Jan. 10, 2017
Dodgers Countdown 2016: Top-Ten Games
By Zack Rome
10. Opening Day 4/4/16
The 2016 Los Angeles Dodgers will be known for a lot of things, and you could say injuries would be near the top of the list. The Dodgers set the record for the most players on the DL in a season, and even going into the season, they had a record 10 players on the DL. The injuries didn’t seem to affect the team, however, as they went on to smack the San Diego Padres in the season opener. The first batter of 2016, Chase Utley, smacked a double to center, and eventual Rookie of the Year Corey Seager followed with a double off the right field wall.
That was all Clayton Kershaw needed to secure the victory that day, as Kershaw struck out 9, didn’t allow a run, and only gave up one hit in seven innings vs. the hapless Padres. The funny thing about this game however, is that Kershaw could have allowed 14 runs, and he still would have gotten the victory. The Boys in Blue had seven doubles, and four players (Seager, Gonzalez, Utley and A.J. Ellis) all had multiple RBIs. If there was anything Game 1 was going to tell us about the rest of the season, it was that this Dodgers’ offense was different. All the injuries affected the day-to-day lineups, but no matter who first year manager Dave Roberts put on the field, they seemed to produce, day in and day out.
9. Clayton Kershaw appears unstoppable in 1-0 win vs Padres: 5/1/16
In what would ultimately become the quickest game of the year for the Dodgers at two hours and seven minutes, Clayton Kershaw did what Clayton Kershaw does against the Padres.
It was the first game of the new month as the Dodgers finished April with a below .500 record at 12-13. They turned to their ace as they looked to even up their season record.
Kershaw made quick work of the top three of the order in the first inning, as John Jay, Will Myers and Matt Kemp couldn’t do much against the former MVP. The Dodgers’ ace continued to make hitters look foolish as a lackluster Padres offense ( a team that finished last in batting average in 2016) seemed to be far overmatched against the one of the best pitchers in the game.
Kershaw continued to deal, racking up strikeout after strikeout. He ended with six strikeouts in the final three innings and ended up with 14 for the game.
Not only did Kershaw get it done on the mound, but he even managed to knock in the only run of the game for the Dodgers. A.J. Ellis smashed a double off the right field wall, and was knocked in by his battery mate one batter later.
The left-hander got the complete game shutout; the win and the only run batted in. This was truly a game that Kershaw put on his back, and he proved beyond reason why he is the MVP of this Dodgers’ bunch.
8. Jose Fernandez and Clayton Kershaw duel for the last time: 9/9/16
This game is the hardest one to do a summary on. Honestly, I thought as a baseball fan I would get accustomed to seeing a Clayton Kershaw - Jose Fernandez matchup every season, so honestly this one at first glance was nothing more than just another game for both of these teams.
It would, however, be the last time Kershaw and Fernandez would face against each other and the last time Fernandez would pitch against the Dodgers in his career. His tragic death shook the baseball world later in the season.
The Dodgers’ ace was in his second start since coming off the DL, so he wasn’t even able to make it four innings. He ended up surrendering two runs in three innings with five hits allowed.
Fernandez on the other hand, was lights out. He struck out 14 Dodgers, didn’t allow a run, didn’t give up a walk and only gave up three hits. Fernandez would go on to win the next two starts of his career, which ended being his final two starts, as he went out a winner. The right-hander ended up finishing the season at 16-8 with a 2.86 ERA.
The Marlins ended up winning the game 4-1, but that’s not the reason this game is on the list. The young, vibrant pitcher meant so much to the game of baseball and the Marlins organization, that I wanted to share his best start of the Dodgers’ in his career, and it just happened to be the last one
7. Welcome Back to New York, Chase Utley: 5/28/16
The 2015 Dodgers playoff run will be known for a few reasons, but all Mets fans will remember about meeting the Dodgers in 2015 was one man: Chase Utley.
It was the famous Chase Utley slide to break up the double play that broke the leg of Mets 2B Ruben Tejada that constituted a rule change in baseball the very next season. If Mets fans didn’t have a reason to hate Utley before, (meaning in his many previous years with the Phillies) they do now.
Just about everyone was expecting some sort of retaliation during the Dodgers’ first trip to Citi Field in 2016. What they didn’t expect, however, was the response the Dodgers’ gave the Mets.
Noah Syndergaard was on the mound for the reigning National League Champions, and his first pitch to Utley in the third inning went behind him, prompting the home plate umpire to eject the Mets’ starter.
Mets’ Manager Terry Collins was livid that his star pitcher was thrown out without even as much as a warning, as the whole incident produced a frenzy at Citi Field, similar to the playoff atmosphere against the Dodgers last season.
This seemed to ignite a spark not only for the rest of team, but especially for the veteran second baseman that was the subject of the incident.
Utley’s next at-bat, in the sixth produced even more boos than the first couple times he arrived at the plate. In response, he unloaded on a ball on the first pitch to deep right-center field, much to the dismay of the Mets’ faithful.
The home run proved to be the igniter, as later in the inning, Yasiel Puig knocked in the second run on an RBI single, making it a 2-0 Dodgers lead.
The next inning is where things got even crazier. Utley again found himseld in a unique situation. Utley came up with the bases loaded and two outs against reliever Hansel Robles. The former All-Star then drove a ball in the same spot as the last at-bat, clearing the bases for a shell-shocking grand slam. Citi Field was stunned as the Dodger lead grew to six.
What got lost in the shuffle was the brilliant performance of blue pitching led by starter Kenta Maeda and reliever Adam Liberatore. The only run surrendered to the Mets was a solo shot off the bat of Juan Lagares in the eighth inning, but by then it was too little too late, as the lead remained at seven even after the homerun.
Utley and the Dodgers ended up taking the game by the score of 9-2 and the message to the Mets was clear: This Dodgers team doesn’t back down.
6. Here Comes the Wild Horse: 6/22/16
The Dodgers entered June 22 on a five-game winning streak and on the verge of sweeping a first place Washington Nationals team. The NL West Champions sent out Julio Urias, looking to pick up his first major league win, fresh off the confidence of two very well-pitched games against Milwaukee and San Francisco. Urias had a strong first inning, striking out the leadoff hitter and getting Bryce Harper to fan on a nasty Kershaw-esque curveball. The Dodgers’ offense quickly got on the board first with two quick singles by Chase Utley and Corey Seager. They later scored on a wild pitch.
The Nationals struck back with two runs of their own before Seager tied the game with a home run in the third.
Urias settled down, and ended up going five while striking out six with only one walk, a promising start for the 19-year-old. He left the game tied, and the Dodgers’ bullpen came in and carried the load.
Casey Fien threw two strong innings, and game remained tied heading into the eighth inning. Adam Liberatore, who had been so strong all year, came into the game and got two quick outs on eight pitches. Dave Roberts pulled his left-hander for Pedro Baez, who promptly allowed a solo home run to Wilson Ramos and put the Nats on top, 3-2.
It stayed that way until the bottom of the ninth inning. Howie Kendrick singled to bring up Yasiel Puig still down a run but with one out.
Yasiel Puig, smashed a single to center, and it got by the Nats’ center fielder Michael Taylor and rolled all the way near the wall.
“And here comes the Wild Horse” as soon as Puig noticed the ball get by Taylor, Puig gunned it around the bases. What followed was a classic little league home run and Puig crossed home plate to walk-off the Boys in Blue in the ninth for their sixth straight win and a sweep of the Nats.
5. NLDS Game 4: 10/11/16
After losing back-to-back games vs the Nationals in the NLDS, the Dodgers had their backs against the wall. Down 2-1 and facing the prospect of going home in their faces, Clayton Kershaw took the mound in a pivotal game 4.
Pitching on short rest, Kershaw gave up a run in the first inning on an RBI single from his old nemesis, Daniel Murphy. Kershaw didn’t allow anything else in the first, but it was clear that Dusty Baker’s game plan was make Kershaw throw a lot of pitches, and he ended up throwing 25 in inning number one.
The Dodgers quickly countered, as in the bottom half of the first, Adrian Gonzalez produced a two-run home run to right-center to give the Dodgers a 2-1 lead.
The Nationals tied the game in the third on a sac fly from Daniel Murphy, who again accounted for their other RBI in the game.
With the game tied 2-2 in the bottom of the third, Clayton Kershaw helped his own cause by doubling down the left field line to lead off the inning. Justin Turner drove him in with a line-drive single to center to make it a 3-2 game.
Starter Joe Ross hit Joc Pederson in the leg with the bases loaded to make it a 4-2 game, and just like that in the third, Ross’ night was done.
The score would remain that way until the bottom of the fifth, when Joc Pederson hit an RBI double.
The game would remain 5-2 until the top of the seventh, which has been a notorious inning for Clayton Kershaw in the playoffs. Kershaw has been known to labor in the seventh inning in playoff appearances and this time it was no different. Kershaw actually appeared to get out of the jam by getting Trea Turner to ground to Corey Seager, but Seager was unable to complete the play at second base and Danny Espinosa made it safely.
Kershaw toughed through the immense fatigue of pitching on short rest, but still managed to walk Harper on a 3-2 count, allowing the bases loaded. After 110 pitches, Kershaw’s night was done and Dave Roberts brought out Pedro Baez to get one out and escape the jam.
Pedro Baez, on the first pitch he threw coming out of the bullpen, hit Jayson Werth in the right arm, scoring a run and cutting the lead to two.
Luis Avilan was then replaced Baez, but he couldn’t do any better. He faced Daniel Murphy and allowed a game-tying, two-run single to center, leaving Dodger Stadium in disbelief. Murphy had four RBI in the game and for the second consecutive year he played the role of the Dodgers’ Achilles’ heel.
Joe Blanton saved the day and got Anthony Rendon to strike out on an 0-2 slider and the game was tied heading into the seventh inning stretch.
It would remain tied up until the bottom of the eight with two outs. That’s when a pitch hit Andrew Toles and suddenly the rally was on.
Andre Ethier would pinch-hit for Blanton and slap a single into left field for only his sixth hit of the year!
Chase Utley would then save the day as he clobbered a single past the diving Daniel Murphy to score the go-ahead run to make it 6-5 heading into the ninth.
Who else but Kenley Jansen would take the ball in the last inning? Jansen would strike out the first two batters he faced, would get Bryce Harper to ground out and just like that the Dodgers forced a deciding Game 5 back in the nation’s capitol.
4. “DON’T LOOK AT ME”: 9/19/16
Madison Bumgarner vs. Clayton Kershaw
The San Francisco Giants came into this ballgame angry and fighting for their lives to win the division. They lost five out of their last seven and if the Giants were to lose this game against Kershaw and the Dodgers, they would fall to six games out of first with only 11 more to play. Every game was a must win for them and this series at Dodger Stadium could very well be their most important series of the year.
Pitching came as advertised in the first three innings, except for a small hiccup for Kershaw in the top of the third. Eduardo Nunez singled, stole second, took third on a bad throw and scored on a wild pitch.
What proceeded in the following innings was some of the best pitching from two of the games brightest. Bumgarner and Kershaw dominated opposing batters for six strong innings. The Dodgers bullpen took over in the seventh and took care of business like they had been doing all year.
The bottom of the seventh is where things got a little interesting. Bumgarner continued to confuse Dodgers bats, which was nothing new, but with two outs, came Yasiel Puig. The Cuban outfielder hit a dribbler up the first base line and tried to hustle for an infield single. Bumgarner was able to get to the ball; however, and he threw Puig out at first.
But then words were exchanged and a staredown ensued. Bumgarner shouted, “Don’t look at Me!” at Puig, and then the benches cleared. It ended as nothing more than guys pushing and shoving. What really happened was that the Dodgers may have been ignited by the incident, and Bruce Bochy made a decision to pull Bumgarner earlier than he may have wanted.
The 2016 Giants will be known for having a bad bullpen, and that was already well established before the ninth inning. Andrew Toles came in and led off with a single to right field. Corey Seager followed with a single past the diving second baseman Joe Panik to make it first and third with nobody out.
Hunter Strickland came into the game to face Justin Turner, and Turner came up clutch with a base hit to right to tie the game. It didn’t take long after that for the game to end. Adrian Gonzalez came up and on a 2-1 count and smashed a deep drive off the right field wall. Corey Seager came around to score and the Dodgers won via walk-off.
Not only did the Boys in Blue win a hard fought game between Kershaw and Bumgarner, they also stretched their lead in the NL West to six with 11 games to play. The NL West title looked to be within their grasp.
3. It seemed like any normal day at Coors Field…: 8/31/16
Chase Utley led off the game with a home run,
Bud Norris got the start. Norris struggled and let the lead go within the first few batters. Norris then let the based get loaded for rookie Stephen Cardullo, who promptly unloaded the bases to make it a 5-1 game early. As anyone can expect though, no lead in Coors Field is safe. The Dodgers got one back on an Andew Toles double off the wall to make it a 5-2 game in the top of the second. Toles would later become a factor of this game in a huge way.
An error by Corey Seager allowed the Rockies’ sixth run, and it was back to being a four-run lead. The game stayed like this all the way until the bottom of the seventh, where the Rockies continued to tack on to their huge lead. Joe Blanton came into the game and allowed a triple off the right field wall. Nolan Arenado then followed with a line drive home run to left to make it a six-run lead, and an 8-2 ball game.
Most people would just expect the Dodgers to roll over the rest of the way. This was the second game of a doubleheader, the Rockies had a six run lead with six outs to go, and all signs pointed to a Los Angeles loss.
This game has to be on the list for a reason, right? Well, what happened in the next two innings was nothing short of magical.
The Dodgers chipped away at the lead in the eighth. Yasmani Grandal opened the Dodgers’ scoring with a double to deep center to score Adrian Gonzalez with one out. Josh Reddick walked, and then Joc Pederson drove home another run. Toles followed with a single to load the bases for Howie Kendrick, who then knocked in another run on a sac-fly to make it an 8-5 game. Chase Utley would ground out to end the inning, but LA was back in the game.
Luis Avilian came into the game and got three quick outs including two strikeouts before heading into the top of the ninth.
Adam Ottavino, (arguably the best Rockies reliever even though the sample size is small) took the mound for the final three outs. He had not given up a home run in the regular season before this night. He walked Corey Seager but was able to get the next two outs.
Grandal followed with a single, and then Reddick drove in Seager with another single. Pederson was walked intentionally to load the bases and that’s when Andrew Toles became an instant hero.
The rookie outfielder hit an opposite field grand slam, making it a 10-8 Dodgers lead. That lead would stay that way as the Dodgers earned one of their more improbable wins of the season.
#2 – A Walk-off Win to Walk-off Vin: 9/25/16
The 2016 season will forever be in the history books for having been legendary broadcaster Vin Scully’s final season. It would only be fitting that the last game he would ever call in Dodger Stadium, would end in such a storybook way.
The Dodgers entered the September 29 game with a magic number of one. The day however, would belong to the man in the broadcast booth. Every Dodgers player, right before they entered the box, would tip their cap to Vin, a salute for all his hard work throughout the years.
The Colorado Rockies were just a needless pawn in this story. Their season was already over, as they were mathematically eliminated 10 days earlier. So they were just playing for pride, as where the Dodgers were on the verge of celebrating their fourth straight NL West title, and the final day of Vin calling a game at home of course.
The place was ready to explode, but the Dodgers’ offense didn’t give them much to cheer about during the first seven innings.
The Rockies jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the third, and the Dodgers got one back on a Yasiel Puig sac fly. The game remained 2-1 until the bottom of the seventh.
At the same time, the Dodgers were scoreboard watching the Giants, who had a lead against the Padres heading into the fifth, but a win on Vin’s final call at Dodger Stadium would be the only way to satisfy the fans.
Down 2-1 in the seventh, Corey Seager came up to the plate with a runner on first. Seager smashed a triple down the right field line to tie the game at two.
In the ninth, Kenley Jansen came to keep the game tied heading into the bottom half. Rockies rookie center fielder David Dahl took the Dodgers’ right-hander over the wall for a home run that shocked Dodgers fans.
Well, the Dodgers ended up being down a run going into their final at-bat. With two outs, Seager his ridiculous rookie season by coming through in the clutch.
“AND A HIGH DRIVE TO RIGHT FIELD AND SEAGER HAS DONE IT AGAIN!” Seager sent a 2-0 fastball into the right field seats and the place went nuts. The game would go into extras, as both teams were not quite ready to say goodbye to Vin yet.
Charlie Culberson, the third batter of the 10th inning. then did something he hadn’t done in 2 years…
“WOULD YOU BELIEVE A HOME-RUN? AND THE DODGERS HAVE CLINCHED THE DIVISION AND WILL CELEBRATE ON SCHEDULE”
It was Culberson’s shining moment of the year, and he may never hit another one bigger. The home run sent shockwaves throughout the stadium and the Dodgers started feeling the relief of another division title.
Vin Scully, in Hollywood fashion, then played off the crowd with singing to the crowd. Vin Scully’s “The Wind Beneath my Wings” song had me in literal tears. A perfect ending to a perfect day.
#1. NLDS Game 5: 10/13/16
One of the greatest games I can remember in recent Dodgers’ history, and that’s why I saved it for #1.
Rich Hill would take the mound for the Blue Crew, but it will be known as the bullpen game for many reasons.
The Nationals took an early 1-0 lead, and it was clear they had the momentum for most of the game. One moment, however, may have steered the tide towards the blue side.
Washington had Jayson Werth at first base and Ryan Zimmerman up at the plate with two outs. Zimmerman laced a double down the left field line and the third base coach Bob Henley, in a move that surely might haunt him for a while, waved around Werth for an aggressive move for home plate. Werth was out by a country mile on a perfect throw from left fielder Andrew Toles. The Dodgers caught a lucky break.
It seemed to turn the tide because the very next inning, on the very first pitch, Joc Pederson homered to left, and sent the visiting bench into a frenzy, tying the game at one a piece.
Then, with two on, Carlos Ruiz singled off Anthony Rendon’s glove and gave the Dodgers a 2-1 lead. Justin Turner followed with an RBI triple off the centerfield wall to increase the lead to three.
Dave Roberts then gave the ball to Casey Fien in the bottom of the seventh to protect the lead. Well, the big lead didn’t last long, as Fien allowed a pinch-hit, two-run home run to Chris Heisey to make it a 4-3 game.
Grant Dayton then came into the game, and failed to get an out, so Dave Roberts had to make a major move with his playoff life on the line. He turned to Kenley Jansen with nobody out in the seventh. Jansen got Trea Turner to fly out but then faced Bryce Harper. Harper singled to put the pressure on. Jansen then struck out Werth, and intentionally walked the bases loaded with Daniel Murphy up for a chance at Anthony Rendon.
Rendon struck out on a mean cutter and just like that the rally was over. Jansen got out of a bases-loaded jam. Jansen had a beautiful eighth inning as well, retiring three consecutive batters after walking the leadoff man.
Then came the ninth inning.
Jansen was starting to slow down but he continued on. He struck out the first batter he faced (Turner) but then went on to walk the next two batters.
Dave Roberts then made a very gutsy move. He brought in Clayton Kershaw on one-day rest to get him two more outs.
Kershaw got his old nemesis Daniel Murphy to pop out for the second out and the Nats were down to their final out.
Kershaw then struck out Wilmer Difo to end the game and send the Dodgers to the NLCS.
On the backs of their two best pitchers, the Dodgers endured a heavyweight title match with the Nationals and came out on top. A game to be remembered forever.