Championship Series Recap – Tuesday, 10/19

The strike zone is a social construct

The old guard (Charlie Morton) vs. the vanguard (Walker Buehler). The former is a 14-year MLB veteran and mercenary for hire, serving as a postseason ace for four separate teams. The latter is just 25 years old but has established himself as a Cy Young-caliber big-game pitcher. Somehow, Buehler has more playoff experience (2.50 ERA in 72 innings) than Morton (3.44 ERA in 70.2 innings).

Atlanta held a commanding 2 – 0 series lead. Would Buehler deliver for Los Angeles when they needed him most?

 

Braves 5, Dodgers 6

 

Yes, Los Angeles pulled this one out. But it was only by the skin of their teeth.

If you could sum out the Dodgers offense in one word, it would be: walks. They got a lot of them. Six of them off Charlie Morton, to be exact. Hits? Eh, those were a lot harder to come by.

The first inning started off great for Los Angeles. A Mookie Betts walk and a Corey Seager home run gave them a quick and much-needed 2 – 0 lead.

Heads up, that was the 13th postseason home run in Seager’s career — that ties Justin Turner for the most in Dodgers history (over half of those came during last year’s NLCS and World Series).

Remember how I said the Dodgers got a lot of walks? They got three more that first inning to load the bases. But Morton, after 36 pitches in the first, forced a Chris Taylor line out to escape further trouble.

Fast forward to the fourth. Both starters had hunkered down and delivered a couple of innings of quality pitching. Morton had some wiffle balls working.

And Buehler had his usual nastiness.

But Freddie Freeman is Freddie Freeman. You know, the reigning MVP. In the fourth, he slashed a leadoff single. Two batters later, the Braves began a batting bonanza. Six out of seven batters reached base, with four runs scoring — all in separate plate appearances.

Joc Pederson, victim of a vicious Cody Bellinger nut tap…

…Kicked off the rally with an RBI single. Adam Duvall added on with his own run-scoring single, and Dansby Swanson gave Atlanta the lead with this base knock.

A bases-loaded walk to Eddie Rosario knocked Buehler out of the game. His final line: 3.2 IP, 7 H, 4 ER, 3 BB, and 3 K.

Meanwhile, Morton had regained his composure after a shaky first inning and somehow made it to fifth. The Dodgers put a baserunner on in every inning against him, but they couldn’t put run No. 3 on the board.

After five innings, Morton called it a day and handed the game off to the bullpen. For Uncle Charlie, his line: 5 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 6 BB, and 5 K.

As the game continued on, the Braves bullpen looked even nastier.

Meanwhile, Albert Pujols took over bullpen phone duties to try and motivate his disciples.

A whisper began to echo throughout the Chavez Ravine, imploring the Dodgers bats to, you know, just hit already. Staring down the barrel of a three-game series deficit, such a task was immediate and necessary. That chorus reverberated among a sea of blue and white, growing fainter and fainter with every passing pitch.

“I can hit,” volunteered a nameless voice in the eighth inning.

“Do not deceive us!” Responded the Dodger faithful. “Who art thou?”

“‘Tis I, Cody Bellinger, son of Clay Bellinger, winner of MVPs.”

“Please hit, Mr. Bellinger!” The people cried out. “We need you. Please hit!!!”

And so Bellinger hit.

It was a powerful blast. One that shook the very foundation of Dodger Stadium and the tens of thousands of seats above it.

Cody Bellinger painted his “Mona Lisa.”

Just like that, more people stepped forward to tilt the scale back in LA’s favor. A single from Chris Taylor followed, who then stole second moments later. Next, Mookie Betts raised his hand.

“I too can hit and win MVPs,” Betts bellowed.

And so Betts hit.

Out of what felt like an empty void came a Dodgers lead.

Although they threatened to score more runs with a bases-loaded opportunity for Will Smith, the Fresh Prince did not deliver.

The bats handed off the baton. Kenley Jansen took hold of the game. He was set to face three batters who had already gone 5-for-10 with two walks and three RBIs on the day. How did Jansen fare?

By striking out the side, of course.

For the first time in Dodgers postseason history, they won after trailing by three or more runs in the seventh or later. Even back in the days of Jackie Robinson and Sandy Koufax, they did not accomplish this.

Dodger Stadium has quite literally never seen a hometown comeback like that.

Now 3,000 miles away, another showdown was brewing… Game Four at Fenway.

With the Red Sox leading the series 2 – 1, could they build an infallible 3 – 1 lead, or could the Astros tie it up?

 

Astros 9, Red Sox 2

 

The score you see here paints an inaccurate picture of how the game transpired. Sure, the stat sheet shows an overwhelming blowout in Houston’s favor. But as late as two outs in the top of the ninth, this was a real heart-palpitating nailbiter.

Here’s one graphic to give you an idea of how this game played:

This game was more or less a good ol’ fashioned three-way duel: Astros vs. Red Sox vs. Laz Diaz.

Some fans were a bit nervous for this game with Diaz behind the plate, considering he was one of the worst umpires this year. But besides the many questionable calls, this game played out similarly to Game Three of the NLCS.

Both offenses jumped on the board in the first inning. For Houston, Alex Bregman, who has been unusually quiet this postseason, launched a loud solo shot to make the score 1 – 0.

But a couple of outs later, Xander Bogaerts responded with an even more thunderous and deafening blast of his own. Just like that, the score is 2 – 1 for Boston.

Fun fact: in the Wild Card Game, Bogaerts had 1 HR and 2 RBIs. In the ALDS, another 1 HR and 2 RBIs. Now so far in the ALCS? You guessed it, 1 HR and 2 RBIs. In the best postseason series of Bogaerts’ career (before 2021), he also only managed 1 HR and 2 RBIs (’18 ALDS). Has he already met his production quota for this series?

Sorry, I get sidetracked by stats sometimes a lot. Anyways, where were we…

Oh yeah, pitching. Zack Greinke started for Houston, but he hadn’t thrown more than 28 pitches in a game since Sept. 19. At 37 pitches in the second, Dusty Baker gave him the hook and turned it over to the bullpen.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, got an excellent performance from Nick Pivetta, who displayed some creative deliveries.

But overall, Pivetta was lights out and made many Astro hitters look foolish.

With Pivetta due to face the Astros lineup for the third time, Alex Cora gave him the hook after five innings of excellence (2 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, and 3 K). At just 65 pitches, Pivetta could’ve gone deeper. Do you think Cora made the right call?

For the first few innings that followed, Cora’s plan worked. Josh Taylor and Adam Ottavino combined for a scoreless sixth and seventh. As for the Red Sox bats, let’s just say they were a bit frustrated…

From the second through the fifth, Boston had a man in scoring position every single inning. But try as they might, they could not plate another runner this game. The confusing and constantly evolving strike zone didn’t help, and Cora aired his grievances to Diaz.

But to be fair, the Houston bullpen was nails as well, with particular credit going to Cristian Javier and his three scoreless innings of relief.

With the pitching proving excellent, this game would ultimately come down to one swing of the bat.

Enter Jose Altuve in the eighth.

Two years ago to the date of his dramatic ALCS-clinching home run off Aroldis Chapman, Altuve delivered in the clutch. Against Garrett Whitlock, Boston’s best reliever, nonetheless.

With the score tied 2 – 2 going into the ninth, the Red Sox turned things over to their best starter, Nathan Eovaldi, who is no stranger to making unexpected relief appearances in the playoffs.

The inning started off ominously for Boston, with Carlos Correa knocking a leadoff double that would’ve been a homer in 14/30 ballparks. But Eovaldi rebounded, striking out a pair of batters and needing just one more to escape trouble.

With two outs and a 1 – 2 count against Jason Castro, Eovaldi dropped this beauty of a curve.

Unfortunately, Diaz had his own unique concept of a strike zone.

The inning continued on. Two pitches later, Castro turned on one and gave Houston the lead.

What should’ve been a clean ninth inning spiraled into a disaster for Boston.

Next, Eovaldi walked Altuve to load the bases, and Cora replaced him with Martin Perez. Then came a classic Astros hit parade that began with Michael Brantley (owner of baseball’s fourth-best batting average at .311) clearing the bases.

What followed next: IBB, RBI Single, RBI Single, RBI Single, F7.

In a dramatic turn of events, the Astros led 9 – 2. Although the Red Sox put together a couple singles with two outs in the ninth, they could not surmount such a lead.

The series became tied 2 – 2—one more game in Boston before they travel back to Houston.

Check out Game Five of the ALCS tonight at 5:08 p.m. EST/2:08 p.m. PST on FS1.

As for Game Four of the NLCS, tune in to TBS at 8:08 p.m. EST/5:08 p.m. PST.

 

Photo by John Cordes/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)

Alex Kleinman

Journalist who loves the Yankees and the Bears. One gives me strength, the other leads me to existential dread. When I'm not obsessing over baseball, you can find me at a concert, hiking in a National Park or chasing my dog, Frankie, who has probably stolen one of my socks.

  • theKraken says:

    I have long been a big WB backer and I would not call him a big game pitcher. If anything, I would say that he is far from that. LAD has not developed him very well as a durable starting pitcher – he runs out of gas and doesn’t pitch through trouble like he should at this point in his career. I figure that is because they have never given him enough trust to let him develop that. It is satisfying to see Eddie Rosario being a postseason factor – he was left for dead halfway through the season. The modern game doesn’t value a good hitter like Eddie Rosario because he doesn’t walk a lot but that doesn’t change the fact that ability to hit is the most important tool and he has that. Belly gets ten times the praise that he deserves – been that was his entire career. Funny to see the Dodgers change his position in the postseason. The people off the field managing this franchise are absolutely baseball illiterates. Let’s change everything in the postseason while none of us could differentiate a tennis ball from a baseball.

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