ARLINGTON, Texas — Before the most impressive game he’d ever played at the plate, Austin Barnes talked about his work behind it.
He explained pitch framing. (Actually, he called it “fighting for your pitcher, every pitch.”) He discussed the way he guides the Dodgers’ hurlers through rough patches. (“That’s our job, as a catcher, to put up zeroes. The pitcher-catcher relationship is something I take pride in.”) He showered praise on the Los Angeles staff. He did not discuss his offensive output.
He rarely does. He knows that most of his value to a team comes when he wears a glove—either at catcher, where he has started all but two of the Dodgers’ World Series games over their past three appearances, or at second base, where he can slot in when manager Dave Roberts needs to shuffle his defenders.
But after Los Angeles won Game 3 of the World Series 6–2, to take a lead of two games to one over the Rays, and Barnes became the second player in history to drive in a run on a home run and on a bunt in a Fall Classic game, he allowed himself to discuss his bat.
“It’s not easy to barrel a ball up against these really good pitchers,” he said, beaming.
He knows that as well as anyone. Last season, he flailed so badly at the plate that the Dodgers demoted him to Triple A in July. He finished the season with a .203 batting average and a .340 slugging percentage. The team left him off its roster for the National League Division Series, which it lost in five games to the Nationals.
“It’s a lot better telling him he’s in the starting lineup than that he’s not gonna make the postseason roster,” Roberts said after Friday’s game. “I really think the world of him. He’s a tough competitor. He makes pitchers better. He makes me and the pitching coaches look good. So I’m just really excited that he did what he did tonight.”
What he did tonight was call a dominant game for starter Walker Buehler, who allowed one run in six sharp innings, and make a difference from the ninth spot in the lineup. In the fourth, with the Dodgers up 3–0, Barnes strode to the plate with men on first and third and one out. Rays starter Charlie Morton is a difficult matchup for a right-handed hitter, and first baseman Ji-Man Choi was slower than 52 catchers this season. You don’t see many squeeze bunts these days, but Barnes thought Roberts might ask him to pull one off. He got the sign.
He showed bunt on the first pitch but let it go by. The next pitch was a sinker, up in the zone. Barnes laid down a perfect bunt, four feet in front of the plate, dribbling toward first base. Even though he had lost the element of surprise, there was nothing Tampa Bay could do. Choi fielded the ball and threw to second baseman Brandon Lowe, covering first, as Cody Bellinger trotted home and the Dodgers celebrated.
“They ask you to do something, you need to do it,” Barnes said simply.
Two innings after his four-foot RBI, he got a hanging slider. He sent it 425 feet into the Rays’ bullpen. It was his first career World Series home run.
And then, after the most impressive game he’d ever played at the plate, Barnes returned to talking about his work behind it.
“I wasn’t really a part of the postseason last year, so it was a little hard,” he said. “You’ve still got those nerves for the guys and obviously want them to win. But it’s nice to be in these games, have a little bit of control behind the plate, try to get these Ws.”