Los Angeles – Javier Báez doesn’t exactly know what he’s done to incur the wrath of Dodgers fans. He suspects it has something to do with the 2016 National League Championship Series, when he hit .318 and slugged .500, earning MVP honors and helping the Cubs beat the Dodgers.
“That’s my guess,” he said. “I can’t really tell. I just laugh about it.”
And egg them on.
The large and lively sellout crowd at Dodger Stadium booed lustily whenever Báez’s name was announced again Saturday and he responded by knocking in a couple runs as the Tigers ended a six-game losing streak, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-1 and at least putting a little blemish on a historic night for Clayton Kershaw.
“I just compete against them and I make it fun,” Báez said. “Sometimes it’s fun. Sometimes they get angry. But it’s just competing. It’s been like that. It gets real loud in here but then they see me outside and they take a picture. It’s fun to compete. That’s what it’s all about.”
Báez drove in the only run Kershaw allowed in his six innings, a two-out single that scored Derek Hill. When he got to first base he raised his arms in the air as if to encourage the crowd to keep booing.
“I think he kind of thrives in roles like that,” said Tigers reliever Michael Fulmer, who doused a late Dodgers rally, his 20th straight outing without allowing an earned run. “He loves being that guy. I’m glad he’s on my team, trust me.”
Báez broke a 1-1 tie in the seventh, poking a two-out, RBI double inside the bag at first off reliever Evan Phillips. Austin Meadows, who had three hits, capped the pivotal three-run seventh with a two-run, broken-bat single to left field.
“They boo him from the onset and he comes up big and then reminds the fans when he does well,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. “He’s an electrifying player, obviously.”
It was a 1-1 pitcher’s duel for the first six innings between future Hall-of-Famer Kershaw and Tigers rookie Beau Brieske, making the second start of his big-league career.
BOX SCORE: Tigers 5, Dodgers 1
“That was sweet to see him on the other side, I’m not going to lie,” said Brieske, who still makes it a point to watch and study Kershaw’s starts. “It was pretty crazy to look over and see that the guy I was going against was him.”
It was less sweet for Spencer Torkelson. Kershaw made a trivia answer out of him in the fourth inning.
Who did Kershaw strike out to set the Los Angeles Dodgers franchise strikeout record? History will forever show that it was Torkelson. Kershaw got him swinging at a slider in the fourth inning — strike out No. 2,697, passing Don Sutton on the Dodgers’ all-time list.
Kershaw ended up punching out seven in six innings, putting him at 2,700. He’s the 26th pitcher to reach that plateau.
“He’s so remarkable,” Hinch said. “What a big moment, the way the fans responded. We had our big moment with Miggy (Cabrera). You don’t want your guys to punch out but man, to get that many strikeouts in that uniform in this park — he’s one of the best who’s ever done it.”
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The Tigers nicked him in the third inning. Hitters were 2-for-30 against Kershaw’s slider this season with 18 strikeouts and the Tigers doubled the hit total in the third.
With two outs, Derek Hill lined a slider into the corner in left — double. Báez lined another slider for an RBI single.
Brieske matched Kershaw through five innings, allowing only a solo home run by Mookie Betts.
It had to be some bad déjà vu for Brieske, though. In his big-league debut against the Rockies last week, Conner Joe hit his second pitch of the game into the seats at Comerica Park. The second pitch of his second start, an 0-1 change-up to Betts, traveled 406 feet and over the wall in center.
“Yeah, maybe we’ll try one start without giving up a leadoff homer,” Fulmer joked. “But he settled in and was lights-out. Him going five innings was huge for the bullpen.”
Brieske only gave up two more hits — a single to Betts and a double to Chris Taylor — and finished five innings in 90 pitches.
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“I was happy with the way I grinded,” Brieske said. “Once again I went out and didn’t have my best stuff, but I found a way to grind. I trusted my catcher (Dustin Garneau) and trusted my defense. I felt like I made pitches when I needed to.
“Overall, I’m just happy we won, that I gave the team a chance.”
The Dodgers made him work, though. They fouled off 25 of his pitches and worked a pair of walks. He and Justin Turner engaged in a 14-pitch battle leading off the fourth inning. Turner fouled off eight straight 3-2 pitches before Brieske got him to fly out to center.
“The way I saw it, he pretty much knew what was coming and he wasn’t getting the barrel to it, so I needed to trust I could keep pouring them in there,” Brieske said. “I didn’t want to back down. I didn’t want to be too fine and end up walking him.
“It got to the point where it felt like he was just trying to foul pitches off in order to see if I’d get too cute and make a mistake.”
When he came out of the game, Brieske sidled up to fellow starter Tarik Skubal in the dugout.
“This environment is something I’ve never experienced before,” he said. “I told Tarik, the biggest motivation for not giving up a run is because of how loud it gets. You don’t want to go deaf.”
It was getting real loud in the seventh when the Dodgers put two runners on with one out against reliever Joe Jimenez. Hinch quickly summoned Fulmer to face right-handed hitting catcher Austin Barnes.
“When AJ came to the mound he said, ‘We’re going to get a double-play ball here,” Báez said. “And that’s what he did. First pitch.
Fulmer induced an inning-ending double-play from Barnes and then worked a clean eighth. Gregory Soto closed it out in the ninth.
“This team, it’s got a lot of fight in it every night,” Fulmer said. “We were talking today about just relaxing and having fun. We know we have the team to do it. It’s just about being there for each other and playing the game like we know we’re capable.”