Brusdar Graterol had never pitched across three innings in any of his 181 big-league appearances over five seasons. Ryan Brasier had not thrown more than two innings in any of his 39 games with the Dodgers this season. Joe Kelly had not retired more than four batters in any of his 42 games this season.
But desperate times call for desperate measures, and the Dodgers were knee-deep in quicksand early in Game 2 of the National League Division Series on Monday night, the Arizona Diamondbacks tagging starter Bobby Miller for three runs in the first inning and threatening again with two on and two outs in the second.
Manager Dave Roberts promised after Saturday night’s lopsided Game 1 loss that he would manage Game 2 “like it was Game 7,” so he sent out an immediate SOS to a bullpen that has been the strength of the pitching staff for 3 ½ months, with a major league-best 2.28 ERA since June 20.
The relievers didn’t disappoint, with Graterol, Brasier, Kelly and Evan Phillips combining to give up up one run and four hits in 7 ⅓ innings, striking out nine and walking three, to give the Dodgers a chance to win a game they eventually lost 4-2 to fall into a 2-0 hole in the best-of-five series.
“Collectively, as a group, we genuinely think we can take down the game, however long we need to,” said Phillips, who covered the final 1 ⅓ innings, striking out cleanup man Christian Walker with the bases loaded to end the top of the ninth.
“We’re built for it, and I think you got a taste of that tonight. We acted a bit more aggressively to try to keep the game close, and I think we accomplished that.”
The bullpen relay effort began with Graterol, who closed the regular season with a 25-inning scoreless streak, retiring Tommy Pham on a first-pitch groundout to end the second inning and preserve a 3-0 deficit.
The right-hander needed only eight pitches to throw a one-two-three third. After a brief discussion on the bench, Roberts sent Graterol out for the fourth.
“No, it wasn’t a surprise,” Graterol said in Spanish. “The manager asked me and I told him, ‘I’m up for anything.’ He gave me another opportunity, and thank God it worked out.”
Speedy center fielder Alek Thomas opened the fourth with a hard grounder that Graterol made an around-the-back grab of before throwing to first for the out.
“I try to be as athletic as possible,” Graterol said. “When I pitch the ball, I try to make myself one of the position players, and I think that helps. I think if I didn’t grab that ball, maybe that runner would’ve been safe because he was very fast.”
Graterol struck out Evan Longoria with a 100-mph fastball, but when he walked No. 9 batter Geraldo Perdomo on four pitches, he was pulled in favor of Brasier, the setup man who was released by the Boston Red Sox in May with a 7.29 ERA in 20 games but went 2-0 with an 0.70 ERA for the Dodgers.
A crowd of 51,449 booed the move, believing Graterol should have remained. Graterol pumped his fist and pounded his glove as he headed to the dugout after recording as many outs in a 23-pitch relief appearance as the Dodgers’ Game 1 and 2 starters — Clayton Kershaw and Miller — combined.
Catcher Will Smith gunned down Perdomo attempting to steal second to end the fourth. Brasier struck out red-hot leadoff man Corbin Carroll and Ketel Marte in a one-two-three fifth and recorded two outs in the sixth before Lourdes Gurriel Jr. dug out a 1-and-2 slider under the strike zone and poked a solo homer to left for a 4-1 Arizona lead.
“[Roberts] asked me, and I said I felt good enough to keep going,” said Brasier, who allowed only one homer with the Dodgers this season, to San Diego’s Jake Cronenworth on Aug. 6.
“I felt like my stuff was as good as it’s been since I’ve been here. I just went one too many there to Gurriel, and he hit a pretty good pitch. It sucks in that kind of game, especially with how I was going, to give up a home run on a 1-2 slider.”
Brasier got Thomas to fly to left to end the sixth. Kelly allowed a pair of two-out singles to Carroll and Marte in the seventh before striking out Pham with a 91-mph slider.
Kelly walked Walker to open the eighth, struck out Gabriel Moreno and got Gurriel to pop out before being replaced by Phillips, who struck out Thomas. The Dodgers cut the lead to 4-2 with a run in the bottom of the sixth but couldn’t tack on with the bases loaded and one out, James Outman striking out and Kolten Wong grounding out to first.
“The bullpen was fantastic,” Roberts said. “Those guys gave us a chance to stay in the game and to win the game. I can’t say enough about what they did. I think they’re in a good spot. We have the off-day [Tuesday]. They’ll all be available for Game 3.”
Only 10 of 88 teams have come back to win a five-game series after losing the first two games, and only two of 16 teams have done so after losing the first two games at home under the 2-2-1 division series format. The Dodgers may need another Herculean effort — or three — from their bullpen if they are to stage a similar comeback.
“Moving forward, we’re in a tough spot now,” Phillips said. “It’s pretty clear what position we’re in and what we have to do to stay in this thing. But we believe in each other, and we genuinely believe we have a chance to come back in the series.”
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