Game 4 of the World Series was humming along predictably for five innings. The Dodgers took an early lead and held onto it behind starter Julio Urías and reliever Blake Treinen.
The agent of chaos was familiar to anyone who has followed the Dodgers’ October travails since their streak of National League West titles began in 2013: Pedro Baez.
Baez inherited runners on first and second base with the Dodgers leading 4-2 in the sixth inning. First up was Brandon Lowe, a left-handed hitter with two opposite-field home runs in the series. Left-handed hitters were 3 for 31 against Baez this season with no extra-base hits before Saturday, but on a 2-and-2 count, Baez offered a changeup over the outside corner of the plate, and Lowe did what he does best. He slugged a three-run home run to the opposite field.
Suddenly the Dodgers trailed 5-4. It was, remarkably, the first lead change in the series, in its 33rd inning of play.
A see-saw battle commenced. The Dodgers pulled ahead 6-5 in the top of the seventh inning. The Rays tied it 6-6 in the bottom of the seventh. Corey Seager’s bloop single drove in Chris Taylor in the top of the eighth inning. All of this happened before Baez was removed from the game.
For a pitcher who has just about seen it all, Saturday offered a particularly long verse in a long chapter in the Book of Baez. Manager Dave Roberts allowed him to face seven batters, the longest he’s been allowed to pitch since the epic Game 3 of the 2018 World Series, which the Dodgers won in 18 innings.
Baez has inherited six runners over the last two postseasons. All six have scored.
“I loved (Treinen) right there,” Roberts said. “He just wasn’t sharp. Lowe, I loved the matchup. I felt (Baez) could pick Lowe up right there. He just didn’t execute the pitch.”
After Lowe’s home run, Baez redeemed himself by retiring Willy Adames on a ground out and Hunter Renfroe via strikeout to end the inning.
Back on the mound to begin the bottom of the seventh inning, this time with a 6-5 lead, Baez struck out Mike Zunino for the first out. No one was warming in the bullpen when Baez faced another left-handed hitter, Kevin Kiermaier, and allowed another home run – on another changeup – to tie the score 6-6.
What was Baez doing in the game at that point? Roberts accepted blame, saying he changed his mind in the middle of the seventh inning.
“I told him (Baez) was finished,” Roberts said.
After Joc Pederson’s two-run single gave the Dodgers the lead, the manager said, “I asked (Baez) to go back out. He said he felt good. I kept him burning a little bit. Then he gave up that home run to Kiermaier.”
Why did Roberts change his mind?
“Because we took the lead and right there I felt good with him.”
After Kiermaier’s home run tied the score at 7, left-hander Adam Kolarek started warming up in short order. Meanwhile, Baez worked in and out of trouble. He walked hulking first baseman Yandy Diaz to bring up Randy Arozarena – the all-time postseason home run leader.
Fortuitously for the Dodgers, Arozarena hit into an inning-ending double play. Baez’s day was done.
In 30 postseason appearances, Baez has a 4.08 earned-run average. He was credited with a blown save. But he was not the scapegoat of the Dodgers’ 8-7 loss.
Kolarek and Brusdar Graterol combined to pitch a scoreless eighth inning. In the ninth inning, Kenley Jansen failed to protect a one-run lead.
With runners on first and second base and two outs, Brett Phillips hit a line drive to center field. A critical fielding error by center fielder Chris Taylor, combined with a dropped throw at home plate by catcher Will Smith, allowed Arozerena to tumble to home plate, and the Rays to walk off with a win.