LOS ANGELES — Leading up to the 2021 season, virtually everyone expected the National League West to be a dogfight between the Dodgers and Padres. Nearly 100 games into the regular season, it’s safe to say we were all wrong.
The Dodgers and Padres are certainly in the mix to win the division, but it’s the Giants that sit atop the division and have proven that they’re not going anywhere. That three-team race is the best in the Majors and will surely provide plenty of drama over the last two months of the season.
Drama took center stage at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday as Will Smith crushed a walk-off three-run homer to lead the Dodgers to an 8-6 win over the Giants. Los Angeles is now just one game behind the Giants in the NL West standings.
Smith is the first Dodgers player with a walk-off homer against the Giants since Russell Martin’s solo shot on Aug. 13, 2006. He also became the first Dodgers player to hit a walk-off homer against the Giants with L.A. trailing since Roy Campanella on May 27, 1953.
“That was huge for us,” said Dodgers utility man Chris Taylor. “Obviously this is a huge series and they took that first one from us and jumped out to an early lead in the second one, so for us to kind of stick with it and come back and find a way to win a game, that was probably our biggest win of the year so far.”
“It was huge,” manager Dave Roberts added. “I’ll echo what [Taylor] said. Division rival, a team we’re chasing. That flipped the standings.”
Not only was that the biggest win of the season for the Dodgers, it was also one of their gutsiest wins. And that’s saying a lot for a team that has navigated through as many injuries as any team in baseball.
The Dodgers got a good look at top pitching prospect Josiah Gray, who made his Major League debut on Tuesday. Gray struck out seven over four innings and gave the Dodgers plenty to be excited about moving forward. But three homers off Gray saw the Dodgers looking up at a five-run deficit through 4 1/2 innings.
That deficit looked insurmountable as the Dodgers were without Mookie Betts and lost Justin Turner (left knee contusion) and Max Muncy (right shoulder contusion), who each left the game after being hit by Alex Wood pitches earlier in the game.
None of that seemed to matter.
Taylor began the comeback, smacking a solo homer off Wood in the fifth inning, cutting the deficit to 6-2. In the sixth, Austin Barnes hit an RBI double and Taylor capped off the three-run inning with his second homer of the night, a two-run blast off right-hander John Brebbia.
That set the stage for Smith and the Dodgers to walk it off against Giants closer Tyler Rogers, who has been excellent against every other team in the Majors. Rogers blew a save at Dodger Stadium earlier this season, but the Giants ultimately won the game in extras. The Dodgers finished the job on Tuesday.
After Rogers walked the first two batters of the inning, the Dodgers leaned on Smith, who was the last available position player off the bench. Smith has a knack for hitting huge homers and Tuesday was no different. He took a hanging 0-1 slider from Rogers and crushed it over the left-field wall. Smith knew it right away, showing rare emotion toward the home dugout.
“I was pumped up,” Smith said. “That was a big win. It’s going to be a long second half, a long stretch and it’s going to be a fight with those guys and the other guys in the Padres. That was a big win and we’re going home happy tonight.”
Must-win games in July are almost nonexistent, especially for a team that has as much postseason experience as the Dodgers. Still, the Dodgers understand that if they want to win the NL West for the ninth consecutive season, they’re going to have to win their head-to-head matchups against the Giants and Padres.
The Dodgers have an opportunity to make up ground against the Giants as they’re in the midst of playing the division rival seven times over a 10-day span. It didn’t always look pretty on Tuesday, but as they’ve done many times this season, the Dodgers found a way.