PHOENIX — Arizona Diamondbacks closer Fernando Rodney saved two games against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday and Wednesday, with the anticipation of many more chances.
Rodney made it plain — he would like nothing more than a postseason shot at the Dodgers, baseball’s best team this season.
“I’d like to beat them in the playoffs,” Rodney said after Tuesday’s game.
“That’s the team I want to face. That’s the team the (rest of the league is) talking about. They’re the best team in baseball. So when you beat the best, you are the best. I’m ready to face the Dodgers any time, any situation.
“I’m not afraid.”
The Dodgers are not, either.
“Fernando Rodney, huh,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said when told of Rodney’s comments. “I think that’s great. That’s good for him. They are a good club. Who we play in the playoffs, we don’t know that. Whoever it is, we are going to be ready to play.”
Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon also is on record as saying he would like a playoff rematch against the Dodgers, saying he feels his team matches up very well against them. The Cubs beat the Dodgers in the NL Championship Series en route to the World Series last year.
Rodney is only slightly putting the cart before the horse. The Diamondbacks (74-58) lead the NL wild-card race by two games, and the winner of the wild-card game — it would match Arizona and Colorado at this point — almost certainly will play the Dodgers in the NL Division Series. The Dodgers (91-39) are 10 games ahead of Washington for the best record in the NL; the team with the best record meets the wild-card winner in the best-of-five series.
Rodney has 34 saves in 39 opportunities in a rebound season after signing a one-year free agent contract with the Diamondbacks this winter, and he has exceeded all but perhaps the loftiest expectations.
“We would not be where we are without Fernando Rodney,” manager Torey Lovullo said. “We know that it is not a perfect science.”
Some of his saves have been tight-wire acts, most have not.
His 4.53 ERA is a testament to the few that had gotten away.
Tuesday’s save was a little hairier that others.
Rodney gave up a run on two hits in the ninth inning Tuesday, but he preserved a 7-6 victory by getting Yasmani Grandal on a broken-bat groundout with runners on first and third and two outs. Rodney was not hit particularly hard while recording his sixth save in eight games. Chase Utley had an opposite field double inside the bag at third and Chris Taylor had an infield single on a dribbler that third baseman Jake Lamb could not barehand.
Rodney took great precautions when Utley reached second base to open the inning, understanding the Dodgers excel at gamesmanship. Rodney and Chris Iannetta changed signs at that point and at several other times during the at-bat, with the infielders coming to the mound to get briefed.
“Those kinds of teams like Boston, Dodgers, Yankees … those guys have experience and know how to steal signs,” Rodney said. “When you play them, you have to be careful. Game on the line because that game is very important to us.”
Lovullo gave Rodney a little hug as he left the field.
“When you play the Dodgers, you want to let them know that you can compete with these guys,” Rodney said. “Maybe they have a better team on paper, but we’re a good ballclub. We can play baseball good, too.”
Rodney has had his most trouble with the Dodgers this season, a mixed bag of saves and trouble spots. He has saved four games against the Dodgers, including the last two Arizona victories in the series.
On the other end, one of his five blown saves came against them on July 6, when he gave up four runs in the last of the ninth while failing to hold a 5-4 lead as the Dodgers swept a three-game series in Dodger Stadium, a series that dropped Arizona 5½ games back in the NL West. He also gave up three runs agains them in one-third of an inning April 15, when he entered the game in the eighth inning to get some work after not pitching for three days.
The Dodgers have won eight of 15 games in the series, but a confident Rodney said he was not sure if the Dodgers wanted to see the Diamondbacks in the playoffs.
“I don’t think they want to,” Rodney said. “Because we have (Zack) Greinke. We have (Robbie) Ray. (Patrick Corbin) has been throwing the ball well. We have good a good staff. The bullpen, we are here all season long.
“They are a lucky team. They play lucky this year. They celebrate like they are the best. We want to keep playing like we have been doing. We’ll see what happens.”