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Dodgers’ late meltdown leads to second straight loss to Nationals

LOS ANGELES ― If the San Francisco Giants have the unfortunate gift of bringing out the best in the Dodgers, a team they must play 19 times this season, the Washington Nationals are doing the opposite.

For the second night in a row, the National League’s worst team exposed the weakest links in the Dodgers’ mighty arsenal. A throwing error by Gavin Lux in the eighth inning preceded a two-run homer by Luis Garcia, the difference in the Dodgers’ 8-3 loss before an announced crowd of 53,302 at Dodger Stadium.

The Dodgers (64-32) have lost consecutive games to Washington (34-65) on the heels of eight consecutive wins – the last four against their historic rivals from San Francisco.

The Dodgers were leading 3-2 after seven innings on Tuesday night when Manager Dave Roberts called in left-hander Garrett Cleavinger to face switch-hitting slugger Josh Bell. It was a curious choice on the surface.

Cleavinger (0-1) had not appeared in a major league game since May 14. His last appearance for the Dodgers before that was on April 24. He was only recalled from Triple-A Oklahoma City earlier in the day, swapping spots with struggling right-hander Reyes Moronta.

Bell hit Cleavinger’s first pitch on a straight line to Lux. The second baseman barely moved to field the ball, then inexplicably threw wide of first baseman Freddie Freeman’s glove. Bell slid in under Freeman’s tag and Lux was credited with an error.

Cleavinger struck out pinch hitter Nelson Cruz and Keibert Ruiz for two quick outs. Garcia, a left-handed hitter, had hit only two homers in 45 games to begin the season. Yet he turned on a hanging two-strike slider from Cleavinger and clobbered it into the right-field bleachers. Both runs were unearned by virtue of Lux’s error.

Down 4-3, Cleavinger came back for the ninth inning and allowed four more runs, all earned.

The shocking finish spoiled a strong start by Dodgers right-hander Mitch White and a near-heroic effort by Mookie Betts. Trea Turner (2 for 4) and Freddie Freeman (1 for 3) each extended their hitting streaks to 13 games, and Cody Bellinger hit his 13th home run of the season against Nats starter Josiah Gray.

After Monday’s loss to the Washington Nationals, in which Betts went 0 for 5 with two strikeouts, Roberts remarked that Betts looked “a little out of sync.” Betts took a rare round of batting practice on the field prior to Tuesday’s rematch.

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