LOS ANGELES — The first one 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 National League Championship Series, the outcome was decided. Los Angeles would go on to stave off elimination with an 11–2 victory to force Game 6 in Atlanta. The only drama that remained was whether Taylor would become the first player in history to hit four home runs in a playoff game.
“I had the goosebumps sitting on deck,” said center fielder Cody Bellinger. “I had the best view, I think, for all three, and I felt like he was really going to do it.”
Taylor drove a curveball just outside the left field foul pole, then struck out swinging to end the eighth. But he’ll take the night he had: a two-run home run to give L.A. 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-home game in postseason history. He became the 12th player with three long balls in a playoff game, joining a list that includes Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson and Taylor’s Dodgers teammate Albert Pujols.
Taylor found himself largely without words. “I never thought I was going to hit three homers in a game, let alone a postseason game, and it just still hasn't really sunk in,” he said.
He doesn’t have much time to come to terms with his achievement. The Dodgers’ team plane departs Friday morning.
“One of the happier flights I've been looking forward to,” said manager Dave Roberts. “I'm happy that we gave you guys a series. And I expected our guys to fight and scratch and claw and I thought we did that and it's going to be a crazy environment in Atlanta. We know that. I like the guys we're going to be running out there and we just got to go out there and play to win one game.”
This outcome looked almost impossible with two outs in the top of the first inning. Atlanta already led 2–0, and the man Los Angeles had tasked with opening its bullpen game was motioning toward the dugout midway through the fifth at bat of the day. Joe Kelly had strained his right biceps, Roberts said, and was done for the season. Kelly will join ace Clayton Kershaw, who strained his left elbow, and third baseman Justin Turner, who strained his left hamstring, in watching the rest of the Dodgers’ run from the bench. (First baseman Max Muncy is there as well, with a dislocated left elbow, but he hopes to return if the team makes it to the World Series.)
Roberts summoned righty Evan Phillips, who’d been released once and waived once since the beginning of August. The skipper told him the count was 2–2 and said, “Go get 'em.”
“I don't know if he was in the A scenario right there,” Roberts admitted. But a depleted pitching staff had to piece together 25 outs. In the end it took seven men, so many that Bellinger lost track.
“Just can't say enough about them, starting off with—I don't even remember, but they all did great,” he said.
Indeed, they held Atlanta to three hits over 8 ⅓ innings. That performance gave a fickle offense time to find itself. Taylor, hitting seventh, has quietly been the club’s most productive hitter this series. On Thursday, his teammates joined him, stringing together 17 hits as every starter reached base.
After Game 4, in which the Dodgers recorded as many hits (four) as Atlanta left fielder Eddie Rosario, Roberts sounded exhausted as he tried to explain the offensive incompetence.
“I don’t know. Every time I write the lineup out I feel very good about our club and how we match up and track 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 got to find a way to stress [Max Fried], get guys on base, and push them across. That's just the bottom line.”
Well, they knocked out Fried, the Atlanta ace, after 4 ⅔ innings, then teed off against a parade of lesser relievers. Now the challenge will be to string together, for the first time this postseason, a second consecutive good offensive game.
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 had a 1.98 ERA in August and September, will start Game 6 on five days' rest. Atlanta will counter 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 straight over this same Atlanta team in last year’s NLCS. It has begun to seem as if 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 quite feel inevitable yet. But it’s getting closer.
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