make an awkward throw from his knees to a retreating third baseman.
The result was predictable — an errant throw that allowed the tying run to score and set up Will Smith’s game-winning RBI single that gave the Dodgers a come-from-behind 3-2 victory in 10 innings.
The Dodgers have now won 17 of their past 20 games and boast baseball’s best record — 28-10, a .736 winning percentage that translates to 119 wins in a 162-game season. With Wednesday’s come-from-behind effort, they have outscored their opponents 70-29 in the seventh inning or later.
“It’s — whatever,” Mookie Betts said, searching for a way to describe the new extra-innings experience — and landing on an apt one. “The games seem like they go a little quicker. They’re not 15-inning games and we’re not all trying to hit home runs. It definitely brings different aspects of the game back into the game — like the bunt, moving runners, guys trying to put the ball in play in different areas and whatnot.”
Having started out awkwardly, Betts landed on calling it “a pretty cool experience.” He hesitated when asked to give it an endorsement in a post-pandemic world.
“I mean — I don’t think I have much say so in it,” he said with a smile. “So whatever they say, we have to do.”
The Dodgers didn’t do much for eight innings. Betts singled on the first pitch from Diamondbacks starter Zac Gallen. Smith drew a two-out walk in the second inning. The Dodgers didn’t have another baserunner until Joc Pederson drew a leadoff walk in the eighth, ending Gallen’s night. He retired 16 consecutive batters between the two walks and has not given up more than three runs in any of his first 23 major-league starts.
“The guy’s had a pretty incredible start to his career,” Dodgers starter Walker Buehler said of Gallen. “I imagine we’ll square off a few more times. I would have liked to keep it going. But it is what it is.”
Making his first start in 12 days after going to the injured list with a blister on his index finger, Buehler allowed just two hits in five scoreless innings and retired the final seven batters he faced.
But Buehler was only allowed to go those five innings and throw 71 pitches coming off the blister issue.
“That’s what we were kind of thinking,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “Just to kind of manage him and get out feeling good about things.”
Caleb Ferguson took over in the sixth and gave up a solo home run to Christian Walker that gave the Diamondbacks a 1-0 lead.
In the ninth, Betts tied the game with a solo home run off Diamondbacks reliever Kevin Ginkel — making him the first Dodger to reach second base safely in the game.
Wacky hijinx ensued from there.
“I thought it was a really well-played baseball game,” Roberts said, clearly discounting the blunders of the final inning. “I think we’re so used to home runs and offense. But to get pitchers making pitches and some defensive plays, low-scoring where every baserunner matters — I thought it was a fun baseball game to be a part of.”