Let’s admit it: When your name is Will Smith and you’re playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers in the shadow of the “Hollywood” sign that sits up in the Santa Monica Mountains, it’s going to be difficult to divert attention away from that other guy named Will Smith, who also works in Los Angeles.
Well, this is a good way to do it. The Dodgers’ Smith pinch hit with two outs and two on in the bottom of the ninth against the Colorado Rockies with the score tied on Sunday and delivered a three-run, walk-off home run to send Dodger Stadium into a fever of joy:
WEST SIDE WALK IT OUT. pic.twitter.com/DqNiS8QoZS
— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) June 23, 2019
Smith, a rookie catcher drafted 32nd overall in 2016 out of Louisville, had played in six games with the Dodgers earlier this season, hitting a walk-off home run for his first major league homer to beat the Phillies on June 1. He had just been recalled before the game to replace injured David Freese. With Matt Beaty on second base, Rockies manager Bud Black elected to intentionally walk veteran Russell Martin to have Scott Oberg instead face Smith.
These walk-off home runs have become standard fare in L.A. It was the third game in a row the Dodgers hit one to complete a sweep of the Rockies — and all three were hit by rookies, Beaty taking the honors Friday and Alex Verdugo in the 11th inning Saturday.
Two rookie walk-offs wasn’t enough?
HOW ABOUT THREE? pic.twitter.com/c7NmPCilrL
— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) June 24, 2019
— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) June 24, 2019
WOW!!!!!! UN.REAL!!!!!! IS THIS REAL LIFE?!! #WalkoffsAreFun
— Enrique Hernández (@kikehndez) June 23, 2019
The Dodgers became only the sixth team to hit walk-off home runs in three consecutive games, joining the 2013 Rangers, 2004 Tigers, 2000 Royals, 1999 Diamondbacks and 1998 Tigers, and the first to do it with three rookies. (In fact, they were already the first team to have rookies do it in consecutive games.)
What a weekend at Dodger Stadium as the team improved to 54-25, including 34-9 at home. The New York Yankees have been hot, but the Dodgers are clearly the best team in baseball right now, with the best record in the majors, in the much tougher league, as they head to 55 wins in the first half.
This weekend not only showcased the Dodgers’ depth of the 40-man roster, but also showcased why they’re headed to a seventh straight division title — with maybe the best team of the run, even better than the 104-win team of 2017. Consider the astute drafting:
— The Dodgers took Smith as a supplemental first-round pick (acquired for losing Zack Greinke as a free agent). They liked his defense at Louisville, but his bat has been good enough to allow him to advance quickly — he has hit .291/.397/.609 at Oklahoma City. In the same draft, the Dodgers selected infielder Gavin Lux with the 20th overall pick and he has become a top-30 prospect, hitting .310 at Double-A Tulsa. Given that several of the top-10 picks from that draft have struggled, getting Lux and Smith late in the first round looks like a steal.
— Verdugo was a second-round pick in 2014 out of a high school in Tucson, Arizona. Many teams saw him as a pitcher with his low-90s fastball, but he wanted to hit and the Dodgers liked him in that role as well. Verdugo would have played regularly for a lot of teams last season but had to wait his turn. The trade of Yasiel Puig and injury to A.J. Pollock opened up playing time this year, and Verdugo is hitting .302/.352/.489.
— Beaty was a 12th-round pick in 2015 from Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, not exactly a baseball powerhouse, but he hit .382 his junior season with more walks than strikeouts. He has hit .308 in his minor league career (he missed most of last season because of a torn thumb ligament) and has made himself more valuable with his ability to play first base, third base and left field. He’s hitting .333/.352/.478 in 69 at-bats.
When you’re not picking high like the Dodgers, it becomes more difficult to build through the draft, but they’ve added depth and built one of the top farm systems by crushing those late first-round selections (Walker Buehler is another example) and finding other gems later in the draft (such as Cody Bellinger in the fourth round).
Javy, THANK YOU. pic.twitter.com/aHA1oAZprI
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) June 23, 2019
Baez’s home run came off an 0-2 sinker from Lugo — well, it didn’t sink enough as he probably wanted to bury it in the dirt — and while 0-2 is usually an out for most hitters, Baez isn’t a normal hitter:
All MLB hitters in 2019
On 0-2: .152 AVG/.397 OPS
After 0-2: .165/.464
Javy Baez in 2019
On 0-2: .314 AVG/1.057 OPS, 4 HR (35 AB)
After 0-2: .296 AVG/1.076 OPS, 9 HR (73 PA)
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) June 23, 2019
Anyway, the Mets. Too often, they just can’t get out of their own way. Lugo has actually been the team’s best reliever this year, so that wasn’t the crazy thing that happened. After the game, tension escalated in the clubhouse when manager Mickey Callaway cursed out Newsday beat writer Tim Healey, and then pitcher Jason Vargas, in the words of Daily News writer Deesha Thosar, “took steps toward Healey looking for a fight before the two were separated by a handful of people.” The confrontation with Callaway resulted when Callaway walked past Healey following his postgame news conference and Healey said, “See you tomorrow, Mickey,” which the manager interpreted as the reporter being sarcastic. Callaway turned back to Healey and spewed out a string of words not suitable for print here.
The Mets issued a statement after the game: “The Mets sincerely regret the incident that took place with one of our beat writers following today’s game in the clubhouse. We do not condone this type of behavior from any employee. The organization has reached out and apologized to this reporter and will have further discussions internally with all involved parties.”
Is this a big deal? Probably not. Hey, maybe Vargas stepping up for his manager can even be viewed as a little team bonding. Or maybe it’s the just the beginning of the final disintegration. Callaway might already be on edge after the team fired pitching coach Dave Eiland and bullpen coach Chuck Hernandez a few days ago, and this certainly isn’t going to please management. While Sunday’s loss was painful, the series against the Cubs wasn’t a complete disaster as they split four games. Still, the Mets fell to 37-41 and they haven’t won a road series since early April. It’s time for the Mets to beat up on some opponents, not reporters.
Phading Phillies: Heck, the Mets aren’t even the biggest disaster in the NL East right now. The Marlins beat the Phillies 6-4, completing a series sweep and extending the Phillies’ losing streak to seven. Jordan Yamamoto picked up his third win for the Marlins in three career starts, and Miami pounded out 16 hits. The Phillies have lost 16 of 22 and dropped nine games to the Braves in the standings in that spell.
Phillies fans let out a chorus of boos when Roman Quinn popped out to end the game.
As Scott Lauber wrote for the Philadelphia Inquirer, this is not what owner John Middleton paid for in believing the Phillies had constructed a World Series contender. They’ve been outscored 43-15 in the seven-game skid. “It’s not good,” Bryce Harper said.
There are few Phillies who might be expected to perform better — Harper, for starters, although his high strikeout rate suggests he’s not going to suddenly go on a big binge. J.T. Realmuto and Jean Segura have been minor disappointments. The back of the rotation has been awful, but most teams have struggled with the backs of their rotations. The Phillies really just look like a .500 team and I don’t see much reason to expect them to go 20 games over .500 the rest of the way. Indeed, FanGraphs currently projects a final record of 81-81. Next up: four games at home against the Mets. It feels like an important series for both teams.
Run of the day: The Pirates beat the Padres 11-10 in a wild extra-innings game (Kirby Yates finally blew his first save of the season), but check out Fernando Tatis Jr. scoring on an infield pop-up. I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen this before:
— San Diego Padres (@Padres) June 23, 2019
If you didn’t watch the entire replay, Tatis was ruled safe upon review. This kid is absolutely electrifying and is hitting .323/.387/.571 after going 2-for-4 with two walks Sunday. He probably missed too much time because of his hamstring injury to warrant All-Star consideration, but he is fifth among NL shortstops in WAR and two of those ahead of him (Trevor Story and Corey Seager) are currently on the injured list. Maybe the point isn’t that Tatis deserves to be on the All-Star team, but he has certainly played like an All-Star when healthy.
Verlander avoids the sweep: It wasn’t a fun trip to the Bronx for the Astros as the Yankees took the first three games of the series — running Houston’s losing streak to seven, their longest since a seven-game skid in June 2015. On Sunday, Justin Verlander finally turned things around, holding the Yankees to three runs and four hits in seven innings, and the Astros’ lineup smashed four home runs. One of those came from Yordan Alvarez, his seventh in 12 games:
— Houston Astros (@astros) June 23, 2019
OK, seven bombs in his first 12 games is amazing. He’s the fourth to do it, joining Trevor Story (2016), Trey Mancini (2016-17) and Dino Restelli. What, you’ve never heard of Dino Restelli? Me neither.
Restelli hit seven home runs in his first 12 games for the Pirates in 1949 — and only six more in a brief major league career that was over in 1951. Just a fluke? Probably, although one issue was he wore glasses and they would constantly fog up in the East Coast humidity. (He kept a bright red bandanna in his back pocket to clean his glasses, a habit that apparently ticked off opponents.) Early in his career, after a glasses-cleaning timeout, Ewell Blackwell hit Restelli in the back of the neck. One theory says Restelli was never the same after that.
Anyway, I’m pretty sure Yordan Alvarez will have a much longer career than Dino Restelli.