Bellinger, Dodgers beat D-backs 3-1 to return to NLCS
PHOENIX (AP) — Led by a big Japanese right-hander and a rookie from just down the road, the Los Angeles Dodgers are headed back to the NL Championship Series.
Cody Bellinger homered, drove in two runs and flipped over a dugout railing to steal an out for a dominant Yu Darvish, helping the Dodgers beat the Arizona Diamondbacks 3-1 Monday night to finish a three-game sweep in their NL Division Series.
“We have a great team,” said Bellinger, a rookie from nearby Chandler, Arizona. “And to come here and sweep them, beat them on their home turf is hard to do and pretty special.”
Darvish, acquired from Texas in a trade deadline deal, struck out seven over five innings to outpitch Arizona’s Zack Greinke and earn the righty his first postseason victory in three tries.
“Yu’s one of the best pitchers in the world,” said Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes, who also homered. “When he’s on his game, it’s tough for any lineup.”
Four Los Angeles relievers combined to preserve a three-hitter. Kenley Jansen worked around a single by David Peralta for a three-out save, striking out Paul Goldschmidt to end it. Only four batters reached base all night for the Diamondbacks, including Daniel Descalso with a homer.
“It was about finishing them off,” Darvish said, “because momentum can go their way.”
The Dodgers, who won 104 games for the best record in baseball and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, face the winner of the Nationals-Cubs series in the NLCS. Los Angeles fell there to World Series champion Chicago last year.
The Dodgers confined most of their celebration to the clubhouse, never making a move for the pool beyond the outfield wall. Los Angeles distressed the locals by taking a dip there after clinching the NL West in 2013, but for this party, police officers on horses waited at the warning track to keep the Dodgers away.
That was fine by the Dodgers. This wasn’t the bash they’re after, anyway.
“Being around this team for long enough, this is where we expect to be,” ace Clayton Kershaw said. “We are fortunate enough to be in a big market, have a big payroll, have a lot of good players, a lot of talent. They did a great job of putting this team together. They expect us to be here and we expect us to be here, too.”
Bellinger hit his homer in the fifth, then made a daring catch to end the bottom of the inning. The rookie first baseman fell into the Dodgers dugout as he snagged Jeff Mathis’ popup, nearly dropping into the lap of manager Dave Roberts.
“I should have been a little quicker to save him,” Roberts said, “but that was a heck of a play.”
The 22-year-old Bellinger is the youngest Dodger ever to homer in the postseason — he’s 75 days younger than Corey Seager was when he set the mark last fall. Bellinger was just 1 for 12 with five strikeouts in his first postseason before hitting Greinke’s 3-1 pitch over the wall in left for a 2-0 lead.
Bellinger, who may follow Seager as NL Rookie of the Year, also brought home Chris Taylor with a groundout in the first inning. Barnes chased Greinke with a leadoff homer in the sixth.
After Ketel Marte’s first-inning bunt single, Darvish sent down 13 in a row before Descalso hit his second homer of the series. The two-out shot barely cleared the right-field fence over Yasiel Puig’s glove to cut the lead to 2-1.
The Dodgers tinkered with Darvish’s mechanics after the trade, and he was masterful through most of the night, mixing a 98 mph fastball with his deep repertoire of offspeed pitches. He allowed two hits and didn’t walk any over 74 pitches.
“Yu really stepped up,” Roberts said. “He was in command from the first pitch.”
Darvish left after hitting pinch-hitter Christian Walker in the bill of his helmet to begin the sixth.
Greinke — the ex-Dodger signed to a $206.5 million, six-year contract by Arizona before the 2016 season — gave up three runs and four hits in five-plus innings. He struggled with his command, walking a season-high five and throwing 103 pitches through five innings. Greinke faced 3-2 counts against five of his first eight batters and was at 54 pitches through two innings.
“They’re ready to hit, which is tough, but they’re not chasing the pitch you want them to chase,” Greinke said. “That’s kind of what they do best. They did that the whole series.”
Arizona won its last six regular-season games against the Dodgers, but Los Angeles dominated its NL West rival when it mattered most, sweeping an opponent in the postseason for the first time since the 2009 NLDS against St. Louis.
It was a tough ending to a big turnaround season for the Diamondbacks, who went from 69-93 in 2016 to 93-69 this year.
“I want to remember how I feel,” first-year manager Torey Lovullo said, “because I think it will motivate me, and the pain and frustration that we’re all experiencing right now.”
Diamondbacks: Open next season at home against Colorado on March 29.
Dodgers: Face either the Washington Nationals or Chicago Cubs in the National League Championship Series.
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