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Dodgers stage rally but fall to Phillies as Max Muncy’s horrific slump continues

By Steve Henson

LOS ANGELES — Hey, Max Muncy, what have you done lately?

Los Angeles Dodgers fans know full well the answer is the same as when somebody asks, “What’s up?”

Standard reply: “Not much.”

That doesn’t mean Muncy isn’t appreciated. He was honored before Thursday night’s game against the Philadelphia Phillies, with bobbleheads handed out to fans entering Dodger Stadium. His wife, Kellie, threw the ceremonial first pitch and Muncy held their nine month-old daughter, Sophie Kate, until nearly game time.

Mired in a debilitating, season-long slump, Muncy was hopeful fans would fondly remember the 36 home runs he hit last season, the 35 he hit in 2019, the 35 he hit in 2018.

“We have the best fans in the world and I don’t think they’ve forgotten what I’ve done the last couple of years,” he said. “At the same time, they expect me to be better and I expect myself to be better.”

Muncy’s contribution was minor — two walks and a check-swing dribbler for a single — but the hit helped fuel a stunning Dodgers rally in the eighth inning that turned a four-run deficit into a short-lived tie.

The Phillies answered in the ninth, scoring twice against reliever Daniel Hudson to take a 9-7 lead, and another Dodgers rally fell short in the bottom of the inning. Trea Turner led off with his third hit and Muncy and Will Smith walked to load the bases against Corey Knebel. But Austin Barnes, Cody Bellinger and Chris Taylor all flied out, handing the Dodgers their third loss in four games.

Muncy had the loudest ovation when the lineup was announced, and he batted cleanup despite a .138 average with an anemic .299 slugging percentage. He leads the National League in walks with 27 but perhaps that’s a sign he’s been too passive at the plate, taking pitches he ought to wallop.

He was warmly greeted by fans before his first at-bat to lead off the second inning and struck out on a curveball in the dirt from Phillies ace Zack Wheeler. Muncy struck out swinging on another low breaking ball in the fourth and walked in the sixth before the eighth-inning single.

His hit loaded the bases with none out and was followed by an RBI single by Smith and a two-run double by pinch-hitter Justin Turner, cutting the Dodgers’ deficit to 7-6. A one-out single by Taylor brought home Smith to tie the score.

Overall, Muncy’s at-bats were a far cry from manager Dave Roberts’ wishful thinking before the game.

“I’m sure the fans will turn out and support him and will be clamoring to get a bobblehead and hopefully he hits a home run,” he said.

Home runs are something of a tradition on a Dodgers bobblehead day, beginning with a pinch-hit grand slam by Manny Ramirez in 2009. Hanley Ramirez went deep on his 2013 bobblehead day and was followed by Yasiel Puig in 2015, Howie Kendrick in 2016, Manny Machado and Bellinger in 2018, and a two-homer outburst by Bellinger in 2019.

Last year, Betts homered on his bobblehead day and so did . . . Muncy! He crushed a 404-foot shot into the right-field pavilion in a win over the San Francisco Giants on June 29.

Bobblehead mojo didn’t help Muncy against the Phillies, however. He’s too far gone.

His strikeouts against Wheeler notwithstanding, he doesn’t often chase pitches out of the zone even as the outs and runners left on base mount. Roberts prefers to attribute Muncy’s patience as a refusal to panic.

“There’s been some good at-bats, solid contact, he’s still taking walks, I still like the quality of the at-bat,” Roberts said. “It’s easy to bet there’s going to be positive results coming.”

Muncy’s ability to recognize a ball from a strike is his best asset beyond his obvious power. No arm-twisting could convince him to become more aggressive. And, in fact, the mere suggestion of arm-twisting is enough to make him wince.

Muncy, 31, suffered a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow on the last day of the 2021 regular season when a baserunner sprinted through his outstretched arm at first base, bending the elbow grotesquely.

The Dodgers were coy about the extent of the injury, with Roberts insisting Muncy might return at some point in the postseason. Turns out it was all a bluff. He didn’t divulge the torn ligament until December.

Is the arm a factor in his current slump? Is it fully healed?

“Um, I don’t know,” he said Thursday, shaking his head. “I don’t know.”

Another factor that could create stress is that Muncy’s three-year, $26 million contract expires at season’s end but includes a team option for $13 million. It is expected that all Muncy needs to do for the Dodgers to pick up the option is to produce as he did in his first four seasons with the team.

But every day this horrific slump continues, the 121 home runs and 309 runs batted in he accumulated from 2018-2021 seem further out of reach.

Even on a night when he had an appreciative crowd in his corner.

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