NLDS Game 2: Even the strikeouts are quality at-bats for the Dodgers

Tim Brown
MLB columnist

LOS ANGELES – You may have missed Kyle Farmer on Saturday night. He was at Dodger Stadium with about everybody else in town. Nice young man. About, oh, yay tall. Put together pretty good. Twenty-seven, looks younger. Wears 65, with pride. Catches some. Hits, mostly.

In the middle of a baseball game that brought the Los Angeles Dodgers to the brink of the National League Championship Series, Kyle batted. And, well, he struck out. These things happen sometimes.

An awful lot of other stuff went on over nearly four hours and exactly 317 pitches Saturday night, like Rich Hill hoisting a handmade “Make Some Noise” sign in the home dugout after he’d pitched four innings, and Kenley Jansen forgetting which direction he walks from the mound after a strikeout, and nine more pitching changes, and the Diamondbacks trudging off hoping to sort out how to win a baseball game or three in the coming week.

So, Kyle Farmer is probably not the first man you’d think about after the Dodgers beat the Arizona Diamondbacks, 8-5, or the second, or the 12th. But there he stood in the clubhouse afterward, in the corner over where Yasmani Grandal dresses, smooshing his wet hair into something that looked presentable and maybe wondering how bad the traffic would be getting out of there. Probably very bad.

He hadn’t driven in a run or made a play or held off the Diamondbacks from the bullpen. He hadn’t electrified the crowd like Yasiel Puig had again, or Jansen had again, or his buddy Austin Barnes had. Here’s the thing about nearly four hours of baseball though — the smallest of deeds turn the game, they almost always do, and then in the muddle of what happened when and what it all means, they are lost in the mounds of postgame numbers and laundry.

Farmer is a 27-year-old Georgian who debuted in the big leagues just more than two months ago. He’d logged an at-bat in July, 11 in August and eight in September. He’d proven a capable pinch-hitter, winning a game that way in his first ever at-bat. In all, he was five for 13 as a pinch-hitter.

Still, these are the Dodgers, the Dodgers of a quarter-billion-dollar payroll, and the first right-handed bat off their bench Saturday night, the only one, if you don’t count the switch-hitting Grandal, was Farmer. It certainly spoke well of Farmer, if you want to look at it that way, that he’d managed enough over 20 big-league at-bats to be here at all.

If you like baseball, and like baseball players, and love the notion of a strikeout being more than a forgettable casualty of the game, then Farmer’s strikeout in the fourth inning was your kind of moment, one that registered then as Farmer being a bystander, but that would be inaccurate.

Kyle Farmer might have struck out in Game 2 of the NLDS, but his teammates appreciated his good at-bat. (Getty Images)

When it was time to take their shot against Robbie Ray, and that meant pinch-hitting for Rich Hill in the fourth inning, the Dodgers had Farmer get a bat. The bases were loaded. There was one out. In spite of the trouble, Ray had rediscovered his release point, which had been problematic over his first 60 or so pitches.

In a full stadium, in October — and it was loud — Farmer approached the batter’s box, settled in, and waited on Ray. The Dodgers trailed, 2-1. This game, it appeared at the time, was going to be a slog for runs.

“I knew he has a slider and a curveball,” Farmer said. “But I never faced him before. So I didn’t know what it looked like.”

Logan Forsythe led off third, 90 feet from tying the score.

“In Triple-A, I usually took the first pitch,” Farmer said. “I think they knew that.”

Ray threw a fastball down the middle.

“I was kind of kicking myself in the butt,” Farmer said. “I probably should have jumped it.”

What happened next changed the at-bat, and may have changed the game, and possibly changed the series. Ray threw a slider that bounced in front of the plate. Farmer, eager, swung and missed it by a lot. The catcher, Chris Iannetta, blocked it. The 27-year-old rookie was in a two-strike hole against one of the better pitchers in the league. And anybody who was unfamiliar with the rookie of 20 big-league at-bats was likely to have settled on the same notion, that he may have seen some sliders in his days, but nothing like this.

Later, however, Farmer’s eyes brightened.

“Then I knew what it looked like,” he said.

Farmer had looked so bad on the slider, and Ray was so desperate for a strikeout, the third pitch could only be another slider. It, too, landed well short of the plate, only Farmer did not swing. He knew that slider. Iannetta blocked it.

“It was probably better for me,” Farmer said, “to have seen that pitch again, knowing what it did.”
He gathered himself. He had a reasonable idea what would come next. The swing he’d taken two pitches before was fresh on his mind, as it would be on Ray’s, and Iannetta’s.

“It’s a situation you dream about,” Farmer said. “Bases loaded, one out, tying run at third base. At least I dreamed about it.”

And, hey, a one-and-two count’s better than oh-and-two.

Ray delivered the third slider. Forsythe, who’d seen the last two sliders too, leaned a little harder from third. The pitch barely cleared the grass, and Farmer watched it pass on a bounce about knee high, and Iannetta lurched to his left. The ball deflected off his left hip and rolled away, toward the Dodgers’ dugout, too far away. Farmer stepped back, followed the ball with his eyes, then looked to Forsythe, who was charging toward the plate and arriving about as Ray did. Forsythe scored easily, and the crowd cheered the run, the tied score, and Farmer stood to the side and watched it all happen.

He’d foul off the next three pitches, then lose at the end to a slider that was in the strike zone for a while, and then wasn’t, one that Ray probably had tried to throw all along.

The Dodgers scored once more in the inning, then four times in the fifth, and in the end won with some ease. There were enough heroes to go around. So one strikeout, one jumpy swing, one eight-pitch at-bat that ended with a 27-year-old rookie returning to the dugout, would hardly be remembered, except that it’s October, and everything matters.

“It was a quality at-bat,” Farmer said. “Guys in the dugout were saying, ‘Hey, good at-bat.’”

He smiled. All around him, as the numbers and the laundry mounted, and Game 2 was recounted, and Game 3 drew a few minutes closer, Kyle Farmer nodded his head.

“I take as much positive as you could,” he said, “from a strikeout.”