Close games, for a variety of reasons, have tormented the Dodgers this season. The offense flops or the defense falters or the bullpen implodes. Most times it’s a combination that ends with disappointment in extra innings. It’s been a maddening wrinkle since the middle of April for the defending champions.
On Wednesday, all those ingredients produced a numbing loss amid a brutal stretch of stunning defeats. The Dodgers cracked in all departments and blew four leads in a 6-5, 11-inning loss to the Chicago Cubs on Anthony Rizzo’s two-out walk-off single.
They were swept out of Wrigley Field and return to Southern California 1-6 after two legs of their three-city, 10-game road trip, which continues in Anaheim on Friday. They’re 4-13 — the second-worst record in the majors during the stretch — after starting the season a major-league-best 13-2.
The Dodgers (17-15) fell to 4-9 in one-run games and 1-6 in extra-inning contests. They’ve dropped three extra-inning games on this trip despite being one out from a win in all three.
“We’re absolutely frustrated,” said first baseman Max Muncy, who went two for four with a home run and a double. “We’re way better than this. Period.”
Those tuning into the Dodgers’ television or radio broadcasts Wednesday not only heard the play-by-play announcers and color analysts calling the game from an empty Dodger Stadium, but a Los Angeles Fire Department awards banquet being held on the field for most of the game. Mayor Eric Garcetti’s speech was audible. It was an unusual, and distracting, background whirr.
More than 2,000 miles away, the Dodgers were dealing with their own fire, primarily ignited by a lack of offense. They scored three or fewer runs in 10 of their previous 16 games and four total runs in two losses to the Cubs (15-16) on Tuesday.
The team’s worst offensive player so far in 2021, Edwin Ríos, was placed on the 10-day injured list with right shoulder inflammation before Wednesday’s game. The 27-year-old reserve corner infielder is four for 51 (.078) with 18 strikeouts this season.
The Dodgers didn’t explode for runs afterward, but they got on the board first on Muncy’s home run off right-hander Adbert Alzolay in the fourth inning. Gavin Lux doubled the lead in the fifth with an RBI double — his first extra-base hit since April 3.
The output was matched with one swing in the bottom of the fifth when Jake Marisnick mashed a two-run home run with two outs off Walker Buehler. Those were the only runs Buehler surrendered in six innings. He gave up five hits and struck out eight without a walk.
The margin held until the eighth inning when, for once, Corey Seager, unable to stop most balls to his right side recently, gloved a ground ball with his backhand in the eighth inning.
That was the good news for the Dodgers. The bad news was his throw to second base to start a potential double play was wild and it quickly cost them. Former Dodger Joc Pederson advanced from first to third base on the error. He then scored on Javier Báez’s ground ball to knot the score at three and eventually force the Dodgers into extra innings for the fifth time in 11 games.
“Ultimately, we’ve lost the games in extra innings, but I don’t think that’s the reason we’re losing baseball games,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “There’s a lot of things that lead to getting into extra innings. So, it’s just playing all-around better baseball, in every facet of the game.”
L.A. snatched the lead again in the 10th inning on Muncy’s two-out RBI double. Justin Turner tried scoring from first base to pad the cushion but Báez’s precise relay throw home beat him. The Dodgers challenged that catcher Willson Contreras didn’t give Turner a path to plate, but the play stood after a replay review.
The play proved crucial in the bottom of the frame. Pederson, facing Kenley Jansen, thought he had connected on a walk-off three-run home run and reacted with a celebration. But the new Cub miscalculated the stiff wind. The ball landed well short of the wall. He settled for a sacrifice fly and some embarrassment.
Jansen escaped a bases-loaded jam before the Dodgers caught another break thanks to mental mistake by Rizzo at first base.
Rizzo fielded a groundball from Matt Beaty that should’ve started an inning-ending double play in the 11th. Rizzo threw the ball to second base without stepping on first. Báez, the shortstop, assumed Rizzo had stepped on the bag and thought he only needed to tag the runner Will Smith at second. Because he didn’t throw to first, Beaty reached and Muncy scored to put the Dodgers ahead again.
The Dodgers then had a golden chance to add insurance, but Mookie Betts grounded out with the bases to conclude his 0-for-6, three-strikeout night.
The wasted chance predictably bit them.
Left-hander Garrett Cleavinger struck out the first two hitters in the bottom of the frame before Matt Duffy singled and Tony Wolters walked to bring up Rizzo. He fell behind 0-2 but slashed a groundball through the left side and ran off the field in celebration, leaving the Dodgers behind, staggered again.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.
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