[Editor's Note: As a follow-up to our staff writer Ryan Krol's article, "Freeway Series 2014: What Went Wrong for the Angels," I've written the following article about what went right for the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2014 Freeway Series.]
In what seemed like a first, the Los Angeles Dodgers actually took a Freeway Series from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim–winning three out of four games (one of two in Los Angeles and two in Anaheim) this past week. After Zack Greinke and the Dodgers were shutout 5-0 in the first game of the series, at home, they came back to win back-to-back one-run games, then won the fourth game of the series decisively, 7-0.
So how exactly did the Dodgers finish off the Freeway Series with three straight victories? It was all about the pitching! After dropping the first game, the Dodgers only allowed five runs over the following three games, with four of those runs coming in game two. Of course, there were some timely hits, but the Dodgers’ ability to practically shut down the Angels’ vaunted lineup was a major accomplishment.
Game two – Dodgers 5 (H) – Angels 4: After the Angels defeated Greinke in game one, the Dodgers really needed Clayton Kershaw to shut the Angels down in game two. Unfortunately, he didn’t exactly have a ‘Kershaw’ type of night–allowing three runs over seven innings. Certainly nothing to scoff at, but with Kershaw sporting a sub-2.00 ERA, three runs over seven innings is A LOT.
With the Dodgers clinging to a 4-3 lead entering the eighth inning, manager Don Mattingly called on Brian Wilson to get the ball to closer Kenley Jansen. Albert Pujols had something else in mind, however, and deposited a Wilson offering into the Dodgers’ bullpen behind the left field wall. Jansen came on in the ninth anyway, and was flat-out dominant–striking out all three Angels batters he faced–in only 11 pitches. The Dodgers ended up winning the game in the bottom of the ninth inning in rather odd fashion–with Andre Ethier hitting a ‘walk-off’ fielder’s choice bouncer to third base–hey, it’s a win, right?
Game three – Dodgers 2 – Angels 1 (H): With Dodgers’ starting pitcher Dan Haren having struggled so mightily over his previous five starts (as I recounted just a couple of weeks ago), most Dodgers fans had already penciled this game in as a loss. But Haren had other ideas, and gave one of his finest performances of the season–possibly THE finest, given the circumstances.
I already addressed the mechanical change that seemed to give Haren more ‘zip’ on his pitches in my AK’s Corner piece last week, but I can’t stress enough how different this Dan Haren looked from the one we had been watching for weeks. He had the Angels fooled all night, and he got the Dodgers into the bottom of the eighth inning without having allowed a run. J.P. Howell relieved Haren and allowed an inherited runner to score, but the Dodgers still carried a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning.
Jansen was called upon again after such a dominant ninth inning in game two, but in game three, Jansen really had to work hard. Before Jansen had even settled in, Kole Calhoun had singled, stolen second base, and Mike Trout was at the plate with a 3-0 count. Jansen managed to get the count full, then struck Trout out with a 96 mph fastball that Trout couldn’t touch. After getting Pujols to fly out, Josh Hamilton walked up to the plate with Calhoun still in scoring position. With a 2-2 count, Jansen unleashed a 96 mph fastball that Hamilton had no chance to touching, and just like that, the Dodgers held on to win.
Game four - Dodgers 7 - Angels 0 (H): Speaking of fine pitching performances, the Dodgers definitely saved the best for last. Needing a victory to take the Freeway Series, Hyun-jin Ryu was masterful, limiting the Angels to just two hits over seven innings. And, unlike the previous night, the Dodgers didn’t allow the Angels to hang around until the end. The first five hitters in the lineup–Justin Turner, Yasiel Puig, Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez, and Matt Kemp–were a combined 9-for-20 with four runs scored, five runs batted in, and five walks. That was pretty much the story of the game.
So at the end of the day, it was all about the pitching for the Dodgers (as is usually the case), along with some timely hitting. After having seen the Angels make such easy work of the Dodgers for years, it was nice to see the Dodgers fight back for once. With the Dodgers still in the midst of what is arguably the toughest part of their schedule, winning the Freeway Series was not only a necessity, but hopefully, it will also give them a boost that carries them down the stretch to the playoffs.