LOS ANGELES -- An energy typically saved for October throbbed through Dodger Stadium as first pitch approached Friday night. The standing-room-only crowd generated applause when New York Yankees first baseman D.J. LaMahieu stepped into the batter's box, until Dodgers left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu fired a two-seam fastball at 7:10 p.m. It was a regular season contest in late August, but it did not feel like one.
This weekend's three-game series between the iconic franchises and current juggernauts was billed as a potential World Series glimpse -- those monochromatic Players' Weekend uniforms not included. The Dodgers can only hope Game 1 in October would go better than this one did for them in their 10-2 loss Friday.
Ryu, their ace and National League Cy Young Award favorite, was rocked over 41/3 innings, falling victim to the Yankees' patient approach and unforgiving power. He surrendered seven runs, matching the most he's given up in a start this season and the amount he gave up in his first 772/3 innings at home. The performance lifted Ryu's earned-run average to 2.00, the highest it has been since he emerged from his start on May 7 with a 2.03 ERA.
The three home runs he allowed also tied a season high. Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez clobbered two solo shots before Didi Gregorius made the Dodgers (84-45) pay for intentionally walking Sanchez to load the bases to get to him in the fifth inning. Gregorius pounced on Ryu's first pitch -- a fastball right down the middle -- and deposited it over the right-field wall to bust the game open with a grand slam. Ryu had never given up one.
The Yankees finished with five home runs -- the most the Dodgers have allowed in a game this season. The Yankees have slugged 56 in August, two shy of a franchise record for any month.
On the other side, James Paxton, a fellow left-hander, stifled the Dodgers across 62/3 frames. Paxton allowed two runs on five hits. He compiled 11 strikeouts without walking a batter while generating 29 swings-and-misses against the club with the fifth-lowest strikeout rate in the majors. The total marked a career high. He walked off the mound in the seventh inning to applause from the delighted Yankees faithful, a sizable group among the announced sold-out crowd of 53,755.
The distant past contributed to the hype heading into the matchup. It's a mystique steeped more in history, from their days as New York rivals, than in recent clashes. It is the teams' fifth interleague series and first since 2016 at Yankee Stadium. They've met in 11 World Series, but none since 1981. The Dodgers claimed that championship in six games. Fernandomania was at its peak and Reggie Jackson played in his final games as a Yankee.
Nearly four decades later, a 12th World Series collision is plausible, though the Houston Astros might have something to say about the Yankees emerging with the American League pennant. The clubs have risen to the top of the standings in slightly different ways. The Dodgers have relied primarily on homegrown players to populate perhaps the deepest 40-man roster in baseball. The Yankees have made shrewd acquisitions to absorb the impact of 28 different players spending time on the injured list -- the highest total in the majors.
While both possess explosive offenses, the Yankees' pitching strength is in their bullpen and the Dodgers' lies in their starting rotation. That left the clubs with clear priorities at the trade deadline. The Yankees wanted to bolster their rotation. The Dodgers wanted to upgrade the back end of the bullpen. Neither happened.
The clubs have maintained their standing atop their respective circuits without a problem anyway, though the Yankees stumbled before their visit to Los Angeles, suffering a four-game sweep by the Oakland Athletics to match their longest losing streak of the season. They got back on track Friday against the stingiest pitcher in baseball.
The Yankees, who entered the night having beaten the last nine left-handed starters they faced, punished Ryu in the third inning. Judge, demonstrating his brute strength, hit a changeup off the end of his bat 414 feet over the left-field wall. Two batters later, Sanchez smashed another solo home run and became the fastest catcher in major league history to reach 100 homers.
Gregorius added to the tally in the fifth inning after Dodgers manager Dave Roberts intentionally walked Sanchez with first base open. It was the kind of decision the Dodgers could face again in two months, when the stakes are significantly higher and missteps are remembered for generations. Friday, despite all the hoopla, was just another regular season game. Thirty-two remain on the Dodgers' schedule. None will be more closely watched than the next two.
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