Dodgers 7, Braves 3
NLCS Game Five
An appeal of a runner leaving third too early on a fly ball proved to be a turning point. But this was only because of a huge three-run home run from Will Smith – off Will Smith, no less. Shortstop Corey Seager added two homers of his own as the Los Angeles Dodgers rallied from a 2-0 deficit to defeat the Atlanta Braves, 7-3, in Game Five of the NLCS Friday night in Arlington, Texas.
Braves Strike Early
The Braves jumped out to an early lead, scoring in each of the first two innings off Dustin May. In the bottom of the first, a one-out double to the right field corner by first baseman Freddie Freeman put a runner in scoring position. A passed ball by Smith put Freeman on third. After designated hitter Marcell Ozuna walked, catcher Travis d’Arnaud hit a booming fly to right. It was deep enough to score Freeman when Mookie Betts caught it on the track for the second out. Second baseman Ozzie Albies fanned for the third out.
The bottom of the second began with a walk by shortstop Dansby Swanson. After third baseman Austin Riley struck out, Swanson broke for second on a hit-and-run. Left fielder Nick Markakis stroked a single to left on that pitch, allowing Swanson to reach third. Swanson scored when center fielder Cristian Pache poked a single to center. The score remained at 2-0 through the rest of the inning, as right fielder Ronald Acuña, Jr. flied to right and Freeman struck out for the last two outs.
Meanwhile, Braves pitcher A.J. Minter, making his first start in any competitive game since 2015 – when he was a junior at Texas A&M University – mowed through the Dodgers lineup in the first three innings. His only blemish was a two-out double by third baseman Justin Turner in the top of the first. Of the other nine hitters he faced, he struck out seven; the other two flied to right and grounded to short. “Minter did an unbelievable job,” manager Brian Snitker said. “(With) how good he was, it was hard to take him out.”
The Turning Point
The Braves threatened to extend their lead in the bottom of the third off new pitcher Joe Kelly when Ozuna and d’Arnaud led off with consecutive singles. A grounder to second by Albies advanced each runner by a base. Swanson, up next, hit a sinking liner to right. Betts, charging in hard, made a shoestring catch for the second out. Ozuna broke for home. Betts had trouble getting the ball out of his glove, delaying his throw home and allowing Ozuna to score.
Or so we thought. The Dodgers appealed to third, claiming that Ozuna had left before Betts caught the ball. Replay confirmed that he did, so instead of it being a sacrifice fly that gave the Braves a 3-0 lead, it was an inning-ending flyball double play.
Plays like that can be huge momentum-swingers, but only if the defensive team capitalizes. The Dodgers did exactly that, as Seager led off the top of the fourth with a home run to dead center. Pache leapt to make the catch at the fence, but he mistimed the jump and couldn’t get to his full height, although it still would have been a tough catch. The next three Dodgers went down in order, sending the game to the bottom of the fourth with the score 2-1 in favor of the Braves.
Will Smith of the Dodgers vs. Will Smith of the Braves
Blake Treinen pitched 1-2-3 innings in both the fourth and fifth for the Dodgers, while Braves relievers Tyler Matzek and Shane Greene teamed up to blank the Dodgers in the fifth. In the top of the sixth, Betts led off with a single. Two batters later, with one out and Turner at the plate, he stole second. Turner later smoked one up the middle, but the Braves had shaded him to pull. Instead of heading into center field, it ended up being a one-hopper to Albies, and Betts was caught in a rundown. He stayed in long enough for Turner to make it to second, but the Dodgers sacrificed a lot of speed in trading Betts for Turner.
Left-handed fireballer Will Smith then came into the game to face Muncy. After a tense, six-pitch at-bat – one that Betts later called a turning point – Muncy walked, bringing up…Will Smith. It was the first time in postseason history that two players of the same name faced each other. This battle went to the batter, as he launched a 3-2 fastball deep into the left-field seats for a three-run homer. Center fielder Cody Bellinger could not add to the 4-2 Dodger lead, as he popped to first for the third out.
Dodgers Widen Lead, Braves Get One Back
After Pedro Baez pitched a 1-2-3 bottom of the sixth, the Dodgers expanded their lead in the top of the seventh. New Braves pitcher Jacob Webb struck out A.J. Pollock and Joc Pederson for two quick outs. On 1-2 to second baseman Chris Taylor, the pitch came in on his hands. Plate umpire Dan Iassogna awarded Taylor first base initially, but replay showed that the ball hit the knob of the bat, so Taylor came back to the plate. Two pitches later, he smashed a double to the left-field corner, bringing up Betts. On 1-2, he lined a single to left, giving him his first RBI of the series as Taylor scored. Seager piled on with his second homer of the game, a two-run blast into the right-center-field bullpen that made the score 7-2.
The Braves narrowed the deficit to 7-3 in the bottom of the eighth. Freeman led off with a double to the left-field corner. As Taylor – who moved to left when Kiké Hernández came in as a defensive substitute the previous inning – planted to throw, he lost his footing and grabbed his ankle while writhing in pain. A flyball to center and grounder to second later, Freeman scored. Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts confirmed that Taylor’s injury was to his ankle. “He’s getting treatment on it tonight. He (will get) some tests tonight and tomorrow, and we’ll see how he comes in.”
Josh Tomlin pitched a scoreless final two innings for the Braves. Embattled Dodgers reliever Kenley Jansen, who lost his job as the automatic closer earlier in October, struck out the side in a 1-2-3 ninth to preserve the victory and send the series to Game Six.
Dodgers Postgame Reflections
About the fly ball double play to end the third, Betts said after the game, “We were able to get a stop,” using the football and basketball term. “We were able to get a stop right there and put some pressure back on them. I think a 3-1 game right there, that’s attainable for sure.” Manager Dave Roberts put it bluntly. “If you’re talking about momentum shifts, that’s the play of the year. The probability of catching that baseball, where Joe (Kelly) was, the game score, potentially having to go to Treinen right there…. To make that double play right there – to make the play and then get the call on the replay – for me, that was the play of the game.”
Seager praised Muncy for his six-pitch walk and Smith for his three-run blast. “That (the walk) is a great moment of how we’ve been attacking these guys – battling, grinding, taking whatever you get. Will doing what he did was awesome. That’s the big moment (where) you need the big hit, and he got it.”
Seager also praised Jansen. “Kenley looked great tonight. He looked like he had some confidence. Throughout the year, he was tinkering with stuff. He couldn’t really find what he was looking for. Tonight, he looked like he was just out there throwing, like we’ve always seen him do. He pounded the zone, wasn’t scared, and attacked guys – he was really good tonight. That was comforting to see from him. (It’s) gotta be a huge relief for him.” Roberts added, “That was one of the highlights for all of us. To see the way he commanded the baseball, (the way) he attacked and closed the game out – that was really good to see.”
Braves Postgame Reflections
Snitker said that Minter went “above and beyond” with his outing. “It was an inning more than I thought we’d get out of him.” When asked if he considered keeping Minter in longer, Snitker said, “No. I could tell (that) on that last strikeout, he was out of gas.” He continued, “I had no idea he’d go three innings like that. He hadn’t been out there that long all year – probably in two or three years.” Fellow pitcher Max Fried was also impressed. “(Minter’s starting performance) was incredible – first time since college. To be able to go out there and give it his all – obviously, it was pretty dominant. He was able to locate his fastball extremely well. His cutter was working well, and he mixed in his changeup.”
Snitker also praised Seager. “I’m telling you, that guy is something else. He is a tough out – he battles. He’s one of those guys who never gives an at-bat away. It’s impressive. He’s a very dangerous, impressive hitter.” Fried added, “(Seager) is a great hitter (who is) able to adjust to the way that we’ve been pitching him. He’s able to pitch-by-pitch make adjustments. When you add talent with a good approach, you’re going to have a really good hitter.”
Blake Treinen earned the win in relief, while Will Smith took the loss. Game Six will be Saturday afternoon in Arlington at 4:38 Eastern/1:38 Pacific. Max Fried and Walker Buehler will start. A Braves victory would give them their first pennant since 1999, while a Dodgers victory would force a Game Seven on Sunday.
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