Chris Taylor didn’t start the National League wild card game, but he ended it. His two-run walk-off home run in the ninth inning beat the Cardinals 3-1 and sent the Dodgers to the NLDS against the rival Giants.
But to get there, they had to get past St. Louis, overcoming all the night terrors of what might go wrong in a one-game playoff. A lot of them showed up, but the Dodgers withstood the challenge.
Taylor hit just .187/.271/.293 over the final two months of the regular season. He dealt with a pinched nerve in his neck for a few weeks in September, but was healthy in the final week, when he started only three times in six games.
“He’s not right mechanically. He’s right physically. I’m going to bet on him. I believe in him,” manager Dave Roberts said Sunday. “I think he’s a threat when he’s in the lineup, so he’s going to keep getting opportunities.”
Taylor didn’t start against the Cardinals, but he did enter on a double switch in the seventh inning, playing the final three innings in left field.
His home run came on the fourth pitch from right-hander Alex Reyes.
“I’m going to remember this moment for the rest of my life,” Taylor said.
Taylor hit the fourth walk-off home run in Dodgers postseason history, joining Kirk Gibson (Game 1, 1988 World Series) and current teammates Justin Turner (Game 2, 2017 NLCS) and Max Muncy (Game 3, 2018 World Series).
Earlier in the ninth, the Dodgers used their eight-player bench to their advantage, burning the left-handed Gavin Lux to get St. Louis to call on southpaw TJ McFarland. Albert Pujols, in the setup for a storybook moment against his former team, crushed a ball 106.6 mph to centerfield, only to have Harrison Bader smoothly track it down in front of the warning track.
“We all thought Albert was going to hit a home run to end it,” Justin Turner said.
Steven Souza Jr. did the same, hitting a ball 100.8 mph into the able glove of Bader, the fourth 100-mph out of the night by Dodgers batters.
The key at-bat though was by the lefty Cody Bellinger, who coaxed a walk out of McFarland, who was removed after his three-batter minimum was met, in favor of Reyes.
That the game was only 1-1 at that point was because runs were at a premium. Both starters struggled in spots, but were mostly let off the hook.
Max Scherzer labored during his start, running the count full to seven of his 21 batters faced. Five of those batters reached, with a single, hit by pitch, and three walks. The latter was surprising given Scherzer only walked eight in his first 11 starts with the Dodgers and on the season his 5.2-percent walk rate was fifth-best in the majors.
So it wasn’t much of a surprise — maybe to anyone but Scherzer — with two on base and one out in the fifth, and with Scherzer in the heart of his third time through the order, he was pulled at 94 pitches.
Joe Kelly entered a 1-1 tie with two on and one out, and got a grounder and a strikeout to end that threat.
The Dodgers loaded the bases with two walks and an infield single by Mookie Betts — one of two hits for Betts hit off shortstop Edmundo Sosa’s glove — in the third inning with only one out. But Trea Turner — the batting title winner, MVP candidate, and fastest Dodger — broke his bat on a pitch outside the strike zone, hit right at second baseman Tommy Edman for Turner’s 19th double play of the season, amazingly.
Justin Turner, whose 100.5-mph liner was snagged by Wainwright to end the first inning — hit a curveball by Wainwright into the Dodgers bullpen in the fourth inning to tie the score, Turner’s 13th career postseason home run, extending his franchise record.
Wainwright was allowed to hit with two outs and a runner on first in the sixth inning against Brusdar Graterol. Wainwright was only at 83 pitches, but also had the heart of the Dodgers batting order due up in the bottom of the inning. Wainwright tapped back to the box to end the top of the inning, then was pulled after facing only two batters in the bottom of the frame.
He left with one on and one out — Trea Turner singled to extend his hitting streak to 20 games, counting the regular season — and despite a Will Smith walk, reliever Luís Garcia ended that rally when AJ Pollock’s dribbler in front of the plate was handled by Yadier Molina.
Wild card game particulars
Home runs: Justin Turner (1), Chris Taylor (1)
WP — Kenley Jansen (1-0): 1 IP, 1 hit, 3 strikeouts
LP — TJ McFarland (0-1): ⅔ IP, 1 run, 1 walk
The Dodgers finally get to play the rival Giants, and it’s a doozy of an NLDS with 213 combined wins. Walker Buehler starts Game 1 on Friday night (6:37 p.m. PT, TBS), with Logan Webb starting for San Francisco.