Dodgers drop series to Rangers after stars fail to deliver in key moment

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The table could not have been set any better for the Dodgers on Thursday night, their two-run deficit seemingly on the verge of disappearing in the eighth inning after Cavan Biggio was hit by a pitch and Austin Barnes singled to right field, putting runners on first and third with no outs for the top of the order.

But three of the best hitters in baseball, a trio that has four most valuable player awards among them and has combined for 36 home runs and 125 RBIs this season, failed to deliver in an eventual 3-1 loss to the Texas Rangers in front of a crowd of 50,134 at Dodger Stadium.

Mookie Betts and Shohei Ohtani each struck out on three pitches from Rangers setup man David Robertson, Betts swinging through a 93-mph cut-fastball and Ohtani whiffing on an 86-mph, down-and-in knuckle-curve.

Freddie Freeman worked a five-pitch at-bat but swung through an 89-mph knuckle-curve for strike three, marking the second straight night that Robertson whiffed Betts, Ohtani and Freeman in the eighth inning. No other pitcher has struck out those three in succession this season.

“We threatened in the eighth inning, had the guys we wanted up to bat, but Robertson found his way to punch out the side, again, the same three guys,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “He made pitches when he had to. It’s frustrating.”

Roberts thought Betts had a chance to do damage on the first pitch of his at-bat, an 87-mph curve on the inner half of the plate that Betts took for a strike. Ohtani took a first-pitch cut-fastball for a strike, fouled off a second-pitch cutter above the zone and struck out on a curve in the dirt, the same sequence Robertson used against the slugger Wednesday night.

“I’m only going pitch-to-pitch out there,” Robertson said of the Ohtani at-bat. “He’s got so much power, he can literally flick balls out. I’m just trying to not leave a ball in the middle of the zone. I got lucky. He hasn’t faced me a lot.”

Roberts thought Ohtani “expanded the zone at the top and below,” an assessment Ohtani could not refute.

“He’s been able to execute side-to-side,” Ohtani, speaking through an interpreter, said of Robertson. “Some pitches were pretty close. Some pitches were not exactly strikes. But overall, he’s been able to execute pretty well.”

So was Rangers starter Michael Lorenzen, the former Cal State Fullerton standout who gave up one run and four hits in seven innings, striking out two and walking one, his only blemish a hanging sweeper that Andy Pages lined into the left-field seats for a solo homer that pulled the Dodgers to within 3-1 in the seventh.

Lorenzen gave up plenty of hard contact, the Dodgers hitting 10 balls with exit velocities of 95 mph or above in the first six innings but with nothing to show for it. They were hitless in five at-bats with runners in scoring position.

“He was able to mix his pitches really well throughout his outing,” said Ohtani, who grounded out twice and lined out once against Lorenzen. “We were actually able to hit the ball hard. It could have been a matter of a couple of inches here and there.”

The Dodgers thought they were poised for another hot streak when they racked up 14 hits, five of them homers, in Tuesday night’s 15-2 win, but they went out with a whimper against the defending World Series-champion Rangers, scoring three runs on 12 hits and going one for eight with runners in scoring position on Wednesday and Thursday.

“Tonight, I thought we put the ball in play, hit some balls hard, but we couldn’t threaten,” Roberts said. “We only punched twice. There were some bad outs in there. I thought we would have a chance to build some innings, but we couldn’t do that.”

Ohtani seemed to be coming out of a relatively lengthy funk for him with three homers in seven games before Thursday, but he has been trending downward since May 31, batting .191 (nine for 47) with three homers, one double and six RBIs in 12 games.

Ohtani was batting .330 with a 1.011 on-base-plus-slugging percentage on May 30. He was hitting .306 with a .955 OPS after Thursday night’s game.

“There’s always going to be stretches of ups and downs, as a team and personally,” Ohtani said. “Obviously, when things aren’t going well, that’s when we put everything under a microscope. My approach has been the same, just [trying] to put up quality at-bats.”

With Yoshinobu Yamamoto’s start pushed from Thursday to Saturday, the Dodgers opted for a bullpen game Thursday, but “opener” Michael Grove allowed three singles in a two-run first inning, and left-hander Ryan Yarbrough gave up two singles and walked three in the third but somehow limited the damage to one run.

Rangers left fielder Wyatt Langford killed the Dodgers softly, flaring a first-inning RBI single to shallow right field that left his bat at 67 mph and traveled 181 feet, and blooping a third-inning RBI single to shallow right that left his bat at 60 mph and traveled 167 feet.

The Dodgers bullpen found its footing after the third, with Yarbrough throwing a scoreless fourth, right-hander Yohan Ramirez allowing one hit in a scoreless fifth and sixth, and right-hander Blake Treinen (seventh), left-hander Alex Vesia (eighth) and right-hander Evan Phillips (ninth) adding scoreless innings.

Teoscar Hernández walked to open the ninth and took second on a balk, but Rangers closer Kirby Yates struck out the next three batters for his 10th save, winning a 10-pitch battle against Jason Heyward, who struck out on an 86-mph split-fingered fastball before pinch-hitter Will Smith whiffed on an 87-mph splitter to end the game.

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