Dodger fans cannot fill Dodger Stadium right now, but that didn’t stop them from flocking to Arlington, Texas, where they took over Globe Life Field for a winner-take-all Game 7 on Sunday.
For the third straight game the Dodgers teetered upon the bridge of chance. A victory and they could continue across the bridge towards their third World Series in four years.
A loss, and they would fall off the bridge into the uncertain abyss below.
But with their fans behind them they made it across that bridge, one pitch, one out, one inning at a time. Now they’re all going back to the World Series.
Enrique Hernandez and Cody Bellinger both homered as the Los Angeles Dodgers came from behind in the series, and in Game 7, to beat the Atlanta Braves, 4-3, in the National League Championship Series.
It was only fitting that this battle of NL heavyweights went the distance. Both teams took turns throwing knockout punches at each other throughout the series with devastating effect.
Just as we thought the Dodgers were down for the count after Game 5, they got up off the mat and punched back, ensuring their would be a winner-take-all Game 7.
The final blow came from Bellinger.
The reigning NL MVP had been having a difficult postseason. As he stepped into the batter’s box with two outs in the bottom of the seventh, he was batting .167 with nine strikeouts in the series.
With one swing he changed all that.
Bellinger became just the third player in LCS history to hit a go-ahead homer in the 7th inning or later when he sent a 94 MPH sinker into the seats in right field to bring the Dodgers one step closer to history.
For the second time in three games, the Dodgers sent Texas native Dustin May to the mound for the start. This time, everyone knew he would not be there for very long.
In the shortest Game 7 start since 1996, May was wild to start the game. May threw eight straight balls that led to back-to-back walks before he threw his first strike. That’s when Marcell Ozuna struck with an RBI single for the first run of the game.
With a new pitcher on the mound in the second, Dansby Swanson greeted Tony Gonsolin with a solo shot to left field to give the Braves an early 2-0 lead.
Atlanta starter Ian Anderson started for the Braves with their season on his shoulders. He had not allowed a run the entire postseason and he mowed down the Dodgers lineup in the first two innings on Sunday.
But something happened the second time through the order. The Dodgers’ hitters finally started seeing Anderson better. The more familiar they were, the more comfortable they became, and that all came to a fever pitch in the third inning.
Justin Turner worked an eight-pitch walk, Max Muncy doubled down the right field line, and Will Smith brought them both home with a two-out, two-run single to center that tied the game at two.
Atlanta would answer back minutes later. After back-to-back walks by Gonsolin to start the fourth, Austin Riley singled home a run and the Braves were back on top, 3-2.
For the third straight day, the Dodgers were facing elimination. And for the third straight game their season dangled on the defensive prowess of right fielder Mookie Betts.
It’s those singular moments throughout a seven-game series that one can point to as being a play that completely shifted momentum to one side or the other.
In Game 5, it was Betts’ shoestring catch that led to Ozuna’s baserunning blunder. In Game 6, it was Betts’ leaping catch at the wall. In Game 7, he did it again, robbing Freddie Freeman of a homer that kept the lead at one-run in the top of the fifth.
That’s not to say the Braves didn’t have another baserunning blunder that helped the Dodgers.
With runners on second and third and no outs, Nick Markakis hit a groundball to third base and the Dodgers threw home to get Swanson in a rundown. Turner made a leaping tag and immediately threw back to Seager at third who tagged Riley for a double play.
Known for his NLCS heroics, Hernandez once again played a pivotal role in sending the Dodgers back to the Fall Classic. Hernandez cracked a 97 MPH fastball off the upper-deck in left field to tie the game. It was the second pinch-hit homer in a Game 7 in MLB history, and the first since Troy O’Leary in 2003.
Bellinger’s go-ahaed blast in the bottom of the seventh gave the Dodgers their first lead of the game, and an NLCS record 16 total homers in the historic series.
It also made the sure Dodgers would become the second team in MLB history to comeback from a multi-run deficit in multiple elimination games since the Boston Red Sox in their comeback from down 0-3 in 2004.
In the end, nobody will remember how they got there, that they had to win three straight elimination games when all hope seemed lost. The players will certainly remember the journey, and the triumphs and tribulations along the way, but in the end all that will matter is that they got back to the World Series.
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