LOS ANGELES – Albert Pujols was Will Smith's favorite player growing up. Pujols returned the favor by driving in Smith with his first home run as a Dodger.
“That was special,” Smith said. “I’ll remember being on base when he hit his first one as a Dodger and high-fiving when he touched home plate. I look at him as a teammate now, not really an idol.”
The three-time NL MVP and the fresh-faced catcher just three years into his major league career helped Los Angeles beat the Arizona Diamondbacks 3-2 on Thursday night.
Smith hit a tiebreaking, solo home run in the seventh inning after Pujols slugged a two-run shot in the second to give the Dodgers a four-game sweep, outscoring Arizona 19-6. They went 8-1 on the homestand, and have won four in a row and eight of nine.
Pujols joined the Dodgers from the Los Angeles Angels on a one-year deal Monday. He introduced himself to Smith, told the 26-year-old catcher not to be intimidated and to ask him anything.
“He told me he grew up watching me play. I was like, ’Please don’t, you make me older,'" Pujols said. “He's pretty special. When he's hitting in the cage, I keep my eye on him. He has a really special swing. He knows what he wants to do, he's really mature.”
Smith has proven to be a quick study. He has sought out veteran teammates Mookie Betts and Justin Turner for advice. Now he can add Pujols to his retinue.
“It's not every day you get to see one of the best hitters ever going through his cage routine,” Smith said. “It’s only going to make me and everyone else around here better.”
Smith sent the first pitch from Merrill Kelly (2-5) into the lower left-field seats leading off the seventh, giving the Dodgers a 3-2 lead. Smith sparkled on defense, too, throwing out pinch-runner Tim Locastro at second to end the eighth.
Pujols hit an 0-1 pitch from Kelly to right field in the second, with Josh Reddick jumping to the top of the wall in an attempt to make the catch. Smith, who singled leading off, scored and Pujols was greeted by high-fives from his teammates in the dugout as the Dodgers led 2-0.
It was Pujols’ 668th career home run, most among active players and fifth all-time, and followed 445 he hit for the St. Louis Cardinals and 222 for the Los Angeles Angels. The hit was his 3,256th, breaking a tie with Eddie Murray for 13th on the all-time list.
Pujols' arrival has coincided with the Dodgers' winning streak, but he claims no credit.
“These guys are a heckuva ballclub,” he said. “Before I got there, this team is probably the best team in the major leagues. They know how to win. It's great to be here. I feel like home.”
The D-backs were just glad to get out of town, having lost their 10th straight on the road and fifth in a row overall.
“We've just got to continue teaching and being stubborn and doing what we can to help these players push forward each day,” Arizona manager Torey Lovullo said.
David Price opened a bullpen game for the Dodgers, his first start since Sept. 1, 2019. The left-hander, who opted out last season because of the pandemic, allowed three hits and struck out one in two innings.
He was followed by Jimmy Nelson, Alex Vesia, Joe Kelly, Victor Gonzalez, Blake Treinen and closer Kenley Jansen, who earned his 10th save.
Eduardo Escobar tied the game at 2 with a two-out, two-run homer off Joe Kelly in the sixth. Escobar had a two-run shot a night earlier in a 4-2 loss. He singled in the eighth for his 900th career hit and got the ball in return, a rare bright spot for the scuffling D-backs.
“It’s a really, really, really tough moment for everybody,” Escobar said. “When hitting is good, pitcher not throw well. When pitching good, hitters not hitting. I still believe in my guys.”
The D-backs had runners at the corners later in the inning. Reddick reached on center fielder Chris Taylor's fielding error. Taylor thought right fielder Mookie Betts was going to catch the ball, so he stopped and looked at Betts and the ball dropped.
Justin Turner made a diving stab on a ball hit by David Peralta, but he threw it away at first and the error allowed Reddick to move to third. Gonzalez (1-0) relieved Joe Kelly and struck out Domingo Leyba to end the threat.
Reddick was booed lustily in each of his at-bats by Dodgers fans still sore over the 2017 World Series, with “cheater” being one of the cleaner names he was called. Reddick, a former Dodger, was a member of the Astros team that beat LA for the championship before Houston's cheating scandal was exposed. The sellout crowd of 16,105 cheered when Reddick struck out in the fourth and again leading off the ninth. He went 0 for 4. He was selected by Arizona from Triple-A Reno, where he was hitting at a .304 clip.
PUTTING UP Ks
There were 27 strikeouts in the game, 14 by the D-backs and 13 by the Dodgers as roughly half of the hitters struck out. Merrill Kelly had a career-high 12. Nelson had five for the Dodgers.
Diamondbacks: RHP Seth Frankoff (0-0, 3.86 ERA) starts Friday at Colorado. He debuted for Arizona last Saturday against Washington, allowing two runs and three hits in 4 2/3 innings.
Dodgers: RHP Trevor Bauer (4-2, 2.20) starts Friday at San Francisco.
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