A day after the Dodgers clinched first place in the National League West, the manager gave both of his superstars a well-earned off day Sunday — Betts’ first non-injury-related off day in more than a month, and Freeman’s first game off this season.
Then, Roberts watched his club complete a weekend sweep of the Seattle Mariners without them, riding big days from Jason Heyward and the pitching staff to a 6-1 win at T-Mobile Park.
“It couldn’t have worked out any better,” Roberts said. “Obviously, such a great series.”
As the Dodgers’ magic number dwindled in recent weeks, Roberts began planning the dual days off for when the clinch became official.
Convincing Betts to take a breather was simple.
“Mookie just texted me right now,” Roberts said amid the team’s postgame clubhouse celebration Saturday night, “and said he wouldn’t be upset if he didn’t play tomorrow.”
Freeman, who makes playing all 162 regular-season games an annual goal, was a tougher sell — prompting Roberts to initiate some “slow-dripping, preemptive conversations” with his first baseman about a post-clinch off day over the last several weeks.
“He set the precedent [last year], as far as once we clinch, he’ll take the day off,” Roberts said, referencing the lone game Freeman sat out last year in the same situation. “So I had to revisit that conversation.”
Turns out, the Dodgers (91-57) didn’t need either superstar — nor other regular starters, including catcher Will Smith, third baseman Max Muncy or shortstop Miguel Rojas — to collect a third consecutive win.
Instead, Heyward continued his banner weekend against the Mariners (81-68) by going three for five with a first-inning solo home run, fourth-inning RBI single and seventh-inning ground-rule double. His on-base-plus-slugging percentage is now .865, on pace for the best mark of his 14-year career.
And, fittingly, he delivered Sunday from Freeman’s customary No. 2 spot in the batting order.
“He let me borrow it for a second,” Heyward joked, after watching Freeman go stir-crazy in the dugout. “But that probably felt like three weeks for him, watching a baseball game today.”
Backup catcher Austin Barnes had a two-run homer while rookie center fielder James Outman tacked on a late solo blast and fill-in shortstop Amed Rosario had three hits.
The Dodgers patched together a successful pitching plan to complete the sweep, too, using Ryan Yarbrough (who got the win in a one-run, 4⅔ inning outing) and Gavin Stone (who got the save by finishing the game with a scoreless 3⅓ innings) in bulk relief behind opener Shelby Miller.
“We just gotta keep playing baseball,” Barnes said. “When you take your foot off the pedal, it’s hard to turn it on and off. So that’s the biggest thing. Keep going. Keep playing good baseball.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.