Will Smith's torrid stretch a reminder of the star power he brings to the Dodgers


LOS ANGELES – The most telling sequence of Will Smith’s domination was his restraint. The Los Angeles Dodgers’ catcher had been his club’s entire offense by the time he stepped up to the plate in Friday night’s eighth inning. With the game tied, history beckoned. But rather than force his hand at joining rare air, he waited. Smith had already homered three times in four trips to the plate, walking the other. Fewer men in baseball history have hit four home runs in a game (16) than thrown a perfect game (24).

Smith walked on five pitches to load the bases. The former MVP behind him, Freddie Freeman, poked a two-strike single up the middle to give the Dodgers the lead in an eventual 8-5 win.

“With Will, that’s part of the head,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “He just doesn’t get out of himself and doesn’t get out of control.”

Smith downplayed the walk. He downplayed the night.

“I was just focusing on my approach,” Smith said. “It’s what I did all game.”

The catcher has always downplayed his accomplishments, to the point where his short, dry answers are part of the bit with him. There might not be a more anonymous player with a 10-year contract extension in the sport as a result. So naturally, he didn’t think of the rarity of his potential accomplishment.

“Well, I’m not one of them,” he deadpanned.

Then he hit again. He slugged another two-run shot in his first at-bat in Saturday’s 5-3 win, his fourth home run in his last four at-bats (with a pair of walks in the plate appearances between). No player had done it yet in the majors this year. No Dodger had done it in nearly a decade, since Adrián González in 2015. The only two Dodgers catchers to hit four homers in a two-game span are in Cooperstown (Roy Campanella, Mike Piazza).

Each was representative of his all-around excellence these last two nights. Handedness, pitch type and part of the field did not matter.

On the first, he waited out a sweeper on the seventh pitch of the at-bat from Brewers righty Aaron Civale before depositing it to the opposite field. He jumped on a first-pitch sweeper from Civale his next at-bat, shooting it into the pavilions in left. In the seventh, facing a reliever who was running a 0.99 ERA in his first 45 1/3 innings this year, Smith jumped on lefty Bryan Hudson’s first-pitch cutter and drove it off the left-field foul pole. Still scorching from the night before, he saw one of the best fastballs in the sport from right-hander Freddy Peralta and drove it well out to right-center.

“I know that he’s thrown out a lot of hits and had a lot of big games and big series, but to be able to use the whole field, take the walks when he needs to, they’re running some good arms at him and he’s still controlling the zone,” Roberts marveled. It’s the best he’s seen him.

He’s keeping good company these days. His wRC+ (138) paces all catchers in the majors this year – including the catcher in the opposing dugout in Milwaukee’s William Contreras who edged Smith out in All-Star voting. His OPS is up to .854. And, a week after being mired in a 2-for-34 drought, Smith appears to have righted the ship. The changes, Smith insisted, are minor.

“I’m not doing anything differently or anything,” Smith said. “It’s kind of just happening.”

The Dodgers have built their roster around their stars. That, in turn, puts a heavy onus on them to perform. Baseball’s most top-heavy lineup is doing just fine at the top, with Smith’s surge helping the club absorb Mookie Betts’ absence with a broken hand.

It’s a burden they know he can handle.

“Other guys go up and down,” Roberts said. “They ride the mental roller coaster and they just can’t sustain it. So Will can hit three homers and act like he punched three times but he’ll be ready to play the next day. And that’s what makes him unique.”

(Photo: Kirby Lee / USA Today)





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