2021 National League Championship Series
|2021 National League Championship Series|
88 - 73 in the NL
|4 - 2
|Los Angeles Dodgers|
106 - 56 in the NL
Jordan Baker joined the group as the home plate umpire in Game 2, with the umpire scheduled to work home plate in the next game sitting down.
|1||Los Angeles Dodgers 2 Atlanta Braves 3||October 16||Corey Knebel (0-0) Max Fried (0-0)||8:05 pm|
|2||Los Angeles Dodgers 4 Atlanta Braves 4||October 17||Max Scherzer (0-0) Ian Anderson (0-0)||7:38 pm|
|3||Atlanta Braves 5 Los Angeles Dodgers 6||October 19||Charlie Morton (0-0) Walker Buehler (0-0)||5:08 pm|
|4||Atlanta Braves 9 Los Angeles Dodgers 2||October 20||Jesse Chavez (0-0) Julio Urias (0-1)||8:08 pm|
|5||Atlanta Braves 2 Los Angeles Dodgers 11||October 21||Max Fried (0-1) Joe Kelly (0-0)||8:08 pm|
|6||Los Angeles Dodgers 2 Atlanta Braves 4||October 23||Walker Buehler (0-1) Ian Anderson (0-0)||8:08 pm|
Game 1 @ Truist Park
|WP: Will Smith (1-0); LP: Blake Treinen (0-1)|
|Home Runs: LA - Will Smith (1); ATL - Austin Riley (1)|
- Attendance: 41,815
The Dodgers once again decided to go with an opener in Game 1, after winning the deciding game of the Division Series with this strategy (some would say in spite of it), and this time there was not even a "bulk man" involved. Because Max Scherzer had been used to close out that win, he was not available to start today, and somehow the Dodgers, winners of 106 games during the season, did not have anyone else available to take his place on the mound as an actual starting pitcher. This did not sit well with everyone, as a majority of Dodger fans were not pleased to see reliever Corey Knebel take the game ball for the second straight time. In contrast, the Braves did have some bona fide starting pitchers ready, and they used Max Fried to oppose the Dodgers' committee. Superficially, both approaches worked equally well, as the score was tied at 2 when Fried ended his stint after 6 good innings, and was still the same heading into the 9th, but the Dodgers were once again playing with a handicap, and this time they could not pull the win out of the fire, as their 8th pitcher of the night, Blake Treinen, surrendered the winning run. With a lefthander on the mound for Atlanta, the Dodgers tilted their startling line-up rightwards, with Albert Pujols and A.J. Pollock both starting, at 1B and LF respectively.
In the 1st, Corey Seager hit a two-out double off Fried but was stranded, then Eddie Rosario led off the bottom of the inning with a single off Knebel. He then stole second base on Freddie Freeman's strikeout, took third on a ground out by Ozzie Albies and scored on a wild pitch for a 1-0 Atlanta lead. In the 2nd, the Dodgers got that run back when Pollock hit a two-out double and Chris Taylor followed with a single. Knebel was due up next, and the Dodgers dutifully used a pinch-hitter, Steven Souza, as the parade of pitchers on their side started in earnest. Phil Bickford pitched the 2nd inning and Justin Bruihl came in after one out in the 3rd. In the 4th, catcher Will Smith celebrated the first anniversary of his famous homer off his doppelganger, pitcher Will Smith in Game 5 of last year's NLCS, by hitting a lead-off solo homer, although he had to be docked some style points for hitting it off Fried, and not Smith. In any case, Fried retired the next three batters and in the bottom of the inning, with Tony Gonsolin coming in after one out as pitcher #4, Austin Riley hit a solo homer to tie the game once again, at 2-all. It would stay that way for a while.
In the top of the 5th, Gonsolin actually batted for himself and got a hit off Fried, but he was quickly erased on a double play. Alex Vesia pitched the 6th for L.A. before Tyler Matzek replaced Fried in the top of the 7th, the Braves' starting pitcher having notched a quality start with 6 innings of two-run ball, no walks and 5 strikeouts. The Dodgers had a good chance as Taylor led off with a double then advanced to third base on a sacrifice bunt by Austin Barnes, but Matzek got Mookie Betts to pop up and struck out Trea Turner to end the inning. Joe Kelly then came out (Barnes was pinch-hitting for Vesia), and Kenley Jansen, the Dodgers' closer was already warming up in the bullpen, as pitching options were narrowing for Dave Roberts, a direct result of deciding to go for a bullpen game. In any case, Kelly retired the Braves in order, as did Luke Jackson for the Braves in the top of the 8th. Jansen did come out for the 8th, and he did his work, retiring the three men he faced, but now the Dodgers had one reliable pitcher left in Blake Treinen, and a few unpalatable options if the game were to go in extra innings, which was a very real possibility the way things were going. In any case, with a save no longer a possibility for the Braves, Will Smith the pitcher came out for the top of the 9th; he walked Taylor with two outs, bringing up Jansen's spot, at which point Roberts had little choice but to use another pinch-hitter, this time Cody Bellinger who continued his postseason rebirth after batting an awful .168 during the season, with a single to right. However, in a key development, Taylor was thrown out when he strayed too far into no man's land after rounding second and was caught in a rundown. That baserunning blunder ended what was shaping up like a promising rally, and it was the Braves who now had a chance to win the game. Treinen came in to pitch and he struck out Freeman before giving up a single to Ozzie Albies. Albies quickly stole second base, and then came in to score when Riley singled to left, the walk-off hit giving Atlanta a 3-2 win.
Game 2 @ Truist Park
|WP: Will Smith 2-0; LP: Brusdar Graterol (0-1)|
|Home Runs: LA - Corey Seager (1); ATL - Joc Pederson (1)|
- Attendance: 41,873
In many ways, Game 2 was a repeat of Game 1, a close game that was only decided in the bottom of the 9th in Atlanta's favor thanks to a walk-off hit. Once again, there were off-setting homers, and a lot of controversy about pitcher usage. The pitching match-up featured youth against experience, with 23-year-old second-year player Ian Anderson going for Atlanta against veteran Max Scherzer for Los Angeles. However, continuing a trend seen all postseason, neither man pitched deep into the game, in spite of not giving up many runs, as by the 5th inning the contest had become a battle of relievers. There was one major change to the starting line-ups, with 3B Justin Turner unavailable to start for L.A. because of a sore neck, which forced a few shifts, with Chris Taylor moving from CF to 3B, and Gavin Lux starting in CF. Also, with a righty on the mound, veteran Albert Pujols was back on the bench and Cody Bellinger started at 1B.
The Dodgers got off to an excellent start against Anderson, as Mookie Betts blooped a pop-up just beyond the reach of SS Dansby Swanson and into left field, and Corey Seager followed with a home run. Anderson was off his game, as he also walked Will Smith after one out. Lux hit into a force out but stole second base to reach scoring position, and Taylor drew another walk before Anderson finally managed to end the inning by getting Bellinger to fly out to center field. There was no such early drama for Scherzer, who retired the Braves in order, including striking out Freddie Freeman who had struck out four times in Game 1; that streak would eventually reach a record seven straight K's before Freeman finally managed to to put a ball in play in the 8th - albeit for an out. Anderson had settled down by the 2nd inning, getting the Braves in order, and Adam Duvall got the Braves' first hit in the bottom of the inning, a two-out single, and was left stranded. Anderson put a couple more runners on base in the top of the 3rd, on a lead-off walk to Seager and a one-out single by Smith, but Lux hit a pop-up in foul territory and Taylor struck out to strand both men. In the bottom of the inning, after one out, it was Anderson's turn to bat, and Brian Snitker sent in a pinch-hitter in Johan Camargo (who had some awful career numbers against Scherzer). Camargo struck out swinging, unsurprisingly, and Snitker would now need to get at least six innings from his bullpen in order to win this game. Jesse Chavez was the first of these relievers, and he retired the Dodgers in order in the top of the 4th.
Scherzer had been cruising until then, but he ran into his first adversity in the bottom of the 4th as he walked last night's hero, Austin Riley, with one out, then gave up a homer to Joc Pederson, who continued to be a man on a mission in this postseason. The homer was a no-doubter, measured at 454 feet, the longest by anyone this postseason. That tied the game at 2-all, and there was no more scoring for the next while. After A.J. Minter put up a scoreless inning in the 5th, in spite of a couple of walks, one of them intentional, Scherzer gave up a lead-off single to Swanson in the bottom of the frame. Snitker then sent in light-hitting Orlando Arcia to hit in the pitcher's spot, but did not signal for what would have been the logical play in the circumstances - a sacrifice bunt. Arcia tried to bunt on his own after taking a strike, but missed, then flailed aimlessly at breaking ball to strike out. And that was it for Scherzer: it seems that the veteran of 190 regular season wins and multiple-time Cy Young Award winner had also caught the new disease of not being able to face a line-up the third time; it couldn't have been his elevated pitch count, since he was just at 79. Most likely, it was after-effects of having been used in relief to close out the Division Series four days earlier, as he explained after the game that "My arm was dead". In any case, Dave Roberts decided it was better to have rookie Alex Vesia face the top of the line-up to finish the inning. It worked in that Vesia got a pair of strikeouts, after giving up a single to Eddie Rosario, but it also meant that for the second straight night, the Dodgers' bullpen would be forced to pitch for an extended period.
The parade of relievers continued with Jacob Webb pitching a tense 6th inning for the Braves that included another lead-off walk, to Taylor, a stolen base, and a call for help to Tyler Matzek to face the pitcher's spot. Roberts burned two pinch-hitters in that at-bat, first sending in Matt Beaty, then after Snitker changed pitchers, replacing him with Pujols, who struck out. Joe Kelly got the Braves in order in the bottom of the 6th, then the Dodgers seemed to have all the ingredients to lock up a win in the 7th. With Matzek back on the mound it was Betts who drew a lead-off walk, the fourth time in five innings that the Braves' pitchers had committed that particular cardinal sin. Matzek struck out Seager, but Betts stole second base on the pitch. Interestingly, MLB.com's official boxscore of the game did not list stolen bases, maybe because they are now thought to be irrelevant in some quarters, but it was the fourth by L.A, in this game, as the Dodgers had figured out that this was a good move with their speedy line-up and a poor throwing catcher for the Braves in Travis d'Arnaud. In any case, after a strikeout of Trea Turner for the second out, the Braves walked Smith intentionally for the second time, and this time the Dodgers were prepared to make them pay as Justin Turner came out to pinch hit for Lux. The Braves replied with a double switch, with Guillermo Heredia replacing Duvall in center field and Luke Jackson coming to pitch. Heredia over Duvall should have been a major defensive upgrade, but Turner was hit by a pitch to load the bases, and Taylor dropped a ball in front of Heredia who half-attempted a diving catch and saw the ball get past him. Two runs scored on the play, although the only real consequence of the ball squirting past may have been that Taylor ended up on second with a generous double; two runs would have scored in any case. The Dodgers now had a 4-2 lead and could have put away the game there and then with another clutch hit. Jackson intentionally walked Bellinger, who had had a few such clutch hits of late, to load the bases again, but he then struck out A.J. Pollock to end the inning.
The Dodgers thought they had this game in the bag, but first they had to re-configure their defence since Justin Turner was unable to play the field. Betts moved to center and Steven Souza came in to play right, with Blake Treinen taking the mound. He walked the first hitter he faced, d'Arnaud, but Swanson grounded into a double play and Heredia hit a soft grounder, making quick work of the inning. In the 8th, Chris Martin, just added to Atlanta's postseason roster before this round, pitched a 1-2-3 inning, and then, in a strange move, Roberts decided to bring in Julio Urias to pitch the 8th. Now Urias may have had some success as a reliever in the past, most notably in last year's World Series, but this year he had been exclusively a starter (except for his work as a "bulk man" in Game 5 of the Division Series), and a very good one at that. Why Roberts thought it was a good idea to bring him in at this time is puzzling, and the move blew up in his face very quickly. Rosario led off with a single, then when Freeman finally put a ball in play by lining out to deep left, he surprised LF Pollock by taking off for second base and making it safely when Pollock's throw was off-target. Albies then singled to right and Rosario once again made a daring run, going all the way home on the short hit and sliding around Smith's tag as Souza's throw was a good one. Riley then followed with a double to center, and now it was Albies' turn to run aggressively, and he beat the throw too, tying the game. Urias did manage to get out of the inning by striking out Pederson and pinch-hitter Ehire Adrianza, but Roberts' odd choice of pitchers had been a disaster, and one with possible longer-term adverse consequences too, given how having been used as a reliever had affected Scherzer in this game. Anyway, in a repeat of Game 1's pattern, Snitker now sent in his closer Will Smith to pitch the 9th and he dispatched the Dodgers in order. Roberts now decided to have Brusdar Graterol - who should have handled the 8th inning - pitch the 9th and he gave up a lead-off single to d'Arnaud. Cristian Pache pinch ran for him, but he was forced out on Swanson's weak attempt at a sacrifice bunt. Heredia followed with another ground ball, but this time Swanson advanced to scoring position. Roberts now decided it was time to bring in his closer, Kenley Jansen, for some reason, to face Rosario with the game on the line. On his first pitch, Rosario singled to center, his fourth hit of the game, and Swanson scored easily for a second Braves walk-off win in two nights. Do you want more second guessing in a game that was a treasure trove of these: why would you elect to pitch to the red hot Rosario with first base open since the extremely struggling Freeman was due up after him? This series was turning out to be very, very interesting as the two teams now headed to the West Coast.
Game 3 @ Dodger Stadium
|WP: Tony Gonsolin (1-0); LP: Luke Jackson (0-1); SV: Kenley Jansen (1)|
|Home Runs: LA - Corey Seager (2), Cody Bellinger (1)|
- Attendance: 51,307
At one point in Game 3, it looked like the Dodgers were ready to roll over and play dead: they were trailing 5-2 heading into the bottom of the 8th, after having lost the first two games of the series, and their bats had been completely silent since the 1st inning. But they finally woke up and a three-run homer by Cody Bellinger followed shortly afterwards by a run-scoring double by Mookie Betts turned the game and the series around, as they ended up 6-5 winners. Indeed, the fans were already heading for the exits when the game suddenly turned around. On the mound, Walker Buehler, the team's new home-grown ace after injuries had sidelined Clayton Kershaw, was starting against veteran Charlie Morton, and Justin Turner was back in the starting line-up at third base.
The Braves committed a big blunder in the top of the 1st inning after Eddie Rosario and Freddie Freeman hit back-to-back singles to start things off, the latter breaking Freeman's 0-for-8 slump to start the series. With men of first and second, Ozzie Albies lined a ball to shallow center; Rosario must have been convinced it would drop, as he took off for third, and then was easily doubled off when CF Gavin Lux caught the ball rather easily. A potential big inning was averted as a result, and then the Dodgers put up almost a repeat of the 1st inning of Game 2, except this time Betts walked to reach first base before Corey Seager drove a ball into the stands for a quick 2-0 lead before they had even made an out. Morton appeared out of sorts in that inning, as he would eventually issue three more walks, as well as make a wild pitch. But with the bases loaded he got Chris Taylor to line out to SS Dansby Swanson. The Dodgers also had some regrets, since they had put Morton in the ropes but had let him escape. The Braves hit into another double play in the 2nd, this one a conventional one, while Morton settled down even if he allowed a hit to Betts in the bottom of the inning.
The Braves made their reply in the 4th, getting a big inning thanks to a few lucky breaks. Freeman led off with a second single, once again gently pushing a ball to the opposite field, and after one out, Austin Riley hit a ball to center that Lux lost in the sun and saw bounce off his glove; it was originally ruled a double, but after the game, the official scorer reversed his decision and gave Lux an error. With runners on second and third, it looked like Buehler had struck out Joc Pederson looking, but umpire Jerry Meals called the pitch a ball, and given a reprieve, Pederson then singled to right to drive in a first run. Up next was Adam Duvall, who had not driven in a run so far this postseason after leading the National League in RBIs during the season, but he broke that slump by shattering his bat and seeing the ensuing ball drop into center field to tie the score. Buehler then walked Travis d'Arnaud to load the bases, and Swanson followed with a single past SS Seager to put the Braves ahead. There was just one out, and it seemed certain that Atlanta would send in someone to pinch-hit for Morton (Ehire Adrianza had been in the on-deck circle), but Brian Snitker sent his pitcher to bat, with the obvious caveat that he would shoot him if he took the bat off his shoulder. So Buehler struck him out looking, but the red hot Rosario was up next, and he drew a walk that forced in a fourth run. That was it for Buehler, who gave way to Alex Vesia, which also meant that for a third straight game, it would be a long slog for the Dodgers' bullpen. Vesia ended the inning by getting Freeman, in his second at-bat of the inning, to line out to left, but Los Angeles would need to use seven more pitchers to finish this game.
In the immediate, however, the decision to leave Morton in the game paid off as he delivered two more scoreless innings, even though a walk of Betts in the 4th meant that he had matched his personal high of issuing six walks in one game. He still ended up with just 2 runs allowed in 5 innings, and left with a 5-2 lead as the Braves added an insurance run in the 5th. With Corey Knebel pitching, Ozzie Albies led off with a single and stole second, after which Riley walked. Albies advanced to third on a fly out by Pederson then, with Phil Bickford having replaced Knebel, scored on a single by Duvall. Over the next few innings, Dave Roberts made a number of pitching changes, seemingly without rhyme or reason except maybe that he wanted to see what every one of his pitchers had in the tank that day. Even Evan Phillips, who had not yet appeared in a postseason game this year, got to take the mound in the 7th, before being replaced halfway through the 8th. The Braves did put a few men on base, but it was not as if anyone was being hit hard; one must conclude that Roberts simply likes to make a lot of pitching changes. In any case, the score was still 5-2 heading into the bottom of the 8th, with A.J. Minter having taken care of the 6th and Tyler Matzek of the 7th for the Braves. The Dodgers had looked anemic since the 1st, and the fans were starting to head out of Dodger Stadium to beat the notorious L.A. traffic. And then everything turned around.
Luke Jackson was given the mission of getting through the 8th, but he got off badly by allowing a single to Will Smith, only the Dodgers' fifth hit of the game. He got Justin Turner to pop up for the first out, but then gave up another single, to A.J. Pollock to bring up Bellinger as the potential tying run. By this point, Bellinger's well-documented struggles in the regular season were a thing of the past, as he had had some key hits in both the Wild Card Game and Division Series, and today he looked like the 2019 MVP as he crushed a high fastball on a 1-2 count, sending it so deep to right field that Pederson did not even move. Just like that, the game was tied, and what remained of the crowd was back in the game. The turn-around had been so sudden that no one was warming up for the Braves, and Jackson was left in to face Taylor, who singled as well. With Matt Beaty pinch-hitting for the most recent Dodgers' pitcher, Tony Gonsolin, Snitker took Jackson out of the game, replacing him with Jesse Chavez who had already warmed up twice before, and had been ready to come into the game way back in the 4th when Morton had been unexpectedly asked to bat for himself. Chavez got Beaty to ground out, but not before Taylor had stolen second base, and now he was standing on third after the ground ball, with the ever-dangerous Betts coming up. There had been no signature moment - yet - for Mookie this postseason, apart from one great throw from right field, but today he did not miss his chance, driving a ball to the wall in center for a double as Taylor scored the go-ahead run. The Dodgers continued to push, as Seager was walked intentionally and Trea Turner followed with an infield single to load the bases. Chavez then finally got Smith, who had started off the inning, to pop up to end it, but the damage had been done. Roberts did not try anything unconventional to end the game this time: he just gave the ball to closer Kenley Jansen, who, in his familiar role, just mowed down the Braves' heart of the order in the top of the 9th to save the win. Down on strikes went Riley, Pederson and Duvall, and the game was over, the Dodgers having pulled a dramatic win out of the fire.
Game 4 @ Dodger Stadium
|WP: Drew Smyly (1-0); LP: Julio Urias (0-1)|
|Home Runs: ATL - Eddie Rosario 2 (2), Adam Duvall (1), Freddie Freeman (1)|
- Attendance: 53,025
The Braves were initially going to start Gabriel Ynoa in Game 4, but he came down with shoulder tendinitis and was placed on the injured list on the day of the game, making him unavailable for the remainder of the postseason. Instead, the Braves used veteran Jesse Chavez as an opener, knowing full well that the absolute most he could pitch would be two innings. In the end, he pitched only one inning, but that was because his teammates put some runs on the board early, and he was replaced by a pinch-hitter when his turn to bat came up in the top of the 2nd. But his successor, Drew Smyly, also pitched well, which was not really the case for Julio Urias, who gave the Braves an early lead by surrendering three gopher balls. It could well have been the result of having inexplicably been used in a relief role in Game 2 that messed up his preparation, just as an earlier relief outing had done for Max Scherzer in that same game. Whatever it was, the Dodgers were not getting much out of their starters, and their overused bullpen eventually cracked after a great effort in Game 3. In terms of starting line-ups, the Dodgers put Gavin Lux back in center field in spite of his adventures in the previous game, and Cody Bellinger at first base, while the Braves had Dansby Swanson leading off instead of Eddie Rosario due to the presence of a lefthander on the mound.
The 1st inning went quickly, with Urias giving up just a walk to Freddie Freeman and Chavez retiring the only three batters he would face today. That was because, in the 2nd, Rosario led off the inning with a homer to left-center field and Adam Duvall followed with another homer, this one to dead center. Both long balls were hit on fastballs, prompting Urias to limit his use the pitch. Joc Pederson then hit a crushing line drive down the first base line, but Bellinger made a nice play to catch it in foul territory. However, Travis d'Arnaud followed with a single as it was clear that Urias was not fooling anyone with his pitches. The pitcher's spot was up next, and Brian Snitker decided to use a pinch-hitter, with Johan Camargo hitting a ground ball that moved d'Arnaud into scoring position with two outs. However, Urias managed to get Swanson on a fly ball to end the inning, but the Dodgers were down, 2-0. Smyly then came in to pitch and he made it six straight outs with a 1-2-3 inning, although with the help of Duvall, who perfectly timed his leap in center field to deprive Lux of a home run. In the 3rd, Urias gave up another long ball, this one to Freeman who was leading off. With two outs, Rosario hit a triple to right field. Dave Roberts elected to issue an intentional walk to Duvall, who had found his hitting stroke again after being a non-factor in the Braves' first six games of the postseason, but Pederson burnt Urias with a single to center to make it 4-0. Smyly then pitched another perfect inning, the interesting bit being that Roberts allowed Urias to bat for himself, even though he had clearly shown he had nothing on the mound. But, with a big deficit already, and a bullpen game scheduled in Game 5, any innings his bullpen did not have to pitch today was a bonus, even though it meant he was almost conceding this game with six innings left to play.
Urias did pitch a 1-2-3 inning in the 4th, justifying at least for now the decision to leave him in, but Smyly again kept the Dodgers without a hit, allowing a first baserunner with a one-out walk to Corey Seager, who was stranded. The Braves then added a fifth run in the 5th, on singles by Ozzie Albies and Rosario and a sacrifice fly by Duvall. Justin Turner finally got the Dodgers' first hit in the bottom of the 5th, a one-out single, and the Dodgers were able to mount a small rally. Bellinger followed with another single, moving Turner to third, and Brian Snitker replaced Smyly with Chris Martin. He got Chris Taylor to fly out to shallow right, but with A.J. Pollock pinch-hitting for Urias, Bellinger stole second base unconstested and then both runners scored on a single to right. The score was now 5-2, the same one from which the Dodgers had mounted their successful late-game comeback the previous day, so all hope was far from lost, but after Mookie Betts grounded out on Martin's next pitch, they would hardly stir the rest of the game. Urias had at least given his manager some length - by 2021 standards - even if he had left the game with his team in a deep hole, and the next few relievers would manage to keep the game close: first came Phil Bickford, then Justin Bruihl with two outs in the 7th, and Tony Gonsolin in the 8th. During that three-inning stretch, the Braves only managed two baserunners, and it was d'Arnaud both times, on a single and on an error by Betts, now playing center field. But the Dodgers could not take advantage of that offensive lull. A.J. Minter went 1-2-3 for the Braves in the 6th, then got Justin Turner to hit into a double play after Albert Pujols had led off the 7th with a pinch single and Walker Buehler was used as a pinch-runner. Turner pulled a hamstring in trying to beat the throw and left the game; it was later learned that he would be unavailable for the rest of the series. In the 8th, Tyler Matzek took over for Minter, and he got the Braves in order, meaning the Dodgers had made 10 outs with 10 batters since Pollock's single had driven in their only two runs.
At 5-2, the game was still close, but the Braves put it away in the top of the 9th. With Gonsolin still on the mound as the Dodgers were resting their higher-leverage relievers for tomorrow's must-win game, Swanson led off with a single then stole second base on a close play. He scored on an automatic double by Freeman, Albies drew a walk and, after Austin Riley struck out, Rosario closed the books by hitting his second homer of the game, a three-run shot that made it 9-2. On the day, Rosario went 4 for 5 with 3 runs, 4 RBIs, two homers and a triple; he was the second player to have two four-hit games in one postseason series, following Robin Yount in the 1982 World Series. Will Smith then pitched the bottom of the 9th just to get some work in, and he made quick work of the Dodgers with yet another 1-2-3 inning. The Braves were one game away from the World Series, and for the Dodgers the only consolation was that they had been in this same position before, trailing the Braves three games to one, as recently as last year's NLCS and had emerged victorious. In fact, they had won the last six postseason games in which they faced possible elimination, but they would need to so again three times if they were to defend their Championship title.
Game 5 @ Dodger Stadium
|WP: Evan Phillips (1-0); LP: Max Fried (0-1)|
|Home Runs: ATL - Freddie Freeman (1); LA - A.J. Pollock 2 (2), Chris Taylor 3 (3)|
- Attendance: 51,363
The Dodgers won Game 5 to remain alive, although things did not start out well, as their starter, Joe Kelly, acting as an opener, failed to complete the 1st inning, leaving with an injury after staking the Braves to a 2-0 lead. Worse, he was done for the postseason, victim of a forearm strain, and joining a crowded list of injured key players for Los Angeles that already numbered Clayton Kershaw, Max Muncy and Justin Turner. What saved the Dodgers was the bottom of the order, as batters 5 to 8 went a combined 12 for 18 with 8 runs and 10 RBIs, with a total of 5 homers. It's hard to counter that, and the Braves weren't able to, not doing much after their initial outburst while starter Max Fried wasn't sharp, giving up 5 runs in 4 2/3 innings. Meanwhile, resorting to a bullpen game worked for the Dodgers, as following Kelly's early departure, six relievers held the Braves in check, with no runs on just three hits over the final 8 1/3 innings. Facing a lefthander and having to replace Justin Turner, the Dodgers inserted A.J. Pollock and Albert Pujols in the line-up, with Chris Taylor taking Turner's spot; all three would make huge contributions in this game. For its part, Atlanta got some good news as OF Jorge Soler was cleared to return to the team after a positive COVID-19 test a few days earlier, although he did not start in this game.
In the 1st inning, it looked like the Braves wanted to blow the Dodgers out of the water and end the series right there. After Eddie Rosario lined out following a long at-bat, Ozzie Albies dropped a single to left against the defensive shift and Freddie Freeman followed by depositing a ball into the center field seats for a quick 2-0 lead. Kelly got Austin Riley to ground out after another long at-bat, but with an 0-2 count on Adam Duvall, he felt something in his arm and was immediately removed from the game. Evan Phillips replaced him and completed the strikeout of Duvall, but the inning had been very deflating for the Dodger faithful, especially after Fried went through the bottom of the inning by allowing just a single. In the 2nd, Phillips retired the Braves in order, and then the Dodgers' bats went to work. Pollock led off with a solo homer and Pujols followed with a single. Up next, Taylor drove the first pitch he saw to the bullpen area in left field, and that quickly the Dodgers were in the lead, 3-2. They would never surrender it. Fried struggled through the rest of that inning, putting two more runners on on a single and hit batsman, but Corey Seager grounded out to Freeman at first to end it, although it was clear that Fried was not on a good day.
In the 3rd, Alex Vesia only faced the minimum when Rosario was caught stealing at second after hitting a single, then the Dodgers added a fourth run, courtesy of the same three batters: Pollock singled and went to third on a single by Pujols, and Taylor singled to center to drive him in. In the 4th, Brusdar Graterol, whose normal beat was the 7th inning, came to pitch and got the Braves in order. By this point, there was no point in scratching one's head about the pitching decisions of Dave Roberts as they seemed to be entirely random. Fried also retired the Dodgers in order, earning himself another inning on the mound when Graterol pitched another 1-2-3 inning in the 5th, as he was the next batter due up and would likely have given way to a pinch-hitter had anyone reached base. But there is a saying about going to the well too many times, and Fried put the game out of reach in the 5th when he walked lead-off man Will Smith, escaped briefly thanks to a double play grounder, but walked Pujols. That was it for him, as he was replaced by Chris Martin. Taylor was up next and he hit his second homer of the game for a 6-2 lead. Cody Bellinger followed with a single and Roberts let Graterol bat for himself to make the final out, not wanting to waste a pinch-hitter at this point, even though Graterol was done pitching after going two innings. Blake Treinen, normally the 8th-inning guy, came in next, and left Rosario stranded after he hit a one-out double. Dylan Lee, who had been added to the roster to replace the injured Gabriel Ynoa, pitched a scoreless bottom of the 6th for Atlanta before Treinen pitched a second scoreless inning. It was clear at this point that the Braves were already focused on how they would need to put away the Dodgers in one of the two remaining games to be played in their home ballpark, and they were just going through the motions. For their part, the Dodgers padded their stats by scoring five runs during their final two turns at bat, not that this changed anything. Taylor his his third homer in the 7th, and in the 8th, the first three batters singled off Jacob Webb and Pollock hit his second homer, a three-run shot, to make it 11-2. Corey Knebel handled the 8th and Kenley Jansen the 9th, with neither giving up a run. The Dodgers had won the first of three must-win games, but their next two would come on the road, with no margin for error.
Game 6 @ Truist Park
|WP: Tyler Matzek (1-0); LP: Walker Buehler (0-1); SV: Will Smith (1)|
|Home Runs: ATL - Eddie Rosario (3)|
- Attendance: 43,060
Max Scherzer was originally supposed to start Game 6 for the Dodgers, but the day before the game, he complained that his arm hadn't yet bounced back from his erratic usage over the past ten days or so, and he was scratched from the assignment. A day later, the Dodgers announced that they would go with Walker Buehler on short rest, likely figuring it would be tempting fate to go with yet another bullpen game, and that it was better to at least have a real starter out there, even if he was unlikely to make more than 80 or so pitches. In the end, Buehler was unable to go more than four innings, as their earlier decisions to use some of their starters in relief continued to have negative ripple effects for the Dodgers. For Atlanta, Ian Anderson also only pitched four innings, but it was because manager Brian Snitker saw a key opportunity to put precious runs on the board in the bottom of the 4th and grabbed it, using a pinch-hitter in Anderson's place, a decision that proved to be prescient and a key to the 4-2 win that returned the Braves to the World Series twenty-two years after their last appearance. The only change to the starting line-ups was Dave Roberts deciding to use Matt Beaty at first base with a right-hander on the mound.
Anderson started things off with a 1-2-3 inning for the Braves, but Buehler got into immediate trouble by allowing a lead-off single to Eddie Rosario. He was erased when Freddie Freeman grounded into a double play, but Ozzie Albies then doubled to right and came to score when Austin Riley followed with another double, that bounced over the fence. Anderson recorded three more straight outs in the 2nd, while Buehler allowed a two-out single to Travis d'Arnaud. A.J. Pollock became the Dodgers' first baserunner when he led off the 3rd with a double, but he was stranded there when Beaty lined out to right, Buehler struck out, and Mookie Betts grounded out to third base. Buehler allowed two more baserunners in the 3rd, walking Freeman and allowing a single to Riley, but both were stranded. Still, the Braves had clearly dominated the first third of the game, with five baserunners to the Dodgers' one, and a 1-0 lead.
The Dodgers managed to tie the score in the 4th when after one out Trea Turner drew a walk - his first of the postseason -, went to second on a single by Will Smith, then scored when Cody Bellinger singled to right with two outs. However, Pollock ended the threat with a pop-up to 3B Riley, and then the Braves got the big inning they had been looking for. Buehler retired the first two batters before d'Arnaud drew a walk, at which point Brian Snitker rolled the diced and pulled back his pitcher to send in pinch-hitter Ehire Adrianza. Buehler managed to shatter his bat, but the ball fell inside the right field line and rolled towards the corner for a double. Next up was Rosario, who was busy re-writing the Braves' postseason record book, having already had two-four-hit games in the series; after fouling off a number of nasty pitches, he added another chapter to his growing legend by pulling a pitch inside the right foul pole for a three-run homer, thereby clinching the NLCS MVP Award. The crowd at Truist Park went absolutely wild as the ball shot off from his bat like a cannon. A shaken Buehler then walked Freeman on four pitches before striking out Albies to end the inning. One can't say for sure that it was working on short rest again that did him in, but the usually stingy Buehler had seen a ton of traffic on the bases during his four innings of work, and Atlanta's 4-1 lead had been well-earned.
Relievers pitched the remainder of the game. Atlanta first sent in A.J. Minter who continued his excellent work this postseason by getting the Dodgers in order in both the 5th and the 6th. He normally should have been credited with the win, but the official scorer decided to give it to Tyler Matzek instead, with Anderson ineligible, for reasons that will soon be made clear, but that shouldn't detract from the fact that he was outstanding at a key point of the game. For the Dodgers, Brusdar Graterol hit Joc Pederson with a pitch in the bottom of the 5th, but there was no other damage, and in the 6th, he retired the first two men he faced, including Johan Camargo, pinch-hitting for Minter, before giving way to lefty Alex Vesia with two lefthanded batters coming up. Vesia was careful facing Rosario and Freeman, not wanting to hang a pitch in the middle of the strike zone, and ended up walking both. A couple of years ago, he would have been removed before facing the next batter, Albies, a switch-hitter who was more dangerous against lefties, but he had to face a third batter according to the new rules introduced in 2020. So there was some trepidation as he pitched to Albies, and he was once again careful, and it once again resulted in a walk, loading the bases. He was now replaced by Blake Treinen, with Riley in a position to break the Dodgers' backs. But Treinen was up to the task, striking him out to end the inning. The Dodgers were still alive, but they had dodged a bullet. Next to come to the mound for Atlanta was Luke Jackson, and the Dodgers' batters immediately remembered that they had mounted their big comeback in Game 3 against him, and proceeded to put in place the ingredients for another glorious inning. Chris Taylor led off with a double and Bellinger drew a walk, before Pollock doubled to left to cut the Braves' lead to 4-2. That was all for Jackson, and Matzek now came in for the outing that earned him the win. He got Albert Pujols, who had come in as a pinch-hitter against Minter, to strike out in what was possibly the final at-bat of a brilliant career, as did Steven Souza, pinch-hitting for Treinen, and finally Betts. That was about as clutch as any relief outing can be, and the Dodgers went from feeling like they were back in the game to being completely deflated in the span of a few short minutes.
Matzek pitched a perfect inning in the 8th, then Kenley Jansen came out for the Dodgers and allowed a lead-off double to pinch-hitter Jorge Soler, his first hit since being incapacitated by COVID-19 at the end of the Division Series. He was replaced by pinch-runner Guillermo Heredia, who advanced to third base on a fly out by Rosario. Jansen had to bear down with a runner on third and less than two outs, after issuing an intentional walk to Freeman to set up a potential double play. It turned out he did not need a twin killing, as he took care of business himself by striking out both Albies and Riley to end the inning. The Dodgers were still two runs down heading into the top of the 9th, facing closer Will Smith. Smith struck out Taylor and Bellinger in succession, then got Pollock to ground out to SS Dansby Swanson to end the game. The Dodgers had not been able to repeat their feat from last year by coming back from a three games to one deficit, and it was the Braves who would face the Houston Astros in the World Series.
- Mark Bowman: "'Pure joy' for Braves: 1st pennant since '99: Series MVP Rosario helps Atlanta overcome loss of star outfielder Acuña", mlb.com, October 24, 2021. 
- AJ Cassavell: "LA's unconventional pitching moves snowball: Dodgers lean heavily on Scherzer, Urías and Buehler in taxing postseason", mlb.com, October 24, 2021. 
- Anthony Castrovince, Mark Feinsand and Alyson Footer: "Roundtable: LAD? ATL? Who has NLCS edge?", mlb.com, October 15, 2021. 
- Zach Crizer: "Take the swing: Braves' ouster of 106-win Dodgers shows that October rewards ambition", Yahoo! Sports, October 24, 2021. 
- Mike DiGiovanna (Los Angeles Times): "Nine concerns the Dodgers should have about facing the Braves in the NLCS", Yahoo! Sports, October 15, 2021. 
- Mike Petriello: "Breaking down Dodgers-Braves by position", mlb.com, October 16, 2021. 
- Bill Shaikin (Los Angeles Times): "Commentary: Wall Street Baseball heading for a bust on opener pitching strategy?", Yahoo! Sports, October 17, 2021. 
- Andrew Simon: "Top Astros-Braves playoff moments", mlb.com, October 24, 2021. 
- Juan Toribio: "Dodgers' quest to repeat ends in NLCS", mlb.com, October 24, 2021. 
|Major League Baseball National League Championship Series