Dodgers’ Teoscar Hernández crushes grand slam, drives in 6 to topple Yankees

NEW YORK — His dominance for the night nearly complete, Teoscar Hernández rounded the bases and returned to a greeting he helped become a tradition. For whatever reason years ago, the outfielder took to showering his teammates with something well-stocked in every dugout: sunflower seeds. His new teammates with the Los Angeles Dodgers have not been afraid to reciprocate.

Hernández hit two homers Saturday, powering an 11-3 victory over the New York Yankees and earning a pair of sunflower-seed showers. The second long ball was a grand slam he walloped off a low changeup from Tommy Kahnle, and the blow punctuated the kind of weekend the Dodgers needed.

“It means a lot, especially because of the way we’ve been playing,” Hernández said.

The Dodgers, seemingly stuck in neutral for the last three weeks, have come into the Bronx and taken the first two games of a three-game series from the team with the majors’ best record. This is what the Dodgers were supposed to look like, with the luxury of having a two-time Silver Slugger as an overlooked addition to what was supposed to be a devastating lineup.

Hernández did not fit the profile of the typical Dodgers free agent. They’d checked in early on his market this winter but, on a multiyear commitment, he didn’t seem to be an obvious fit. The Dodgers have long coveted at-bats such as the one that led to Hernández’s knockout blow in the eighth inning. The right-handed hitter can draw innings to a near standstill by waiting for opposing pitchers to wear down, blink, or both.

Hernández can also force action, with an aggressiveness that led to him striking out the third most of any hitter in baseball a year ago. His ho-hum stat line from 2023 meant his free-agent market suffered. His old team, the Seattle Mariners, let him walk without so much as a qualifying offer. It was only after Hernández became amenable to a one-year pact that the Dodgers made sense.

Now, he looks like a piece the Dodgers had been missing.

“There’s a lot of guys in there that control the strike zone and are a little more passive where having a guy like Teo — he’s ready to swing in the on-deck circle and can slug,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “It’s a different kind of piece to our lineup.”

On a field that featured five different MVPs between the two lineups, no one had more impactful swings than Hernández in the first two games. Roberts’ lineup is littered with stars in Mookie Betts, Shohei Ohtani, Freddie Freeman and Will Smith, but as the bus loaded up near midnight, it was Hernández who led all but six hitters in the majors in runs batted in. He’s found his stroke of late and ranks among the most productive hitters in the sport. The Dodgers’ one-year pact looks like a bargain.

“He’s been a stalwart,” Roberts said.

Hernández hit a two-run double in the 11th inning Friday to propel the Dodgers to a 2-1 victory and flashed a sheepish grin because he’d done it against a former AL East foe. As he pointed out, Hernández saw a lot of the Yankees during his six seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays.

By Sunday, the Yankees will be gleeful to watch Hernández get out of town because it was Hernández who again busted open the scoring Saturday with a hellacious cut for a solo shot into the Dodgers bullpen in the second inning. Hernández broke the game open against Kahnle in the eighth when he crushed an offspeed pitch 424 feet to center field for his fifth career grand slam.

“I knew he was going to trust in his changeup like he always does,” Hernández said. “He has a pretty good one. Just got a good one in the strike zone and put a good swing on it.”

It injected some breathing room into a tight ballgame. Two innings prior, the Yankees threatened to cut into the Dodgers’ two-run lead, loading the bases in the sixth inning and forcing rookie starter Gavin Stone (who had yet another strong night) out of the game. But reliever Alex Vesia jammed Yankees leadoff hitter Anthony Volpe with a slider to quash the threat, as the best Yankees chance of the night nestled into Chris Taylor’s glove in left field.

Hernández ensured there wouldn’t be another tense moment after that.

“This,” Roberts said, “is what he signed up for.”

The Dodgers ventured to opposing territory and have looked to be at their best against some of the best.

“We’re here to play,” Vesia said. “We come out here and believe we can beat anybody. Doesn’t matter what we did yesterday. It’s just what we’re doing in the present day. One pitch at a time for the pitchers, one out at a time. For the hitters, let’s rake.”

(Photo of Teoscar Hernández: Jim McIsaac / Getty Images)

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