, pub-3283090343984743, DIRECT, f08c47fec0942fa0 A Clash of Titans in the Bronx
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A Clash of Titans in the Bronx

Clash of Titans
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

NEW YORK — For a matchup with so much history — the most common World Series pairing, and the most storied as well — meetings between the Dodgers and Yankees have been curiously rare since the introduction of interleague play in 1997. It took until 2013 for Major League Baseball to bring the Dodgers back to Yankee Stadium for the first time since the 1981 World Series clincher, and until this past weekend they had made just one other visit (2016). The more balanced schedule adopted last year has made meetings between the two teams an annual occurrence, but even so, this still feels like the best kind of novelty that interleague play can muster.

Particularly so to this scribe, for whom the 1978 and ’81 World Series were foundational experiences as a young third-generation Dodgers fan who never dreamed that he would one day cover baseball, let alone in the Bronx. This was the first of the Dodgers’ three visits where I was able to enjoy games as both a fan (Friday night, from my ticket group’s regular seats in section 422) and a member of the media. Getting paid to have this much fun? I recommend it.

With both teams leading their respective divisions, with national television on hand for all three games, and with Yankee Stadium filled with sellout crowds of 48,000-plus — including a substantial, colorful contingent of Dodgers fans, many of them decked out in Shohei Ohtani jerseys — this past weekend brought an electrified, playoff-like atmosphere to the Bronx. Not that the Yankees, who entered the series having won eight straight and who still own the AL’s best record (46-21), weren’t already doing their best to create one. Offsetting their sluggish play over the past few weeks, the Dodgers (41-26) rose to the occasion by taking two out of three tension-filled games, winning 2-1 in 11 innings on Friday and turning a tight game on Saturday into an 11-3 laugher. The Yankees avoided a sweep and rewarded their frenzied fans by winning a seesaw battle on Sunday night, 6-4, thanks to a well-timed three-run homer by Trent Grisham, who was only playing because Juan Soto spent the series on the bench due to inflammation in his left elbow; the go-ahead blast came off Tyler Glasnow as Yankees fans chanted “We want Soto! We want Soto!”

“This whole series has been fun,” slugger Aaron Judge told ESPN’s Buster Olney afterward. “I know they took the series, but these are the games you want to play in, back and forth like that and it comes down to an MVP with two guys on — those are the moments you live for right there.” Judge was referring to the game’s final out, where Clay Holmes struck out Mookie Betts chasing a low-and-away slider with runners on first and second.

Unofficially, it may as well have been Teoscar Hernández Weekend. While the Yankees held the Dodgers’ 1-2-3 of Betts, Ohtani, and Freddie Freeman to a combined 7-for-35 performance with 11 total bases in the series, Hernández himself went 6-for-12 with two doubles and three homers while driving in nine of the Dodgers’ 17 runs. The 31-year-old left fielder snapped the seal on a scoreless game with a two-run double in the 11th inning on Friday night. His grand slam — his second home run of the night — broke open Saturday night’s game, and his double and solo shot on Sunday accounted for two of the three extra-base hits collected against Yankees starter Luis Gil, with the last of those hits temporarily giving the Dodgers the lead before Grisham’s home run.

Both teams played the series at less than full strength, with the Yankees not only missing ace Gerrit Cole — whose rehab from a bout of nerve inflammation in his elbow is progressing well — but also Soto. The superstar right fielder started each of the Yankees’ first 64 games, but he left Thursday’s contest against the Twins during a 56-minute rain delay due to lingering discomfort in his left forearm. Though it had bothered him for the past couple weeks, it apparently hadn’t prevented him from destroying opposing pitching; prior to his absence, his .603 slugging percentage, 190 wRC+, and 4.1 WAR ranked second in AL only to Judge, with the two outfielders ranking first and second in the majors in the latter two categories to that point. An MRI taken Friday revealed only inflammation in Soto’s forearm, much to the Yankees’ relief. In addition to fetching Cole Gatorade during an in-game interview with the Fox Sports booth on Saturday, Soto served as a decoy off the bench all weekend, though Dodgers manager Dave Roberts saw through the ruse.

“Where they’re at in the standings, with how well they’re playing and what’s at stake this year, I really wasn’t too concerned about him being played this weekend,” he told reporters after Sunday’s game. Yankees manager Aaron Boone, who had hinted before Sunday’s game he might use Soto, said he expects the right fielder back in the lineup for the series against the Royals, which begins on Monday night.

As for the Dodgers, in addition to being without Clayton Kershaw as he recovers from shoulder surgery, they’ve been without third baseman Max Muncy since May 15 due to an oblique strain. Though hardly as central to the Dodgers offense as Soto is to the Yankees, Muncy is hitting .223/.323/.475 for a 123 wRC+, his best mark since 2021. What’s more, his fill-ins — mainly Enrique Hernández, with Miguel Rojas and Chris Taylor also chipping in — have combined to hit just .171/.241/.276 (52 wRC+) with two doubles and two home runs in 83 plate appearances. Hernández, who’s hitting just .207/.273/.314 (72 wRC+) overall, hit one of those doubles on Friday, and one of those homers on Saturday.

Muncy is of particular importance to the Dodgers because his presence lengthens a top-heavy lineup that’s gotten just a 77 wRC+ (.210/.273/.334) showing from its 6-7-8-9 hitters this year (including seven games for which Muncy himself batted sixth). Without him, the Dodgers had gone 10-9 — all against sub-.500 teams (the Reds, Diamondbacks, Mets, Rockies, and Pirates) — from the time of his injury to the start of Friday’s series, scoring three or fewer runs in nine of those games, and averaging just 4.05 runs per game in that span, with two double-digit blowouts padding that average by three-quarters of a run.

On paper, Friday’s pairing of ace-in-the-making Yoshinobu Yamamoto and injury fill-in Cody Poteet (subbing for Clarke Schmidt, who’s out due to a lat strain) looked like a mismatch, but it turned into a pitchers’ duel. Each team collected just four hits through the first nine innings; five times, a half-inning ended with a runner stranded in scoring position. Yamamoto was phenomenal, holding the Yankees to two hits and two walks over seven innings while striking out seven, lowering his ERA to an even 3.00. He ended the first inning by striking out Giancarlo Stanton swinging on a slider in the dirt with a runner on second, escaped the second by whiffing Jose Trevino on a slider outside with runners on the corners, then retired the next 11 in a row before walking Judge with two outs in the sixth. Yamamoto followed by striking out Stanton again, this time by elevating a 97-mph heater.

The closest the Yankees came to scoring was in the eighth, when reliever Anthony Banda notched two strikeouts, yielded back-to-back singles to Anthony Volpe and Alex Verdugo, and gave way to Blake Treinen, who has been absolutely dominant since returning from a nearly two-year absence due to shoulder woes, throwing 11 scoreless innings with 16 strikeouts and two walks. One of those walks was wisely issued to the red-hot Judge. Stanton followed, just getting under a sinker that was hit into the left-center gap but didn’t quite reach the warning track before Teoscar Hernández hauled it in.

On the other side, Poteet, a 29-year-old righty whose previous major league experience was 58.2 innings with the 2021–22 Marlins, did an impressive job of working his way through the Dodgers’ lineup twice. Though he didn’t have a single clean inning, he held the Dodgers to just two hits, two walks and a hit batsman, using a double play and a pickoff — Enrique Hernández, who reached on an error by second baseman Gleyber Torres — to reduce traffic.

Poteet departed with two outs in the fifth following a walk of Enrique Hernández and single by Betts. Lefty reliever Victor Gonzalez — one of three ex-Dodgers who took the mound for the Yankees in the opener — induced Ohtani to line out to Anthony Rizzo to end the threat, but the early move to the bullpen created a ripple effect that carried through Saturday night, forcing Boone to turn to his less-trusted arms. He used six relievers after Poteet, calling upon both thrice-DFA’d Michael Tonkin and Ian Hamilton to get more than three outs. After working a scoreless 10th, Hamilton walked Freeman to start the 11th, then one out later gave up the big hit to Teoscar Hernández, a 109-mph two-run double into the gap. Dennis Santana (another ex-Dodger) relieved him and almost made matters worse by issuing a two-out walk to Andy Pages before retiring Gavin Lux. The Dodgers won, but only after Yohan Ramírez allowed an RBI single to Judge, then held on to notch his first save as a Dodger.

Saturday night’s game pitted a pair of pitchers who have successfully shaken off miserable 2023 campaigns, righty Gavin Stone and lefty Nestor Cortes. Stone, who was rocked for a 9.00 ERA and 6.64 FIP in 31 innings last year, moved to a bigger glove to help him combat a pitch-tipping issue; relying more on a sinker-slider combo than before, he’s turned in a 2.93 ERA and 3.46 FIP in 67.2 innings. Cortes, who made three trips to the injured list last year due to hamstring and rotator cuff strains, has been healthy this season, lowering his ERA from 4.97 to 3.68 and his FIP from 4.49 to 3.77.

The two teams traded runs in the second and third innings, with a Teoscar Hernández homer and an Ohtani RBI single (one of his two hits in a relatively quiet series) producing the runs for Los Angeles, and an Austin Wells groundout and a Judge home run driving in those for New York. The Dodgers pulled ahead 3-2 in the fifth on Enrique Hernández’s solo homer off Cortes, then padded that lead in the sixth when Teoscar Hernández followed a Freeman double and a Will Smith single with an RBI groundout.

The Yankees had a chance to claw back that lead when they loaded the bases with two outs in the sixth, chasing Stone — who scattered eight hits and two walks — in the process; lefty Alex Vesia retired Volpe on a fly ball, ending the threat. The Dodgers broke the game open in the eighth when Teoscar Hernández clubbed a grand slam off Tommy Kahnle. After Santana allowed two runs in the ninth in what turned out to be his final appearance before being designated for assignment, Boone called upon utilityman Oswaldo Cabrera to get the final out. He did, but not before walking both Teoscar Hernández and the nearly unwalkable Pages, bringing in the 11th and final Dodgers run. Judge homered for the second time in the game with two outs in the ninth.

Sunday offered the series’ most tantalizing pitching matchup, with Gil, the AL Pitcher of the Month for May, up against Glasnow. The Yankees claimed their first lead of the series in the third inning, when Cabrera pounced upon a 97-mph first-pitch fastball on the inside edge of the plate, homering off the foul pole in right field. The Yankees added another run when Verdugo doubled into the right field corner, then scored when Pages crashed into the wall trying unsuccessfully to hold onto a 104-mph, 390-foot drive to center field off the bat of Judge; that went for a double as well.

Through four innings, Gil allowed just two baserunners, walking Freeman with two outs in the first inning and surrendering a leadoff double to Teoscar Hernández in the second. The Dodgers, who have been one of the worst teams in the majors against four-seamers 97 mph and higher — their .220 wOBA is the majors’ fifth-lowest — couldn’t solve Gil’s fastball-changuep-slider combination until the fifth, when Pages ripped a 108-mph double into the left field corner off a hanging slider. Lux then laced a fastball to left; any thought Pages had of scoring was undone when he missed third base and doubled back. Yankees pitching coach Matt Blake checked on Gil, but Boone stuck with him. Lux stole second as Enrique Hernández struck out, then Betts fought off a high inside fastball for a two-run double into the left field corner. With two outs in the sixth, Teoscar Hernández finally ended Gil’s night with a solo homer off a changeup, giving the Dodgers a 3-2 lead.

The 26-year-old righty’s three runs allowed matched his total from his previous seven starts, across a combined 44.2 innings. He struck out five while giving up five hits and walking one as his ERA rose to 2.04, but he was hardly disappointed. “I really liked this outing, actually,” he said via an interpreter. “They have a really good lineup. To be able to go out there and battle these guys, it’s fun.”

The Yankees picked up their Gil, as Verdugo and Judge both collected infield singles on hard-hit balls that bounced off the gloves of corner infielders (Freeman for the former, Enrique Hernández for the latter). That brought up Grisham, who tormented the Dodgers with his defense and timely hitting during the 2022 Division Series as a Padre, but who has languished on the Yankees bench since arriving in the Soto blockbuster. Treated to a rare start on Thursday, he collected his first hit since April 29, ending an 0-for-20 slide by clubbing a three-run homer off the Twins’ Pablo López. Here he did the same. Glasnow left a 97-mph fastball in the middle of the zone, and Grisham launched a 108-mph missile into the right field stands to give New York a 5-3 lead as the Yankee Stadium crowd erupted. Though he’s now hitting just .100/.258/.280 in 63 plate appearances, three of his five hits have been three-run homers.

“Yes, I heard them,” said a good-natured Grisham of the Soto chants. “It wasn’t about [sending a message]. I was just happy that I was able to stay present in the moment, worry about myself, and put a good swing on one.”

“Grish can get to a heater, and he didn’t miss it,” said Boone.

“Grisham works his butt off every single day,” said Judge. “I wasn’t too happy with [the chant], but I think he made a good point.” To their credit, fans chanted “We want Grisham!” when he batted again in the eighth, drawing a walk.

Grisham’s big hit undid an otherwise strong effort from Glasnow, who reached double digits in strikeouts for the fifth time this season, striking out 12 in six innings to lift his NL-leading total to 116 over 86 innings. “Bad counts, bad pitches right over the zone,” he lamented. “I wish I could have located them a little differently.”

The Dodgers continued to apply pressure, putting runners in scoring position in each of the final three innings. Lefty reliever Caleb Ferguson, yet another former Dodger, walked Pages (his fourth straight game of drawing a base on balls, accounting for five of his 10 walks) to lead off the seventh, then took second on a Lux single. Boone went to Luke Weaver, his most heavily used reliever this year. Enrique Hernández tried to bunt, first popping one foul that Trevino dropped; both he and Boone lobbied for interference, but Hernández hadn’t left the batters’ box as the catcher made his way around. With the infield drawn in, Hernández got his second attempt down, but Trevino quickly fired to Cabrera, and Pages, who had gotten a good secondary lead, nonetheless missed the bag with his front leg as he slid; by the time his back foot touched, Cabrera had gotten the forceout. Betts followed by grounding into an inning-ending double play.

In the eighth, Ohtani doubled off Weaver and eventually scored on Smith’s sacrifice fly, but the Yankees answered when Judge won a six-pitch battle against Ramírez with a thunderous, towering 434-foot solo shot to left field. It was his major league-leading 23rd home run and his third hit of the night. He went 7-for-11 with three walks, two doubles, and three homers in the series, raising his seasonal line to .305/.436/.703 (214 wRC) with 4.9 WAR; all of those figures save for the batting average lead the majors.

In the ninth, Holmes got two outs before allowing back-to-back singles to Lux (his third hit of the night) and Enrique Hernández. That gave Betts one more chance to play the hero, but the closer whiffed him for his 19th save of the season.

Remarkably, it’s been 43 years since the Yankees and Dodgers met in a World Series. That was after the two teams squared off 11 times in the Fall Classic over the 41-season span from 1941 to ’81. Both managers acknowledged the possibility of meeting again down the road but downplayed it, though Roberts saw it as a good test for his team. “I think that playing with this media attention, sold out [crowds], the energy – you feel it — a team that you potentially could meet in the World Series, is sort of a barometer,” he said before Sunday’s game.

“Both teams brought our best and fortunately for us, we won the series,” he said afterward, hardly disappointed by taking two of three on the road against top competition. “It was just a good environment all weekend. Good to show well against those guys. They’re a heck of a ballclub.”