Miguel Vargas and Shohei Ohtani homer late to lift Dodgers past Brewers

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Miguel Vargas and Shohei Ohtani took manager Dave Roberts off the hook for a strategic decision that backfired in the eighth inning on Saturday, Vargas opening the bottom of the eighth with a home run to left field and Ohtani blasting a solo shot to right center to lift the Dodgers to a 5-3 win over the Milwaukee Brewers.

The Dodgers held a 3-2 lead after veteran right-handers Daniel Hudson (sixth) and Blake Treinen (seventh) threw scoreless innings in relief of starter James Paxton, and Roberts turned to closer Evan Phillips to face the heart of the Brewers order — William Contreras, Christian Yelich and Willy Adames — in the eighth.

Roberts had used the strategy successfully this season, most recently in a June 24 game at Chicago, when Phillips, with a 2-0 lead, threw a scoreless eighth inning against the White Sox and Alex Vesia closed the ninth inning of a 3-0 victory.

Phillips struck out Conteras to open the eighth on Saturday, but he hung a 2-and-2 sweeper over the middle of the plate to Yelich, who lined a 429-foot homer, his 10th of the season, to center field to tie the score 3-3.

The score was not tied for long. Vargas, who is making a push for more playing time with his hot bat, opened the bottom of the eighth with a towering fly ball to left field off reliever Bryan Hudson that landed on top of the wall for a 368-foot homer and a 4-3 lead.

One out later, Ohtani drove a 430-foot homer, his National League-leading 28th of the season, that left his bat at 110 mph for a 5-3 lead. Ohtani — who was mired in a seven-game skid in which he hit .207 (six for 29) with a .751 on-base-percentage, two homers, three RBIs and 15 strikeouts — also tripled in the sixth.

Vesia then retired the side in order in the ninth for his fifth save.

Paxton was hardly dominant, giving up two runs and four hits in five innings, striking out three and walking two, relying primarily on a four-seam fastball that averaged just 92.6 mph, down from his season average of 93.3 mph.

But Paxton did at least stem the bleeding of a rotation that was rocked for 30 runs in 30 innings of the previous seven games, a brutal stretch in which Dodgers starters gave up 42 hits, struck out 32 and walked 13.

Asked before the game if rotations can go in slumps, Roberts said, “Well, we’re in one right now. Hopefully it turns today, but conversely, you get a starter that gets on a roll, and the next guy wants to one-up him or match him, and then you sort of start to roll. I think we’ve had that. But right now, it’s the [opposite].”

The Brewers took a 1-0 lead in the first inning when Contreras walked, took second on a Yelich groundout and scored on Adames’ two-out RBI single to left.

The Dodgers countered with three in the bottom of the first off Milwaukee ace Freddy Peralta, Ohtani leading off with a walk and Will Smith following with his fourth homer in six plate appearances, a two-run shot that traveled 369 feet to right field.

Smith, who hit three homers and walked twice in Friday night’s win, became the first Dodger to homer in four consecutive at-bats since Adrian Gonzalez on April 7-8, 2015, and the first major leaguer to do so since Houston’s Jose Altuve on Sept. 3-5, 2023.

Freddie Freeman followed the homer with a single to left, took third on Teoscar Hernández’s single to center and scored on Andy Pages’ fielder’s-choice grounder for a 3-1 lead. The Brewers pulled to within 3-2 in the fourth on Rhys Hoskins solo homer to left off Paxton.

The Dodgers had a chance to blow the game open in the bottom of the fourth when Smith stepped to plate with the bases loaded and one out after a Miguel Rojas single, an error by Adames at shortstop and Ohtani’s walk.

But Smith, after fouling off five two-strike pitches, lost an 11-pitch battle with Peralta, swinging through an elevated 98-mph fastball for strike three, and Freeman grounded out to second to end the inning.

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