The crescendo rose, the familiar wall of noise building amid the nighttime horde, fans in the outfield bleachers at Dodger Stadium standing and waiting with open arms.
Then, nothing. Nada. Zilch. A disappointing quiet and a return to their seats.
The swell-turned-silence in the Dodgers’ 5-4 victory Monday night came first with Freddie Freeman, bombing a first-inning curveball from Madison Bumgarner deep to center field — only for the drive to float harmlessly into the glove of the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Alek Thomas.
Ahhhhhh — ohhhhhh.
Then with Mookie Betts in the third inning, crushing a pitch so high it seemed to touch the stadium lights protruding above left field — only for the ball to die at the track.
Ahhhhhh — ohhhhhh.
Through four innings in Monday night’s series opener against the Diamondbacks, the home fans had no runs on the board to show for multiple balls that looked like home runs off the bat.
Perhaps it was just bad luck. Maybe the deadened balls. Or the humidors.
“I just missed it,” Betts said. “This year, you can’t really just miss balls because they’re not going to be homers like they used to be.”
But Freeman and Betts, turned away once, would not be denied. The duo scorched a pair of base hits that would key the win in a fifth-inning blast of catharsis, detonating when no home run dynamite would explode.
“I think guys get frustrated at times … but line drives play,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.
For a while, it seemed as if no drives would play against Bumgarner. The horse-wrangling, left-handed nemesis was back on the mound at Dodger Stadium.
Before the game, Roberts said the Dodgers hadn’t faced Bumgarner in a couple of years. This wasn’t true, as the former World Series-winning San Francisco Giant started for Arizona at Dodger Stadium last May. But, in a sense, Roberts was right — Bumgarner had found his old dominant self this season after a couple of lost years thanks to a renewed pitch mix heavily reliant on the cutter.
He kept the Dodgers just off-balance enough, working his way through hard contact in the initial innings, wriggling his way out of a fourth-inning jam. To, audibly, the disgust of the crowd.
“You suck, Bumgarner!” multiple fans yelled, along with a deafening boo when his name was announced as part of the starting lineup.
But with the Dodgers down 2-0 in the fifth, Chris Taylor hit a double to left-center field. Austin Barnes walked, and, after Gavin Lux popped out, Betts jumped on a first-pitch curveball from Bumgarner (2-2) for a single. The crowd cheered, the line drive bouncing into center field.
Then, in a flash, it skipped past Thomas. And four innings of home-crowd frustration erupted, eardrums shattering as Taylor and Barnes churned home and Betts pulled into third base.
Three pitches later, Freeman roped a four-seam fastball down the left-field line for a double. Betts turned and watched at third base, slowly backpedaling his way down the line and across home plate as the crowd chanted “Fred-die!”
Meanwhile, starter Tony Gonsolin (4-0) worked six innings of two-run ball after Roberts issued a pregame hope that he could take pressure off a weary bullpen. Gonsolin has been in Clayton Kershaw’s ear for advice on how to work deeper into games, most notably locating his off-speed pitches.
Taylor added a two-run home run in the sixth off reliever Sean Poppen to stretch the Dodgers’ lead to 5-2.
With the Dodgers carrying that lead into the ninth, closer Craig Kimbrel induced some biting of nails, surrendering a two-run homer to David Peralta. He bounced back, however, to get the final two outs and close out the win.
It would be hard to complain about the Dodgers’ early-season offensive output — they led the majors in runs per game entering Monday. But left-handed hitters Max Muncy and Cody Bellinger have gotten off to slow starts, thanks in part to aggressive defensive positioning.
Muncy and Bellinger see a stacked right side of the infield almost every time they step in the box. So for a short stint in batting practice Monday, the two set aside mighty swings for a quick seminar in bunting.
Roberts, a crafty speedster during his playing days, called it “another tool in the toolbox.”
“I certainly think it’s going to add some hits,” he said.
The manager proved correct.
Leading off the sixth, after already having dribbled a ball down an empty third base line for a hit in the second inning, Muncy stepped to the plate against another extreme shift. On the first pitch from Poppen, Muncy dropped a bunt down the line for another hit.
“That has zero to do with [slow starts],” Muncy said of the practice before the game. “It’s more just seeing an opportunity to get things done if there’s a guy on first, guy on second. … It’s an easy solution when guys are throwing 98 [mph] right now.”
It certainly got things done. Three pitches later, Taylor blasted his two-run homer to right field.
Suddenly, the “ahhhhhh-ohhhhhh” became a simple, glorious roar that would not end.