Manager Jeff Banister didn’t mince words Wednesday afternoon when he talked about the task facing Joey Gallo later that night — a young left-handed hitter against the best left-handed pitcher and the best pitcher in the major leagues.
Banister said it was going to be a tough night for Gallo, and in three at-bats it was. But for one at-bat, Gallo sent a charge through the Dodger Stadium crowd and nearly sent a baseball through a fan’s hand with a two-run homer off the reigning National League MVP and Cy Young winner.
The third-inning blast was the big blow in the Rangers’ 5-3 victory over Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers, but fellow lefty hitters Prince Fielder and Rougned Odor also collected key hits against Kershaw.
Fielder then homered in the ninth to give Keone Kela an extra run to work with as registered his first career save and capped a terrific night for the bullpen after the Rangers’ club-record streak of 12 consecutive starts was snapped.
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Once again, though, Gallo took top billing.
“It was a slider,” Gallo said. “He threw it the pitch before, and I had a good look at it. He threw it over the plate, and I was able to get a good look at it.
“I was just looking for something I could put any kind of barrel on. I didn’t really know what to expect. It’s tough to go up there look for something when I really don’t really know what he throws and how he’s going to pitch for me.”
Gallo struck out in his two other at-bats against Kershaw and again in the eighth on a called strike three that off the plate against lefty reliever Adam Liberatore. As a vapid local radio man told Gallo, it’s not often someone strikes out three times in a game but is the hero.
“It happens to me a lot, actually,” Gallo said.
But Banister has started to see Gallo’s at-bats improve after two weeks in the majors. He has shaken off any nerves and found a comfort level that is allowing him to get into the good habits he had at Double A Frisco.
Gallo isn’t chasing as many pitches out of the strike zone, and he is working at-bats. He saw 23 pitches in four at-bats, and his first and third strikeouts came after he worked a full count.
“More than anything else it’s how mature the at-bats have gotten from game to game,” Banister said. “Early on there was some chase in his swings. More than anything else that was just getting settle in. As he understands and sees how these pitchers are trying to pitch him, he’s really logging in that information. He remembers how guys are pitching him now.”
Fielder, who was a late insertion into the lineup after Kyle Blanks (Achilles tendinitis) was scratched, doubled off Kershaw to start the second and scored on a blooper by Odor that turned into a fielder’s choice.
Wandy Rodriguez started the third with a bloop single and scored on Gallo’s shot into the right-field seats for a 3-0 lead, and Odor stretched the advantage to 4-0 with a fourth-inning single to score Adam Rosales.
The Dodgers solved Rodriguez (4-2) in the sixth after he had managed five scoreless innings despite finding trouble in the first, second and fourth innings. Scott Van Slyke had a two-run homer and pinch-hitter Alex Guerrero had an RBI single that chased Rodriguez and ended the remarkable run by the rotation.
Jon Edwards entered and walked Yasiel Puig, but Sam Freeman got Joc Pederson and Adrian Gonzalez to strand the potential tying run at second base, then worked a tidy 1-2-3 seventh in his best outing since joining the Rangers.
“What a terrific night for Sam,” Banister said.
Tanner Scheppers pitched around a one-out walk in the eight, and, with closer Shawn Tolleson unavailable after pitching in three straight games, Kela worked around a one-out walk for the save.
“It was a good experience,” the LA native said. “My family was there. It was fun.”
So was beating Kershaw, who hadn’t lost to an American League team since 2011.
“He’s an outstanding pitcher,” said Fielder, who homered on a 3-0 pitch from Josh Ravin to start the ninth. “He’s one of the best pitchers in the National League. It’s not like he’s going to throw mistakes. You’ve just got to go up there and give it all you got and see what happens.”
Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760