With Mookie Betts’ return nigh, Dodgers set off early fireworks to defeat Padres again

Freddie Freeman of the Dodgers waves to the fans after hitting a solo home run in the first inning on July 2, 2022.

Freddie Freeman waves to the fans after hitting the first of three homeruns in the team’s first inning against Padres-starter Yu Darvish in a 7-2 win that pushed the Dodgers NL West lead to 4½ games. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

It was not Yu Darvish’s worst outing atop the hill from Dodger Stadium.

But when the right-hander was rocked by his former team on Saturday afternoon, it certainly looked like a particular November night five years earlier.

In the first inning of their 7-2 win over the San Diego Padres, the Dodgers tattooed three home runs against Darvish.

Freddie Freeman launched a rocket to the right. Will Smith brought a moonshot to the center. Justin Turner lined out to the left.

Each was met by a louder roar from the 47,061 fans and an increasingly enthusiastic reception in the dugout.

Will Smith rounds out the bases with a home run in the first inning on July 2, 2022.

Will Smith rounds the bases in the first inning after following Freddie Freeman’s homer with a bang. The Dodgers have won 14 of their last 15 against the Padres. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

“Guys on the couch were waiting to see someone do something offensive,” manager Dave Roberts said. “There was that energy, that mentality of, ‘I want to be the next guy to do something, to help the ball club.’ †

The series also evoked flashbacks to the 2017 World Series when Darvish was early in the Dodgers’ Game 7 loss to the Houston Astros home.

Only this time it was the Padres (46-34) on the receiving end of sudden defeat – and the Dodgers (49-28) cruising to their fourth straight win and 14th of their last 15 against the Padres.

Starting pitcher Yu Darvish of the Dodgers, Justin Turner and Padres, watches Turner's home run on July 2, 2022.

Justin Turner and Padres starting pitcher Yu Darvish watch the flight of Turner’s homer – the last of three in a four-hit series for the Dodgers in the first inning. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

After the outburst in the first inning, the Dodgers quickly extended their lead to put the game out of reach.

With two outs in the second, Padres rightfielder José Azocar lined out that enabled Gavin Lux to reach second base with a double and scored on a Trea Turner single in the next at bat.

Again with two outs in the third inning, Jake Lamb threw an RBI double down the left just past a dive by Jurickson Profar that made it 5-0.

After Tyler Anderson completed a 6⅓-inning, one-run start, the Dodgers tackled some late insurance runs in the seventh with a pair of sac-fly.

“The ability of this lineup is pretty special,” said Justin Turner.

The Dodgers’ attack could be getting a boost soon.

After the match, Roberts said: Mookie Betts was likely to return from the injured list on Sunday and play in right field, after Betts was feeling well after a session of live batting practice Saturday afternoon.

Out since June 15 due to a broken rib, Betts initially planned to return to second base to avoid long pitches, which he said still caused him some discomfort, although he posed no threat of further injury.

However, after Chris Taylor left Saturday’s game early with a bruise to the left foot – Roberts said an X-ray of Taylor’s foot was negative, but was not expected to play Sunday – the Dodgers now plan to place Betts back at his usual angle in the outfield.

“I’m fine,” Betts said. “I’m ready to go out again.”

Where Betts will be in the batting order is another question.

Despite reaching the leadoff in all 59 of Betts’ starts this season, Roberts said he was still deciding whether to put or keep Betts in first place. Trea Turner over there.

In the absence of Betts, Turner came in on Sunday, hitting .339 with a .891 on-base-plus-slugging percentage since taking on the leadoff role.

“I’m going to talk to Mookie to make sure we’re on the same page,” Roberts said. “Obviously Trea is doing well in the lead-off spot. But I don’t know, we’ll keep having those conversations.”

Wherever he returns, however, Betts will rejoin a Dodgers team that begins to rediscover his stride.

Saturday’s win was the Dodgers’ 12th in their last 17. They also extended their division lead over the second-place Padres to 4½ games, their biggest of the season.

“Of course you want to play well against opponents from the division, especially the team that was right behind you,” said Freeman. “No one here is looking at the score, it’s much too early for that. But … it’s just fun putting this series of work together.”

This weekend was all about dominant starting and throwing as well as an explosive attack.

Anderson turned the team’s newest gem on Saturday, lowering his season ERA to 3.09, while becoming the third straight Dodgers starter to give up just one point against the collapsing Padres lineup.

Dodgers starter Tyler Anderson will pitch in the fourth inning on July 2, 2022.

Dodgers lefthander Tyler Anderson gave up one run in 6⅓ innings and improved to 9-1 this season. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

“As a rotation, you want to keep the ball rolling,” Anderson said. “You want to grab the ball and try to keep up with the man from the day before.”

Darvish, who had pitched well in three previous appearances at Dodger Stadium in the past three years since leaving the team, finally found his own groove and made it through six total innings without giving up another run.

However, all that early damage proved more than decisive.

Again he suffered a loss at Dodger Stadium.

This time the hosts were happy to be on the other side.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times

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