Trevor Richards was so awed by Dodger Stadium that he stood alone on the top step of the dugout and took snapshots of the empty diamond as as if he was some tourist. And why not? The small-town pitcher the Marlins discovered purely by accident said it was his first time he had pitched west of Oklahoma and that Dodger Stadium felt like some baseball mecca.
"It's kind of cool, older than I thought," Richards said then.
That was Monday, and Richards was a long way from his southern Illinois hometown of Aviston, where only three months ago he was working as a substitute teacher at the local elementary school, and where the students celebrated and chanted "Marlins!" when word spread he had received a spring training invitation.
On Wednesday, standing on the same mound he had photographed two days earlier, the soft-spoken pitcher was the star of La La Land.
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The 24-year-old feel-good story of an otherwise dismal Marlins season turned in a performance for the ages, shutting down the Dodgers and out-dueling Clayton Kershaw, perhaps the greatest pitcher of his generation, in an 8-6 victory that closed out the road trip.
"I just tried to stay in the moment and enjoy it while I could," Richards said.
J.T. Realmuto crushed two home runs and the Marlins won back-to-back games for the first time all season to give them their first series win.
But Richards was the story.
Richards not only out-shined the Dodgers' ace, he dominated him.
Richards struck out 10, gave up just one hit — a Kershaw single — and came within one out of qualifying for his first Major League win. Manager Don Mattingly removed Richards with two outs in the fifth after the pitcher had thrown 100 pitches, including 31 in the fifth inning alone.
"I wouldn't say it was a dream outing," Richards said. "I would have liked to go six or seven innings. But overall it was good, a step forward."
The 10 strikeouts were a career high.
"Most of them were on fastballs," Realmuto, who was behind the plate, said of Richards' strikeouts. "You almost got a sense they were sitting soft. We just kept pounding the fastballs until they hit it, and they never really started to hit it."
Kershaw, meanwhile, turned in one of the poorest and most perplexing outings of his outstanding career. Kershaw entered the game on a streak of 26 consecutive innings without issuing a walk. But in only five laborious innings on Wednesday, he walked six, tying a career high he set way back in 2010. He also gave up five hits, including a three-run homer to Miguel Rojas in the fifth. Rojas' home run, which broke a scoreless tie, clanged off the top of the foul pole in left, leaving Dodger Stadium in a state of shock.
"I think we have to give ourselves credit with good at bats tonight," Rojas said. "We were disciplined in the zone and we didn't chase balls down, and he was trying to throw that slider that people always chase. We weren't chasing today."
Being a former Dodger, Rojas said his home run felt "pretty special."
"I felt a lot of emotions at that moment," Rojas said.
Realmuto clubbed a home run in the sixth and added another in the eighth to double his season total.
"I hope it continues," Realmuto said of his power success so far. "But it's not necessarily an effort to hit more homers. So far it's worked out well where I've been able to lift a few balls and not miss my pitches."
While Richards was unsuccessful in recording his first big-league win, reliever Merandy Gonzalez pocketed his very first after taking over for Richards and throwing 68 pitches over three innings, giving up three Dodgers runs before coming out.
Gonzalez was called on for extra duty because the Marlins were working with a short bullpen Wednesday. Kyle Barraclough left the team earlier in the day due to a death in the family and Drew Steckenrider and Tayron Guerrero were deemed "unavailable" due to recent workloads.