Ahead of Wednesday’s fourth game of the National League Championship Series, the Los Angeles Dodgers pronounced that they liked their starting pitcher, 20-year-old left-hander Julio Urias, in part because he was unaware of the game’s magnitude.
The club entered closer to the World Series than it had been in 28 years, and when Urias took the mound, he would become the youngest postseason starter in baseball history. So, perhaps ironically, perhaps not, they opted against talking to him about the circumstances.
“Some of it plays to the youthfulness, the naivete,” manager Dave Roberts said before the game began. “And, just, not really understanding the gravity of this moment – which is great.”
Regardless of the result – a 10-2 Chicago Cubs victory at Dodger Stadium, in which Urias was saddled with the loss – the contrast to the rest of the team is stark. Asked about Rich Hill’s and Kenta Maeda’s remarks that ace Clayton Kershaw inspired them to drain themselves in this series, Roberts said he talked to both men and expressed his hope they’d be “mentally and physically exhausted” after their starts.
“Because that just shows me and the coaches that you’re leaving everything out there every single night,” Roberts said.
But, for Urias, the manager said, it was just a “baseball game.”
“When he’s asked to take the baseball, he does it,” Roberts said. “You look at Andrew Toles as kind of a similar thing. It’s just these guys, the world around them, the noise, they just completely eliminate it. And it’s just fun to watch these young guys go.”
Prior to Wednesday, Urias had not pitched more than three innings in five weeks, the club taking precaution after precaution throughout 2015 and 2016 to limit the phenom’s innings total. He’s long since surpassed his career high, but the overall number remains comparable to college starters of his age. Still, at various points this season, team representatives indicated he’d contribute solely as a reliever this month.
But when he was successful, almost dominant, through three innings in Game 4 Wednesday, the Dodgers asked him to attempt four. He failed.
The first blow was a bunt hit by Ben Zobrist, which Urias said surprised him, then a soft single by Javier Baez into short left field. At that point, the hard hits began. Willson Contreras lashed an 0-and-2 single into left, and defensive hijinks allowed the Cubs to score a run and put two men into scoring position.
After a run-scoring groundout, Addison Russell saw a 2-and-0 fastball on top of the plate and hammered it for a two-run home run. Urias faced one more Cubs hitter, pitcher John Lackey, and retired him. The damage he sustained was effectively limited to two Cubs swings.
“That’s baseball,” Urias said through an interpreter. “Even if it’s a bad hit, it’s still a hit.”
Roberts struck his same tone after the game, despite the result.
“I thought he had really good stuff. It was just the bunt base hit and a couple flares,” Roberts said. “I thought he was the victim of some plays we didn’t make for him.”
Urias finished with four strikeouts, two walks, four hits and two walks in 3 2/3 innings. He remains the Dodgers’ most likely No. 4 starter if they manage to advance to the World Series.
They will need him, if only for three or four innings.