LOS ANGELES – The first was a miracle. The second was a relief. The third was inevitable.
By the time the 51,363 hoarse fans at Dodger Stadium coaxed third baseman Chris Taylor out of the dugout for a curtain call in the seventh inning of Game 5 of the NL Championship Series, the outcome was decided. Los Angeles would go on to avoid elimination with an 11-2 win to force Game 6 at Atlanta. The only drama left was whether Taylor would become the first player in history to hit four home runs in a playoff game.
“I got goose bumps,” said center fielder Cody Bellinger. “I had the best view, I think, for the three of us, and I felt like I was really going to do it.”
Taylor drove a curveball just outside the left-field foul pole, then struck out to end the eighth. But he’ll take the night he had: a two-run home run to give Los Angeles the lead in the second inning, an RBI single in the third, a three-run dinger in the fifth and that solo shot in the seventh. According to MLB, his 13 total bases were the most in a win-or-go game in postseason history. He became the 12th player with three long balls in a playoff game, joining a roster that includes Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson and Taylor’s Dodgers teammate Albert Pujols.
Taylor was practically speechless. “I never thought he was going to hit three home runs in one game, let alone in a postseason game, and he still hasn’t assimilated,” he said.
You don’t have much time to accept your achievement. The Dodgers’ team plane leaves Friday morning.
“One of the happiest flights I expected,” said manager Dave Roberts. “I am happy that we have given them a series. And I was expecting our guys to fight and scratch and scratch and I thought we did it and it will be a crazy environment in Atlanta. We know. I like the guys we’re going to race with and we just have to go out and play to win a game. “
This result seemed almost impossible with two outs in the top of the first inning. Atlanta was already leading 2-0, and the man Los Angeles had been tasked with opening their bullpen game was aiming for the dugout midway through the day’s fifth at-bat. Joe Kelly had sprained his right bicep, Roberts said, and was ready for the season. Kelly will join ace Clayton Kershaw, who hurt his left elbow, and third baseman Justin Turner, who hurt his left hamstring, to watch the rest of the Dodgers’ career from the bench. (First baseman Max Muncy is there too, with a dislocated left elbow, but he hopes to return if the team makes it to the World Series.)
Roberts called up right-hander Evan Phillips, who had been released once and resigned once since early August. The boss told him that the count was from 2 to 2 and said, “Go find them.”
“I don’t know if he was on stage ‘A’ right there,” admitted Roberts. But a small pitching staff had to collect 25 outs. In the end it took seven men, so many that Bellinger lost track.
“I can’t say enough about them, starting with, I don’t even remember, but they all did very well,” he said.
In fact, they limited Atlanta to three hits in eight and a half innings. That performance gave a fickle offense time to find itself. Taylor, who hit seventh, has quietly been the club’s most productive hitter in this series. On Thursday, his teammates joined him, landing 17 hits as each starter reached base.
After Game 4, in which the Dodgers had as many hits (four) as Atlanta’s left fielder Eddie Rosario, Roberts looked exhausted as he tried to explain offensive incompetence.
“I don’t know. Every time I write the lineup, I feel really good about our club and how we cope, the records and what we’re going to do that particular night, but it just hasn’t been as consistent as I don’t think anyone expected. “He said after Game 4, adding,” No one’s going to feel sorry [for us]. We have to find a way to stress ourselves out [Max Fried], take the boys to the base and push them to the other side. That’s just the bottom line. “
Well, they knocked out Fried, Atlanta’s ace, after 4⅔ innings, and then they faced a parade of minor relievers. Now the challenge will be to chain, for the first time in this postseason, a second good offensive game in a row.
Atlanta still leads the series 3-2 and will play the next two games at home, but the Dodgers suddenly have reason for optimism. Max Scherzer, a certain Hall of Famer who posted a 1.98 ERA in August and September, will start Game 6 on a five-day break. Atlanta will fight back with rookie Ian Anderson, whom Los Angeles chased after three frames in Game 2.
Thursday night marked the Dodgers’ seventh straight victory in an elimination game, including three in a row over this same Atlanta team in last year’s NLCS. They have started to seem like they enjoy them.
“[We] definitely [don’t] prefer elimination games, “said left fielder AJ Pollock. “We want to eliminate other teams.” If they win one more, they can. That doesn’t seem entirely inevitable yet. But it is getting closer.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.