Playoff Recap – Sunday 10/18

The World Series Matchup is set after a thrilling Game 7.

It was a wild night in Arlington, where the NLCS Game 7 had twists and turns that nearly every inning had you feeling that a different team would come out on top at the end. This one had it all: baserunning blunders, defensive gems, and towering homers. It was back and forth all night, but when a high fly ball off the bat of Austin Riley landed in Cody Bellinger’s glove, it would be the Los Angeles Dodgers who would go on to represent the National League in the 2020 World Series.

 

Dodgers 4, Braves 3

 

The night began with Dustin May, who just 2 days earlier had thrown 55 pitches in his Game 5 start. May ran into trouble early, walking both Ronald Acuña Jr. and Freddie Freeman on eight straight pitches. Two baserunners, no one out for the Braves. Not an ideal way to start off an elimination game. Marcell Ozuna stepped to the plate next and pounced on an 0-1 curveball for a single to left field. The back and forth had begun. 1-0 Braves.

May was able to induce a double play and a swinging strikeout on his next two batters, limiting the damage. The Dodgers then turned to Tony Gonsolin in the second, taking whatever length the right-hander could give them. Facing Dansby Swanson, Gonsolin’s third pitch of the evening was a 1-1 slider that was hung up in the heart of the zone. Swanson punished the mistake to deep left: 2-0 Braves.

While the Dodgers were mixing and matching their pitchers in the early innings, the Braves rode two scoreless frames from Ian Anderson until he too ran into the jaws of the Dodgers’ lineup. Even after a relatively quiet first inning, the paint was starting to chip a little. A near-miss homer from Will Smith to lead off the second inning followed by a very well-struck lineout from Cody Bellinger gave the Braves two big outs, but the Dodgers seemed to be squaring up the ball quite well. Back to back singles from AJ Pollock and Joc Pederson followed, bringing Chris Taylor to the plate.

Taylor had just returned from an ankle injury that had held him out of action. A passed ball moved the runners to second and third, and with Mookie Betts on deck, Taylor had a chance to tie the game and bring their best hitter to the plate. A seven-pitch at-bat ensued, and Anderson got Taylor to swing and miss on a changeup that juuust dropped out of the zone. Crisis averted—for now.

In the third, Gonsolin came back out for Los Angeles and rewarded them with a smooth sailing five-pitch inning. Things appeared to be going similarly in the bottom half as Anderson induced a quick Betts flyout and Seager groundout before walking third baseman Justin Turner. Facing Max Muncy, Anderson went with three straight changeups for a called strike, a ball, and a foul ball before trying to sneak a fastball by Muncy up in the zone. Muncy lined it to right for a double and catcher Will Smith came to bat. Smith would not miss his opportunity this time, as he attacked a first-pitch curveball and smacked it up the middle. It’s only the third inning and we had ourselves a brand new ball game.

Anderson was able to get out of the inning but that would do it for his night on the bump. The Braves came back out to bat in the top of the fourth and it led to some… interesting results. Gonsolin kicked off the inning by walking both Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson. Just like in the first, the Braves had two on with no one out. Third baseman Austin Riley came to the plate next and after quickly going 0-2, he was served up a middle-middle 86 MPH splitter that he promptly flared into center field. Albies touches home, and once again the Braves are back on top, 3-2.

That would do it for Gonsolin. Two hits and three walks over two frames with two earned runs charged to him. Not exactly what the Dodgers were hoping for in relief. So with two on and no one out, Dave Roberts went with Blake Treinen to try and limit the damage. With Nick Markakis up, Treinen bounced a curve in front of the plate that got away from Smith, and the runners advanced to second and third. What happened next is what I can only describe as a masterclass in terrible baserunning.

Markakis hit the ball sharply to third base, and the runner on third in Swanson decides to go on contact. Turner throws a bullet right at Will Smith to catch Swanson in a rundown. The back and forth concluded with Turner applying a diving tag to Swanson, and then popped back up to throw out Austin Riley trying to advance to third. From runners on second and third with no outs, to a runner on first with two outs. An absolute disaster for Atlanta, who could have made the fourth their big inning. Both Swanson and Riley gaffed on the play, as Swanson going on contact was a suicide mission at home while Riley, who saw Swanson in the rundown, broke back to second base twice before again committing to third. At that point, he has to assume Swanson is either scoring or out, and may as well just take third base. The hesitance gave the covering Corey Seager just enough time to apply the tag at third base. This one is going to haunt the Braves for a while. Watch this mess for yourselves:

Tyler Matzek came on in relief to start the fourth for Atlanta, and immediately was feeling the heat. Chris Taylor singled and Mookie Betts worked a walk, and Matzek bounced a pitch that Travis d’Arnaud couldn’t corral. A Justin Turner walk followed and the bases were loaded for LA with two outs. After escaping their own jam in the top of the frame, the Dodgers had a chance to tie the game and more. Facing Max Muncy, Matzek leaned heavily on his four-seamer, throwing the pitch four straight times that culminated in a swinging strikeout for Muncy. A relatively quiet fifth inning was next, but not before Betts could make another great postseason defensive play. A fly ball off the bat of Freddie Freeman looked like it might carry over the fence, but the right fielder had other plans:

The Braves called on AJ Minter for the sixth inning. Minter had served as Atlanta’s starter on Friday, racking up seven strikeouts across three scoreless innings in the eventual Braves loss. With Minter in the game, Roberts decided to pinch-hit for Pederson, bringing Kike Hernández up to bat. An eight-pitch duel culminated in a 97 MPH fastball that Hernández smoked to left-center for a solo homer. Once again we have a tie game in Arlington.

Julio Urías came on for the Dodgers in the seventh, sitting the Braves down in order on just 10 pitches. Chris Martin, who had recorded the last out of the sixth, looked sharp on two straight strikeouts from Muncy and Smith to start the following inning. What happened next is grade-A postseason lore. Center fielder Cody Bellinger came to the plate. After his MVP season in 2019, Bellinger’s 2020 paled in comparison. His batting line dipped to .239/.333/.455 and he just never looked as locked in as he did in the previous season. Martin was careful nonetheless, staying on the outer third of the plate mixing his cutter and sinker. With a 2-2 count, Bellinger fouled off three straight pitches to keep the inning alive. Much like the Hernández at-bat, Bellinger attacked the eighth pitch served to him, this one a sinker that hung up in the zone. 4-3, Dodgers.

The score would not change after Bellinger’s home run. Urías remained in the game for the next two innings, retiring all six Braves he would face in an absolutely electric relief performance that was understandably a bit overshadowed by the excitement of Bellinger’s go-ahead blast. Fittingly it was Bellinger himself who recorded the final out as well, as the Braves looked visibly deflated at the plate for the last six outs.  The Dodgers would be back to the World Series for the third time in four years.

It was a hard-fought series. Atlanta had been on the cusp of their first Fall Classic appearance since 1999. Leading the series at 3-1 following Thursday’s game, it seemed inevitable that they’d be back to the promised land. But the LA behemoth had other plans. This was one of the better, if not the best playoff series I have seen in recent memory, and I can only hope the World Series is just as fulfilling.

Los Angeles will take on Tampa Bay in Game 1 on Tuesday, October 10th at 8:09 ET. As far as LA’s mindset, I think reliever Kenley Jansen put it the best:

 

Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)

Liam Casey

Liam is a lifelong Yankee fan currently residing in Long Island, NY with his fiancee and their 2 dogs.

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