The Dodgers completed their hard-fought comeback against the Braves by winning the last three games. To close out the NLCS, they turned to an organizational mainstay to get the final outs on the mound.
It wasn’t Kenley Jansen, who pitched in the previous two games but was warming up in the eighth inning of Game 7. It wasn’t Clayton Kershaw, who was at least nominally available but not so much in any practical sense.
It was Julio Urías, the third Dodgers starter used on the night, with the best results of the bunch. Four days after throwing 101 pitches, the most by a Dodger in 2020, in five innings in Game 3, Urías got through the seventh and eighth innings on just 29 pitches, with the Dodgers clinging to a one-run lead.
“That was his moment right there. What he did for us in that game, you keep him going,” said shortstop Corey Seager. “That was his game to win.”
Urías was, in fact, in line for the win no matter whether he pitched the ninth. But the question was if he would close the game. Due up for the Braves were switch-hitter Ozzie Albies — who’s a career .346/.377/.575 right-handed hitter, and had two home runs and a double from the right side in the series — then right-handers Dansby Swanson and Austin Riley.
“In that moment, Julio with the days rest and how he was throwing the baseball in the preceding days, and what we asked of Kenley as far as usage,” manager Dave Roberts said, “we just kind of rode the hot hand right there.”
There wasn’t much drama despite the tight score in the ninth. Urías got ahead of Albies than on a 2-2 pitch got him to ground out on a changeup. Albies was 5-for-9 batting right-handed during the series, but 0-for-3 against Urías. Five pitches later, Urías got another ground out and a can of corn to center field to end it.
Urías retired all nine batters he faced on 39 pitches, earning his second win of the series, also winning Game 3. If Seager hadn’t set records at the plate, Urías could have been a worthy NLCS MVP, with one run allowed in five innings.
The last Dodgers reliever to finish a postseason game by pitching at least three innings while earning the win was Steve Howe in Game 4 of the 1981 World Series.
This postseason, Urías has allowed two runs (one earned) on seven hits in 16 innings, with 16 strikeouts and three walks. His four wins matched Burt Hooton in 1981 for the most by a Dodger in a single postseason.
Urías’ entire career has been marked by promise, always among the youngest at every stop in the minors. He debuted in the majors at 19, and for many years the Dodgers had to balance his development while also protecting his arm. But he still had anterior capsule surgery on his left shoulder in 2017 that cost him a season and a half.
Urías debuted in 2016, but at 24 years old is still the fifth-youngest Dodger on the 40-man roster. And since he signed with the team in August 2012, Urías is also the seventh-longest tenured player in the organization.
He’s alternated between starting and relief roles in years past to limit his innings, but in a truncated 2020 season he was given his first real extended run in the rotation. Urías made 10 starts and another six-inning outing in relief, following an opener, posting a 3.27 ERA and 3.72 FIP in 55 innings.
“Julio is very talented, he’s very smart, and he’s very tough. And we’ve kind of handled him over the last four years with kid gloves, trying to build him up and put him in different roles, some that he hasn’t really liked and appreciated, which I totally get,” Roberts said. “But when it comes down to it, he just wants to pitch, wants to compete, and wants the Dodgers to win.
“As far as tonight, all that stuff, it was his moment, and for me, I trust him. He was throwing the baseball well, and I wanted him to finish that game.”
And finish it he did.