Dodgers’ Yoshinobu Yamamoto impresses in star-filled matchup against the Yankees

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NEW YORK — On a rainy day in Manhattan back in December, the New York Yankees told Yoshinobu Yamamoto of nights like these. Like others across the baseball world, Yankees executives saw rare potential in the 25-year-old Japanese right-hander. They envisioned the free agent pitching as he did Friday, in a packed Yankee Stadium, where he looked like one of the most electric talents in the world.

Yamamoto said Friday he appreciated the effort and the interest the Yankees had in him during the offseason. The pitcher embraced the atmosphere on this night and called this ballpark “a great stadium,” through interpreter Yoshihiro Sonoda. But he was here as a visitor after taking more years and more money from a Los Angeles Dodgers club that appeared to be the better fit from the jump. So when Yamamoto finally took the field in the Bronx, he did so to a chorus of boos.

Yamamoto proceeded to produce magic, pinning down a Yankees club that led the majors in runs. He delivered before the biggest crowd to pile into this building this year.

Over seven innings, Yamamoto yielded just two hits. With several fastballs into the upper 90s, he threw harder than he had in any start of his first few months on American soil. His season-high 106 pitches of scoreless baseball demonstrated what $325 million can buy.

This is what the Yankees wanted. This is what the Dodgers got.

“His best outing as a Dodger,” manager Dave Roberts said. “You could just see it. He felt it. He knew we needed it. And it brought out the best in him.”

It took 11 innings for the Dodgers to validate Yamamoto’s efforts. They broke a scoreless stalemate with a two-run double from Teoscar Hernández before hanging on for a 2-1 win. For a club with so much riding for the next decade-plus on Yamamoto’s right arm, it was affirmation. For a team that has sputtered for much of the last month, it was reinvigoration.

Hours earlier, Roberts entered the swarm of media and guffawed at the sight of reporters in front of him,

“Feels like the postseason,” Roberts said. “Is this October or what?”

Dodgers versus Yankees at Yankee Stadium is the type of billing that makes television executives drool. The marquee would work well in Hollywood or on Broadway. This feels different. It always does, and should, Roberts said.

And, given how his club has played lately, it might be exactly the part of the calendar that Roberts and the Dodgers have looked forward to.

“This,” Roberts said, “is a shot in the arm.”

Yamamoto cranked things up with a jolt of velocity. He delivered as many pitches at 97 mph or harder (three) to the first hitter he faced, Anthony Volpe, as he had totaled all year. He’d revved up his velocity to 98 mph by the time the middle of the vaunted Yankees lineup came up in the first and carrying that through the seventh. Yamamoto said the heat was a byproduct more of well-tuned mechanics than adrenaline.

Little in Yamamoto’s demeanor demonstrated anything otherwise. As the media swarm stood in the clubhouse before the game, Yamamoto paid no mind, sitting quietly on one of the clubhouse couches. Then he went and was brighter than any of the stars on a field that included multiple former All-Stars and five former MVPs between the two lineups.

When a walk to Aaron Judge in the sixth inning snapped a stretch of 12 consecutive retired batters, Yamamoto found the velocity again, rearing back and throwing 96.8 mph past Giancarlo Stanton to get out of it, pirouetting off the mound with a flourish. Roberts saw that and sent Yamamoto out for another inning; he returned for a scoreless seventh. Yamamoto dominated with his fastball in a way he hadn’t in his first two months with the Dodgers.

This is what the Dodgers expected.

“The things he did in Japan, he showed today,” Hernández said.

This was what the Dodgers needed. Boasting the second-largest payroll in the sport and coming off an eventful winter, the Dodgers are firmly a first-place club. The perceived challengers in their division have taken on water. October, in all likelihood, beckons once again. Yet the Dodgers have not taken the sport by storm. “We’re the Cinderella team,” Roberts deadpanned about facing a Yankees club that has won more games than any team in baseball this season.

The Dodgers’ flaws have been obvious for long. A billion dollars’ worth of offseason commitments added star power but has not rid this club of its obvious holes — notably, a lineup that is headed by a trio of former MVPs but lacks wattage beyond that.

Over the past 20 games, the Dodgers have gone 10-10 and averaged just 3.9 runs per game. The bats of Mookie Betts and Shohei Ohtani have cooled even as Freddie Freeman’s has picked up. The bottom of the order has remained silent. And an offense primed for history has plunged into bouts of mediocrity.

Cody Poteet was the latest Yankees starter to take an admirable turn against this group. A minor-league free agent, the 29-year-old journeyman has become the latest to help the Bronx Bombers absorb the loss of Gerrit Cole. Friday, Poteet was the first of a line of Yankees pitchers to hold the Dodgers scoreless, going the first 4 2/3 innings before yielding to the bullpen.

It took until the underbelly of that bullpen was firmly exposed in a second extra inning for the Dodgers to break through. Freeman drew a leadoff walk. Hernández laced a double that Alex Verdugo couldn’t cut off in left. The dam was broken. The Dodgers, needing life, sneaked out a victory that mattered.

“I didn’t expect anything less than this, what happened tonight,” Hernández said. “Everybody knows the way they’re playing, they’ve played really good for years. It was not going to be easy to win ballgames.”

(Photo: Brad Penner / USA Today)

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