LOS ANGELES – The Dodgers never wanted this. They’ve spent the past six months trying in vain to avoid the exact scenario they found themselves in Wednesday night: a stressful white-knuckle party from an elimination game to start the postseason. Instead of a quick exit, the four-hour pressure cooker ended with another instantly iconic postseason moment for a franchise with more than a few of them.
Chris Taylor’s two-out homer gave Los Angeles more than a 3-1 win over the Cardinals and a spot in the NLDS. He dealt a crushing blow to the rest of the field from the 2021 postseason who undoubtedly expected the reigning champions to fall victim to the MLB wild-card format and be rejected after just one game. Instead, the stage is set for a historic heavyweight showdown with the Giants that the biggest baseball world (outside of St. Louis) wanted to see.
“I loved the way that, coming into this game, no one had a built-in excuse for [being in] a tiebreaker or elimination game, ”Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said after the victory. “We were prepared to win a ball game.”
For the majors, the result couldn’t have been more perfect: The Dodgers are arguably one of the top two teams in the sport, but they were shod in this game as a result of being stuck in a division with the best regular-season team. in the history of the Giants. Rather than knock out the defending champs by a bad rebound here or a mistake there, the league got an instant classic from a game that now pits its top two teams against each other in a best-of-five series.
“It’s what baseball wants: Giants-Dodgers, one of the great rivalries in sports,” Roberts said. “It’s happening.”
By avoiding the disaster of a loss and keeping their title defense hopes alive, the Dodgers displayed the depth of their unmatched roster that makes them favorites to lift the Commissioner’s Trophy once again.
Max Scherzer, signed to start Wednesday’s game over fellow potential 2021 Cy Young Award winner Walker Buehler and 20-game winner Julio Urías, didn’t have his best, but limited the Cardinals to just one run in 4⅓ innings. He passed the baton to a loaded bullpen that used five pitchers who combined for 4⅔ scoreless innings with six strikeouts, two hits and one walk allowed.
“I trust those guys,” Roberts said of his army of relievers. “The pitching staff, the race prevention group, the main office … It’s a collective effort in trying to put those guys in the best position to be successful. Ultimately, players have to throw and play, and they have done it over and over again. “
Taylor didn’t even enter the game until the seventh inning, making an impressive sliding catch in the eighth before launching his final blast in the ninth. For a team with possibly more depth than anyone else on the field, it needed everything to keep the season alive.
“Obviously it’s a bit different not to start the game. I was just trying to get ready from the bench, ”Taylor said. “I knew there was a very good chance that it would come in at some point, the way we operate. I was trying to be ready when they call the number. These are the kinds of moments you dream of and work for, and I will be able to remember this for the rest of my life. “
“Obviously he’s a giant piece for us,” third baseman Justin Turner said of Taylor. “He can play anywhere on the field, an excellent defender. He’s a great baserunner and has obviously made a lot of big changes for us. He’s just a baseball guy … His conscience is out of the ordinary, and I couldn’t be happier that he took that big swing in the ninth for us. “
Watch MLB games online this postseason with fuboTV: Get started with a 7-day free trial!
Wednesday was another challenge for a club that has consistently passed all the tests they have faced along the way. Since last year’s NLCS against the Braves, the Dodgers have now won four straight life or death games. This time, they held out against a Cardinals team that had won 21 of their last 25 games and entered the postseason as the most popular team in the league.
St. Louis entered the game with a clear plan on offense: work on deep counts and get Scherzer out of the game as quickly as possible. Cardinals hitters saw an average of 3.87 pitchers per plate appearance during the regular season, ninth short in the league. They averaged 4.27 pitches per plate appearance against Scherzer on Wednesday, which is 0.18 more than the league-leading Yankees averaged for the year.
While that strategy worked to get Scherzer to the dugout, it didn’t produce enough runs. The Cardinals took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning after a wild pitch hit Tommy Edman, and that was it. St. Louis left 11 runners on base and went 0 of 11 with runners in scoring position.
“Oh, we had our chances,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “A lot of good at-bats for Scherzer, we got him out of there before he could complete fifth. We got his bullpen, which is really good … We just couldn’t get that big hit. “
Having survived the struggle of facing playoff elimination before throwing a pitch or swinging, the Dodgers are poised for another run to the Fall Classic and a chance to become the first team in more than two decades to go. consecutively.
“I wouldn’t call it a fight, that’s exciting. Those are fun games, ”Turner said. “You are focused on each field… Those games, those moments are exciting, and we’ve been to a lot of them. I think our experience really helps us in those situations. “
Wednesday night could have ended with the defending champs walking off the field in stunned disbelief that their playoff run ended before it actually began. Instead, it culminated with Chris Taylor, a bench player turned All-Star turned postseason hero, sending a ball late into the night as his teammates entered the field in celebration.
The Dodgers didn’t want to start the playoffs with an elimination game, but that setup created the kind of dramatic moment normally reserved for late October. If that is a harbinger of things to come, the reigning champions will surely be grateful to have had an advantage on the rest of the field.
More MLB coverage:
• Welcome to the updated version of Playoff Baseball
• Expert predictions: Who will win the World Series?
• MLB Power Rankings: Assessing the Postseason Field Ahead
• Will the Cardinals’ hot streak in the Playoffs matter?
Illustrated Sports you may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.