The Dodgers looked deader than a doornail for far too large a chunk of Game 3 of the National League Championship Series, a punchless offense combined with a shockingly poor start on the mound seemed certain to send them to a 3-0 series deficit.
But then Cody Bellinger awakened the Dodger Stadium crowd and his offense with a three-run home run, part of a stunning, four-run eighth, pulling out a 6-5 win over the Braves, and suddenly looking very much alive.
The big inning, such a large staple of an offense that led the league in runs scored during the regular season, has eluded the Dodgers for most of this postseason. They had 105 innings scoring three or more runs in 162 games, accounting for 7.4 percent of their innings.
Through the seventh inning of Game 3 on Tuesday, the Dodgers this postseason had just two such innings in nearly nine games, with both coming in the same game (Game 2 of the NLDS).
Down 5-2 starting the eighth inning, the Dodgers had only four hits in Game 3, and faced the same deficit with only five outs separating LA from a 3-0 series deficit. The Dodgers had runners on first and second, but were just 2-for-20 with runners in scoring position for the series.
The advertisement that kept running on the TBS app, with the phrase, “Planning for funeral services and cemetery property ahead of time is another way to protect your loved ones,” seemed a perfect match for a mostly punchless Dodgers team to this point in the series.
Up stepped Cody Bellinger, who had a nightmare regular season — .165/.240/.302, a 45 OPS+, numerous injuries — but in the postseason put together much better plate appearances. Bellinger hit a ball up near his eyes against Luke Jackson, and suddenly things didn’t seem so funereal.
“Pure elation. Joy,” manager Dave Roberts said. “It’s hard to imagine a bigger hit. I can’t really remember, given what was at stake. I couldn’t be happier for him.”
Bellinger this postseason is 7-for-24, hitting .292/.393/.458 with a home run and three steals.
Now with a tied game, and more importantly with renewed life, Chris Taylor singled and stole second, the Dodgers’ eighth steal in three games in the series, then scored on a Mookie Betts double, making Dodger Stadium shake.
Betts didn’t have the TBS ad in his ear all game, but he was acutely aware of the gravity of the situation entering the eighth.
“It’s impossible not to be aware of it, but I think that’s a weak way of thinking,” Betts explained. “Our mindset has has been why are we going to focus on that? We’re here now, in a game now. All it takes is a hit or two, and then use that energy.”
Things got even louder in the ninth, when Kenley Jansen struck out the side on 17 pitches. He’s faced 17 batters this postseason, with 12 strikeouts.
It took roughly a half-hour for the Dodgers to sweep all their problems under the rug.
That included making Charlie Morton work, with a 34-pitch first inning, but being unable to oust him early. Morton walked six batters, tied for the fifth-most in any postseason game against the Dodgers. Despite the traffic, they only had two at-bats with a runner in scoring position in five innings against him.
Amazingly, Morton easily outlasted his mound counterpart.
A rested Walker Buehler allowed two hits and a walk through three innings, but led 2-0. Then things took quite a turn.
Freddie Freeman started the fourth with a single, one of three hits for the Braves first baseman. Apparently the reigning MVP going 0-for-8 with seven strikeouts wasn’t sustainable.
Austin Riley with one out, crushed a ball to the centerfield wall that bounced off the glove of Gavin Lux, who in the first inning made a nice running catch and turned a double play. This ball, however, was scored a double, giving the Braves a pair of runners in scoring position.
Joc Pederson and Adam Duvall both singled in a run, then after a walk, Dansby Swanson did the same. With two outs, a bases-loaded walk to Eddie Rosario ended Buehler’s day unceremoniously.
Buehler on six days rest lasted just 3⅔ innings, less than his 4⅓ innings pitched last Tuesday on three days rest. Four runs were charged to Buehler in the shortest postseason start of his career, felled by five hits and two walks in the same inning on Tuesday.
In the NLDS, Buehler, Max Scherzer, and Julio Urías — the Dodgers only three starting pitchers — combined to pitch 27⅔ of 44 innings against San Francisco, allowing only seven runs. Through three games of the NLCS, those three have pitched nine of 26 innings, allowing eight runs.
But things don’t seem as dire, thanks to a truly stunning eighth inning that has the Dodgers very much alive in the NLCS.
“What a win,” Roberts said. “I’m just kind of exhausted right now. But very happy for Cody.”
NLCS Game 3 particulars
Home run: Corey Seager (2), Cody Bellinger (1)
WP — Tony Gonsolin (1-0): 1 up, 1 down
LP — Luke Jackson (0-1): ⅓ IP, 4 hits, 4 runs
Sv — Kenley Jansen (1): 1 IP, 2 strikeouts
It’s back to a night game for the remaining two games at Dodger Stadium, beginning Wednesday with Game 4 (5:08 p.m., TBS). Julio Urías will start on Wednesday for the Dodgers, with the Braves using a bullpen game.