The eighth inning and the epitome of the Dodgers
By Cary Osborne
The October sky had fallen into a million pieces and landed on the field at Dodger Stadium again. A 5-2 Dodger lead heading into the seventh inning of Game 4 of the National League Division Series left the frame in a 5-5 tie. And either someone was going to sweep away those pieces, or pick them back up. Maybe you’ve seen these Dodgers before.
“If anyone gives up on this team,” Dave Roberts said after the game, “they haven’t seen us play a whole lot this year.”
In the bottom of the eighth inning, one of the game’s top relief pitchers in 2016, Washington’s Blake Treinen, got the first two outs.
Andre Ethier pulled the coldest bat out of the rack and delivered a pinch-hit single to left field. The single pushed Andrew Toles, who was hit by a pitch in the front foot in the previous at-bat, to second base.
On deck, Chase Utley pulled the weight off his bat and sprayed the handle of it with liquid grip. He walked to the batter’s box. He kicked the dirt on the left side to and fro. He took a practice half swing and then tapped his foot with his bat. He leaned back, then placed his left hand on the barrel of the bat. Then he clutched the handle with both hands.
Treinen delivered a 97 mph sinker that Utley waved at and missed.
Utley reclined again, then took another practice swing. Utley let a slider go by for ball one.
He adjusted his helmet, took another practice half swing. Treinen threw another slider. Again, Utley waved and missed. He was now in danger of his third strikeout of the game.
“For the most part, you’re in that situation a lot over the course of a season,” Utley said of the spot. “You obviously try and keep it simple and try and put a good at-bat together. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t.”
Utley kicked the dirt again. He stepped out of the box and took two swings. He stepped back in, leaned back again, started with his left hand on the barrel then connected it with the right hand on the handle.
Treinen again went slider and Utley thrust his hands forward, bat barrel connecting with ball and sending it to right field. Toles raced home on the single and gave the Dodgers the go-ahead run in their 6-5 win.
Utley, who rarely shows emotion, rounded first base and clapped. No smile.
“Chase has been doing it his whole career,” said Game 4 starter Clayton Kershaw. “He’s the most prepared guy out there, and there’s not really another guy on our team that you want up in that situation. Obviously Seag, J.T., Gonzo have all been there before and are really good hitters, but Chase kind of always seems to rise to the occasion.”
That string of at-bats — Toles, Ethier and Utley — Roberts said epitomized this ballclub. Grit personified.
Ethier gets special mention here. He was announced as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning and Game 2, but he never made it to the plate after the Nationals countered the Dodgers’ move by bringing in lefty Oliver Perez. That was his only action of the series until he stepped to the plate on Tuesday.
After Toles was hit by the pitch, the fans at Dodger Stadium rose at the sight of Ethier, believing in his magic. So did his teammates.
“We have the utmost confidence in Dre,” said Adrián González, who hit a two-run home run in the first inning. “I knew he was going to do something special and he did.”
Now it’s on to Washington where the team that repeatedly hasn’t given in will fight to extend its season. And yes, the sky is again blue.