LOS ANGELES (AP)Hyun-Jin Ryu and Will Smith showed Sunday that with a little care and attention, all relationships can blossom.
The NL Cy Young Award candidate and the rookie catcher were a dynamic duo on both sides of the ball in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 7-4 victory over the Colorado Rockies. Ryu and Smith each homered, and Cody Bellinger added his fifth career grand slam to put the Dodgers in front for good in the fifth inning.
Ryu went seven solid innings just days after the relationship between the pitcher and the young catcher had been questioned. Ryu entered with a 5.81 ERA when Smith was behind the plate and a 1.60 mark when veteran Russell Martin was the catcher.
The notion that they should not be paired together in the upcoming playoffs was emphatically rejected Sunday.
”There wasn’t really a doubt in our eyes as far as internally,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. ”Will has done a really good job of trying to learn guys and their tendencies and what makes them comfortable. And the pitcher needs to go out there and make pitches.”
With the Dodgers still undecided on a starter for the NL Division Series opener Oct. 3, Ryu (13-5) made his case by giving up three runs and six hits over seven innings with no walks and eight strikeouts. His first career home run was a bonus.
Ryu said he welcomes Smith behind the plate for any of his outings.
”It was never a problem in the first place,” Ryu said through an interpreter. ”Coincidentally, when he started catching I started struggling so I’m actually kind of sorry because I am well aware of the talk. Today I think we were on the same page and we did really well as a battery.”
Four batters after Ryu’s shot, Bellinger hit his slam and his 46th homer of the season, going deep off left-hander Jake McGee as the Dodgers improved to 100-56 and reduced their magic number for clinching the best record in the NL to one.
Los Angeles joined Houston and the New York Yankees to give the major leagues three 100-game winners for the third straight season. Before 2017, the only years with three 100-win teams were 1942, 1977, 1998, 2002 and 2003.
The last-place Rockies started fast, getting a home run from Garrett Hampson in the first inning, his sixth. Ryu took over from there, keeping the Rockies off balance until Sam Hilliard’s two-run home run in the seventh. It was Hilliard’s sixth of the season.
”He’s just really good at mixing speeds and pitches in different counts and he knows how to get hitters out for sure,” Hampson said. ”He made a mistake early to me and I was able to put a good swing on it.”
Corey Seager gave the Dodgers a 6-3 lead in the seventh inning with his 18th home run and his sixth-consecutive multihit game. Smith made it 7-3 in the eighth with his 14th home run and first since Aug. 31.
Despite entering with an 11.85 ERA over his previous eight starts, Rockies right-hander Antonio Senzatela held the Dodgers in check early with four scoreless innings. That all changed with Ryu’s leadoff home run in the fifth as the right-handed batter just cleared the wall in right-center despite nearly falling out of the batter’s box on his swing.
Joc Pederson walked, and Gavin Lux and Justin Turner singled to load the bases and chase Senzatela. The move to the left-handed McGee was not the answer as Bellinger hit his 18th home run against a lefty this season. He entered the year with 18 homers against lefties in his previous two seasons combined.
Bellinger’s bat actually had two home runs in the fifth. Ryu used Bellinger’s stick, too.
”We were definitely more excited than him,” Bellinger said about Ryu’s reaction when he returned to the dugout. ”Man, that was his first home run so we were really excited for him, which is crazy because he has stupid power in batting practice. It was cool to watch it personally.”
Senzatela (10-11) gave up four runs on seven hits over four-plus innings with three walks and four strikeouts.
”It was much of the same in the last couple of starts: better secondary pitches,” Rockies manager Bud Black said.
The Dodgers finished 8-1 against the Rockies at home this season and 59-22 overall at Dodger Stadium, the best home record in Los Angeles Dodgers history.
The Dodgers finished the season with a total attendance of 3,974,309 in 81 home dates, topping the previous club record of 3,857,500 set in 2018. The Dodgers sold out 28 games this season, but Sunday’s gathering of 47,948 for the regular-season finale was not one of them.
Rockies: 3B Nolan Arenado was back in the starting lineup Sunday after missing Saturday’s game with a stomach bug.
Dodgers: INF Max Muncy missed his second consecutive game with a tight left quadriceps, an injury that occurred during Friday’s game against the Rockies. He is expected to start when the Dodgers open their final road trip of the season Tuesday at San Diego. … RHP Joe Kelly has made just one appearance over the last eight days as he continues to work through an unspecified injury that the Dodgers have labeled a leg issue which is not related to a muscle or ligament.
Rockies: Following a day off Monday, Rockies right-hander Jeff Hoffman (2-6, 6.71) will take the mound at San Francisco in the series opener against the Giants.
Dodgers: Following a day off Monday, left-hander Rich Hill (4-1, 2.68) will return to the mound Tuesday to open a series at San Diego after knee soreness cut down his return from a forearm strain on Sept. 12 at Baltimore.
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