CHICAGO — One game might do more for Max Muncy’s psyche – er, elbow – than any number of rehab games in Triple-A could.
Muncy drove in five runs with a double and a home run as the Dodgers scored 10 times in the fifth and sixth innings, and they needed every bit of it to beat the Chicago White Sox, 11-9, Thursday afternoon, hanging on until Daniel Hudson got the final out with the winning run at the plate.
“A lot to unpack,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said after the game. “Lot to unpack.”
Indeed. Muncy’s resurrection was just part of it. A series of decisions that will not be added to Tony La Russa’s Hall of Fame plaque also made for a long afternoon — at four hours and 13 minutes, the longest nine-inning game in MLB this year.
Coming into the game, the Dodgers’ offense had slipped into neutral. While losing six of their previous nine games following that trip, they had hit just .228 as a team – even worse with runners in scoring position (.171) – and averaged 3½ runs per game.
For four innings, it looked like more of the same. The Dodgers managed just two hits and a walk against White Sox starter Dylan Cease and fell behind 4-0 when Tyler Anderson’s scoreless streak came to a crashing halt after 28 innings.
But things unraveled on Cease in the fifth inning with La Russa leaving the 26-year-old right-hander in to face nine batters and throw 45 pitches thanks to an error that extended the inning and made all six runs unearned.
Cody Bellinger started it with an accidental single against the shift. Gavin Lux walked to put two runners on with one out. Cease got Austin Barnes to bounce a ground ball to third baseman Jake Burger – but Burger booted it for an error.
Mookie Betts struck out – what would have been the final out if Burger had made his play – and then the dam burst.
Freddie Freeman doubled in two runs. Trea Turner beat out an infield single to drive in another. Freshly back from his brief time in Oklahoma City, Muncy doubled into the left-center field gap to drive in two more and give the Dodgers the lead.
After Cease walked Will Smith, La Russa finally brought in a reliever, Matt Foster. That didn’t work well either. He walked Justin Turner then threw a wild pitch that brought in the sixth run of the inning.
La Russa’s sixth-inning move was even more questionable.
Lux led off with an infield single (one of his four hits in the game), moved up on a ground out then scored on a two-out RBI single by Freeman (his third hit in the game after a 9-for-49 lull).
Freeman moved up on a wild pitch as lefty reliever Bennett Sousa worked to a 1-and-2 advantage against Trea Turner. La Russa had Sousa intentionally walk Turner despite the count and face Muncy instead.
The decision brought some angry catcalls from the crowd. Standing on second base, Freeman could even be seen turning to a White Sox infielder and asking, “With two strikes?”
“I thought I had the wrong count,” Freeman said.
“I was just confused,” Turner said. “I didn’t know if I should go to first or not. But I guess they liked the matchup.”
Turner and Freeman were confused. Muncy was motivated.
“The baseball mind in me gets it,” Muncy said. “Obviously my year has sucked up to this point. Trea has been really good. The baseball mind in me gets it.
“At the same time, I don’t know that walking someone with two strikes is ever the right move. But I understand it now. But at the time, you get a little animated.”
Muncy made him pay, driving another ball the opposite way. This one cleared the left-field wall for a three-run home run. It was Muncy’s first game this season with multiple extra-base hits.
After the game, La Russa seemed honestly baffled that anyone was questioning his decision to issue the first intentional walk to a batter with two strikes in MLB this season.
“Is there some question about whether that was a good move or not?” he said. “Is that really a question – because it was 1-and-2? Turner with a strike left against a left-hander is something you avoid if you can. And we had an open base and Muncy happened to be the guy behind him. That’s a better matchup. … That wasn’t a tough call.
“Turner with no strike, one strike or two strikes is very dangerous against right(-handed pitchers) and especially against left. Now if maybe (Will) Smith is hitting behind him, it would be a different thing. But Muncy’s there. It’s an easy call. I mean, it’s an easy call for me. If Turner gets a hit there, I’d be walking into the lake or something because that would have been stupid.
“Does anyone in this room really think, even with the count, we should have gone with Turner? No chance. Muncy is the guy to get out of the inning. We just missed him.”
The Dodgers had certainly been missing Muncy this season — at least the version they had become accustomed to having in their lineup.
“That’s huge. If Max Muncy is Max Muncy then this lineup is what you guys talked about all spring training. It really is,” Freeman said, referring to all the spring hype about the Dodgers’ loaded lineup. “It’s just nice the first game back for him to get some results after going down and making a little adjustment. That was huge. Left-on-left, slide, three-run homer, double in the gap – that’s Max Muncy. So good for us.
“Sometimes that can jump start a little something in yourself. You never want to get intentionally walked to and to have it happen in that situation – ultimately I’m glad they did because that got us Max Muncy back.”
Muncy’s animated reaction upon crossing home plate — burning the eyes of lip readers watching on TV — was another sign that Muncy might be back.
“It gave me something that I really haven’t had a lot of this year,” Muncy said. “In the past, I’ve always been a guy that’s been fiery and has had an edge and I haven’t had a lot of that this year. So to kind of get that back felt really good to be honest. It’s just something that I need to have moving forward.”
The Dodgers wound up needing all of it.
With six innings to cover after Anderson’s early departure, Phil Bickford gave up a solo home run in the fifth and Alex Vesia made a mess of the eighth, walking the first two batters he faced, giving up two infield singles and throwing the ball away on the second.
Two runs scored on that play but Vesia escaped further damage. Hudson gave up two more runs in the ninth and had the winning run at the plate before he closed it out.
— SportsNet LA (@SportsNetLA) June 9, 2022