Brusdar Graterol held his emotions in check just long enough to throw a one-two-three eighth inning against the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday night, but as the Dodgers reliever walked off the mound, his face buried in his glove, the floodgates began to open.
Dave Roberts met the burly right-hander in front of the third-base dugout, and Graterol collapsed into the arms of his manager. The two looked up to a club-level suite in Dodger Stadium and pointed at Graterol’s mother, Ysmalia, who had flown in from Venezuela on Sunday and was seeing her son pitch as a big leaguer for the first time.
Graterol then skipped into the dugout and broke into tears as he hugged teammates, squeezing his fellow Venezuelans — shortstop Miguel Rojas, outfielder David Peralta and designated hitter J.D. Martinez — extra long and hard.
The Dodgers rallied to tie the score 2-2 in the bottom of the eighth when Martinez, who hit a solo home run in the fourth inning, his third homer in two games, singled with two outs, pinch-runner Chris Taylor stole second base on his own and Peralta sliced a ground-rule RBI double down the left-field line.
Mookie Betts singled with one out in the bottom of the ninth, took second when Will Smith was hit by a pitch, tore around third base on Max Muncy’s two-out missile to right field and slid head-first into the plate to give the Dodgers a dramatic 3-2 walk-off victory before a rollicking crowd of 42,223 in Chavez Ravine.
The game also featured another stout pitching performance by rookie right-hander Ryan Pepiot, who continued his push for a more prominent playoff role by escaping a first-and-third, no-out jam in the seventh to complete a gutsy six-inning, one-run, five-hit, four-strikeout, one-walk effort.
But while other Dodgers played more prominent roles in the win, this night will forever belong to Graterol, the 6-foot-1, 265-pounder with a nickname (Bazooka) to match his 99-mph fastball and the heart and warmth of a “teddy bear,” as Martinez aptly described him in the wake of Tuesday night’s family reunion.
“A lot of emotion, so much emotion that I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t know how to control it,” Graterol said in Spanish. “I only cry out of happiness. My mom and I, we grew up together [in Calabozo, Venezuela]. She was a mother and father at the same time. I’ve dedicated each second, each minute, to her so she feels proud of me.”
It had been seven years since Graterol had seen Ysmalia in person, a stretch that included Brusdar’s major league debut with the Minnesota Twins in 2019, his World Series championship with the Dodgers in 2020, his marriage to Allison in 2021 and the birth of their daughter, Aria, this past spring.
Graterol, 25, had been trying for years to bring his mother to the U.S. Ysmalia finally got the required documentation two weeks ago to fly from Venezuela, and Brusdar met her at LAX after the team returned from Seattle on Sunday night.
“It was a moment that left me paralyzed,” Graterol said of the reunion. “I didn’t know what to say. All I heard my mom say was that I was very big and beautiful. And the only thing that I told her when I calmed down, was I told her she smelled like home.”
As Graterol took the mound to start the eighth inning with the Dodgers trailing 2-1, his mind flooded with childhood memories of how his mother, a former softball player, encouraged him to play different sports, and how she often monitored his workouts.
He was able to calm his nerves enough to get Zach McKinstry and Spencer Torkelson, who hit a solo homer off Caleb Ferguson in the first inning, to fly out to left field and Jake Rogers to ground out to extend his scoreless innings streak to 21 innings.
But as Ysmalia waved to her son, a moment that was captured on stadium video boards, and as Graterol hugged Roberts and found his mother, wife and daughter in the crowd, the pitcher was overcome with emotion.
“An incredible moment,” said Graterol, who is 4-2 with a 1.28 ERA and seven saves in 64 games this season. “There were a lot of moments that she missed. When I debuted, she wasn’t here. When I got married, she wasn’t here. When my wife had our daughter, she wasn’t here. Those were difficult times. Thank God, we did it and she’s here.”
Graterol’s teammates and manager got caught up in the moment as much as Graterol.
“You sort of get into the game mode, but how can you not appreciate that emotional moment for Brusdar, his mom, his family?” Roberts said. “They haven’t seen each other for seven years, and a lot has happened in seven years. I don’t know how they managed it. … It was really special, one of the top [moments] I’ve ever been a part of.”
Venezuela has been racked by political turmoil, socio-economic instability, poverty, hyperinflation, high crime and high mortality rates. The country broke off diplomatic relations with the U.S. in 2019, making it even more difficult for citizens to emigrate or travel to the U.S.
“Knowing all she went through to get here to see him, especially seeing him for the first time playing, it’s a lot of emotion,” Peralta said. “I got a little emotional, too, because – fortunately, I have my mom here in the U.S., but my older sister is in Venezuela, she can’t come, and I wish that could happen.
“You guys have to understand what Latin players, especially Venezuelans, have to go through. It’s not easy for us to bring our family. So to finally get the chance to do it, it’s a moment that you’ll never forget.”
Added Martinez: “There’s a lot of stuff around the world that guys don’t have any control of. For that dream of his to come true — I think every parent should be able to see their son at this level. For them to see, I know it’s got to be emotional for them.”
Graterol said the last time Ysmalia saw him play in person was in the Dominican Republic in the summer of 2015. Now, Ysmalia will watch her son pitch for the National League West champion Dodgers over the final two weeks of the regular season and in the playoffs starting in October.
“The goal is to have her celebrate the World Series with us,” Graterol said, “and when she wants to go back, she’ll go back.”
Smith acknowledged in a radio interview over the weekend that he suffered a broken rib when he was hit by a pitch from St. Louis’ Jake Woodford in an April 30 game, an injury that took months to recover from and still might be impacting the catcher at the plate.
Smith made his first All-Star team by hitting .279 with an .889 OPS, 13 homers and 46 RBIs in 66 first-half games, but he entered Tuesday with a .244 average, .697 OPS, five homers and 26 RBIs in 52 games since the break, including a .184 average, .614 OPS, one homer and six RBIs in 13 September games.
“Yeah, it hasn’t been great the last couple of months,” Roberts said. “Our guys looked at where he got hit in the ribs and just kind of cleaned up the mechanics. He went a little sideways, and that led to a lot of missed pitches in the hitting zone.
“The pain wasn’t [the problem]. I think it was more of, there was probably a little bit of guarding initially, and then when you’re talking about the rib, the oblique, that sort of dovetails into some changed mechanics.”
Reliever Daniel Hudson, who suffered a right-knee sprain July 5, threw to batters in a simulated inning Tuesday afternoon, but the chances of the veteran right-hander pitching again this season remain slim.
“It was encouraging to see him get some hitters, and I think we’ll revisit this in another four or five days,” Roberts said. “Our expectation is to play through October, so if we can continue to build him up … you know, it’s a long shot, so I think the most important thing is to continue to pass the certain markers.”