A near-epic collapse overshadows Dodgers' skid-ending victory over Angels

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Dodgers relief pitcher Dennis Santana is unable to come with a ball hit by the Angels' Jon Jay in the sixth inning Saturday.
Dodgers relief pitcher Dennis Santana fails to come up with a ball hit by the Angels' Jon Jay in the sixth inning Saturday. (Associated Press)

Leave it to the Dodgers, an underachieving team that has done little right over the past three weeks, to turn what should have been a laugher of a win over the Angels into a nail-biter of a 14-11 victory in Angel Stadium on Saturday night.

Their inability to bury the Angels after building a 13-0 lead in the fifth inning, the underbelly of an already soft bullpen yielding 11 runs in the sixth and seventh — after Angels sluggers Mike Trout and Justin Upton had departed — robbed them of the joy that should have come with ending a four-game losing streak.

When Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw, who made his first career regular-season start on three days’ rest, completed his fifth scoreless inning, he took a seat on the dugout bench and had a lengthy and animated conversation with manager Dave Roberts.

Kershaw, who had thrown 71 pitches, wanted to stay in the game, the workhorse saying afterward that “any time you pitch five innings, you don’t really feel like you’ve done your job.” Roberts didn’t want the three-time National League Cy Young Award winner to waste any more bullets with his team holding a 13-0 lead.

Maybe Kershaw knew something Roberts didn’t. Like just how unpredictable and unreliable so many of the young Dodgers relievers are or how taking the top three hitters in the order — Mookie Betts, Corey Seager and Justin Turner — out by the sixth inning might leave the lineup a little thin.

Dennis Santana replaced Kershaw and recorded only one out in a sixth inning in which he was rocked for three runs, four hits and two walks. Mitch White came on and gave up six runs and five hits in the seventh, though none of the runs were earned, because they came after catcher-turned-second baseman Austin Barnes’ two-out error.

Left-hander Garrett Cleavinger replaced White in the seventh and gave up a three-run homer to Angels third baseman Jose Rojas, which capped a seven-run inning, cut the Dodgers’ lead to 14-11 and moved the Angels to the brink of an epic comeback.

The largest deficit a team has erased in a comeback victory is 12, by the Detroit Tigers over the Chicago White Sox on June 18, 1911, the Philadelphia Athletics over the Cleveland Indians on June 15, 1925, and the Indians over the Seattle Mariners on Aug. 15, 2001.

Two Angels players raise their hands to celebrate a homer
The Angels' Jose Rojas (18) celebrates with Taylor Ward after hitting a three-run homer during a seven-run seventh inning Saturday. (Associated Press)

To avoid the ignominy of such a loss after building a near two-touchdown advantage, Roberts had to rush top left-hander Victor Gonzalez into the game in the eighth and top setup man Blake Treinen into the game in the ninth, the right-hander striking out two of three to nail down the team’s fifth win in 19 games.

“I just think you have to come in and throw strikes,” Roberts said of the shoddy work of Santana, White and Cleavinger. “A 13-run lead, we have to be able to close out four innings. There’s no other way to look at it."

A wacky 4-hour, 3-minute marathon in which the teams combined for 25 runs and 28 hits, and went a combined 18 for 32 with runners in scoring position, started with three no-hit innings by Kershaw and Angels right-hander Dylan Bundy.

The Dodgers then batted around in the fourth and fifth innings, sending 14 men to the plate in an eight-run, eight-hit fourth — a half-inning that lasted 34 minutes — and 10 to the plate in a five-run, four-hit fifth.

The outburst began with a blooper-reel play. After Betts walked to open the fourth and took third on Seager’s single to center, Max Muncy hit a check-swing tapper down the third-base line.

Rojas, the Angels third baseman, fielded the ball as Betts scurried back to the bag, neither man knowing if the ball was fair or foul. Rojas snared the ball and snapped a quick tag right into the groin area of Betts, who tumbled onto his back in obvious pain, Rojas rushing in to apologize.

The ball was foul. Betts took a minute to gather himself and return to the bag, Muncy ripped a run-scoring single to right-center, and the rout was on. Matt Beaty (two-run double) and Betts (two-run single) provided the big blows in the fourth, and Betts (two-run single) and Will Smith (two-run single) keyed the fifth.

Before the Angels mounted their comeback in the sixth and seventh, right fielder Taylor Ward provided a head-scratching moment in the fifth when he attempted to bunt for a hit with a 13-run deficit, a play that prompted Kershaw to curse as he pointed to the scoreboard and drew the ire of Roberts.

“Yeah, it’s just not a good baseball play,” Roberts said, “any way you slice it.”

Ward then hit a sacrifice fly in the sixth and an RBI single in the seventh, as the Angels roared back.

But the Dodgers built too big of a lead for the Angels to overcome, going 11 for 23 with runners in scoring position after going three for 36 in those situations in their previous four games.

With so much tension filling the later innings of what should have been a blowout and the Dodgers barely hanging on, there seemed to be more relief than satisfaction after a win.

“It still feels good because we needed a win, and there was a lot more good that came out of tonight than bad,” Roberts said. “The team offense was really good tonight. We got the starter out of there, got to the pen, kept the line moving, got some big two-out hits … just across the board, some tough at-bats.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.