Shohei Ohtani gets winning hit in Dodgers' walk-off victory

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 19: Dodgers Miguel Rojas, left, throws water on designated hitter Shohei Ohtani, right, after a walk off RBI single in the tenth inning at Dodger Stadium on Sunday, May 19, 2024 in Los Angeles, CA. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Shohei Ohtani got an impromptu shower near the second base bag Sunday afternoon, his teammates dousing him with two buckets and several bottles of water after the slugger lined a two-out, run-scoring single to right field in the bottom of the 10th inning to lift the Dodgers to a 3-2 walk-off victory over the Cincinnati Reds.

“Overall, it was a special weekend,” Ohtani said through his interpreter, alluding to his bobblehead night on Thursday and the Los Angeles City Council proclaiming May 17 as “Shohei Ohtani Day” on Friday. “I wasn’t able to get a base hit during my bobblehead day, but I was able to end it on a very good note.”

New Dodgers left-hander Anthony Banda, acquired Friday from Cleveland for cash, set the stage for the dramatic win when he stranded automatic runner Elly De La Cruz in the top of the 10th by striking out Mike Ford with an 83-mph cut-fastball, getting Jeimer Candelario to ground out to third and Jake Fraley to ground out to first.

“I met him for the first time this morning,” manager Dave Roberts said of Banda, a 30-year-old left-hander who has played for eight big league teams in seven years. “Coming in, it wasn’t a soft landing — Elly on second base, nobody out, extra innings … to keep him at bay, make pitches and keep them at zero was pretty impressive.”

With Jason Heyward on second to start the bottom of the 10th, Kiké Hernández popped out to the catcher on a bunt attempt. Pinch-hitter Will Smith walked, and Mookie Betts flied out to center field, but Ohtani came through with a clutch hit off Reds closer Alex Diaz to send a sold-out crowd of 52,656 at Dodger Stadium home happy.

Diaz jumped ahead of the left-handed-hitting Ohtani with an 0-and-2 count. Ohtani fouled off a fastball, took a slider for a ball and fouled off a slider before hooking a knee-high, 94-mph fastball on the inside corner into right field for his first walk-off hit as a Dodger.

“He has a unique delivery, so I just wanted to make sure I put the ball in play,” Ohtani said. “I’m just happy I was able to put together a good at-bat.”

The Dodgers won for the 20th time in 26 games since April 21 and took three of four from the Reds after losing the series opener Thursday night. One key was shutting down the dynamic De La Cruz, who went 0 for 13 with eight strikeouts after his four-hit, four-stolen-base game Thursday.

“I thought we did a good job of attacking when we needed to and expanding [the zone] we needed to,” Roberts said. “He wanted to show out here in Los Angeles after that first night, so he was ready to swing the bat. I thought our guys did a great job, the catchers did a great job of neutralizing him in the last three games.”

Read more: ‘Freak of nature’: Inside Shohei Ohtani’s career-best start to his first Dodgers season

The Dodgers got another solid spot start from Landon Knack, who gave up one run and three hits in 4 ⅔ innings, striking out five and walking one, and a nearly flawless effort from their bullpen, with Ryan Yarbrough, Alex Vesia, Blake Treinen and Banda combining to give up one run and two hits in 5 ⅓ innings Sunday.

The Dodgers took a 2-0 lead in the fourth when Freddie Freeman singled and Andy Pages jumped on a first-pitch, 86-mph slider from Reds starter and former Sherman Oaks Notre Dame High star Hunter Greene, sending a 357-foot homer inside the left-field foul pole for his fifth homer.

The Reds halved the lead in the fifth when Stuart Fairchild doubled to left and scored on Santiago Espinal’s RBI double to left.

Cincinnati tied the score in the seventh without a hit. Jonathan India walked and Fairchild pushed a bunt single toward first. Yarbrough grabbed the ball, spun and fired a throw to first, but no one was there, Freeman charging from first base and second baseman Gavin Lux too far away to get to the bag.

Yarbrough’s throw sailed into right field for an error that put runners on second and third with no outs. Espinal popped out to first, and pinch-hitter Tyler Stephenson was walked intentionally to load the bases.

Roberts summoned Vesia to face pinch-hitter Spencer Steer, who drew a nine-pitch walk to force in a run for a 2-2 tie. Vesia prevented further damage by striking out De La Cruz with an 85-mph slider and getting Ford to pop out to third base.

“I’m pretty far up the middle, so I’ve either got to know the situation, that he could bunt, and shoot over, or we’ve got to read it,” Lux said of the blunder on the bunt play. “I’m sure we’ll talk about it [Monday], but I’ve got to either cheat over or we’ve got to read it. We can’t do both.”

Betts was back in the leadoff spot and had one hit in five at-bats on Sunday after a scheduled — and what seemed like a timely — day off, his first of the season, Saturday night.

Betts, who was moved from right field to second base over the winter and from second to shortstop — a position he had not played regularly since high school — in early March, beat himself up after committing his sixth error of the season and dropping a potential double-play relay in Friday night’s 7-3 win over the Reds.

“Making errors really, really bothers me,” said Betts, whose fourth-inning throw on a Steer grounder pulled Freeman off the bag Friday night. “Just have to be better than that, man. It doesn’t just affect me. It affects [James] Paxton, who has to throw more pitches. I just have to keep working.”

Only four shortstops — Cincinnati’s De La Cruz (10), Pittsburgh’s O’Neil Cruz (eight), Tampa Bay’s Jose Caballero (seven) and the Chicago White Sox’s Paul DeJong (seven) — had more errors than Betts entering Sunday.

But Betts also ranked third among major league shortstops with four defensive runs saved according to Fangraphs, behind Kansas City’s Bobby Witt Jr. (eight) and St. LouisMasyn Winn (seven). That was of little consolation to Betts, based on his evaluation of his defensive performance this season.

Shohei Ohtani is swarmed by teammates after his first walk-off hit as a Dodger.
Shohei Ohtani is swarmed by teammates after his first walk-off hit as a Dodger. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

“I think it’s been … not very good, but it is what it is,” Betts said. “It’s a work in progress. It’s my first time doing it in a long time. You have to start somewhere, and at least with me, feeling like I’m on the lower end, there’s nowhere to go but up from here.”

Roberts begged to differ.

“I think his defense has been fine,” Roberts said. “It’s probably never going to be to his standards, and that’s what makes him great. Taking this on, it’s not going to be linear. He’s his harshest critic, so I expect him to be frustrated. But I’m pleased with him.”

The 5-foot-9, 175-pound Betts works extensively on his defense before every game, taking dozens of ground balls and live fungoes to each side and making long throws to first base and shorter double-play feeds to second.

But if Betts is beginning to wear down because of the extra work, it’s not showing in his production. He entered Sunday with a .341 average, 1.003 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, eight homers, 11 doubles and 29 RBIs in 47 games, and he led the National League with 40 runs and 33 walks.

“I don’t expect the workload before games to continue through the season … but I think if anyone can handle it, he can,” Roberts said. “I think offensively, he’s been very good, and defensively, he continues to get repetitions. He has [exceeded] everything I expected from him at this point at shortstop.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.