ARLINGTON, Texas — Marcell Ozuna and the Atlanta Braves got a little ahead of themselves.
Now they’ll have to wait at least another day for the franchise’s first World Series in 20 years.
Ozuna left early on what would have been a sacrifice fly with his team leading in the third inning, and the game soon turned in Los Angeles’ favour as the Dodgers stayed alive in the NL Championship Series with a 7-3 victory in Game 5 on Friday night.
The Braves still have a 3-2 series lead after a bullpen game that started well but went awry, with their top two starters lined up for the final two games. Left-hander Max Fried pitches for the NL East champions on Saturday.
“Hopefully he can go seven innings tomorrow, eight innings,” manager Brian Snitker said. “Our team right now, this is the guy who we want.”
A night after hitting two homers in a 10-2 win, Ozuna started off the bag at third base when Dansby Swanson hit a liner to right field with Atlanta already off to a 2-0 lead.
Realizing Mookie Betts had a chance to make the catch, Ozuna retreated to the base, but still pulled his foot off too soon as Betts made a running, lunging catch just above his shoe tops.
Betts struggled to get the ball out of his glove as he was running toward the plate, and his off-balance throw was late as Ozuna slid headfirst at home. But third baseman Justin Turner was already standing at third waving his arms, and several Dodgers in the dugout had noticed as well.
Los Angeles didn’t have to appeal because the play went to review, and the ruling of a sacrifice fly and 3-0 Atlanta lead was changed to an inning-ending double play.
“That didn’t help,” Snitker said. “We had a couple of opportunities. Couldn’t kind of keep things rolling offensively.”
Los Angeles got rolling offensively, with Corey Seager leading off the fourth with a home run. The Dodgers went ahead for good in the sixth on Will Smith‘s three-run shot off the Atlanta reliever of the same name.
Atlanta’s A.J. Minter became the first pitcher to make his first career start in the post-season, and now is the only starter or reliever in post-season history with seven strikeouts in three or fewer innings. The left-hander allowed one hit.
Minter was replaced by Tyler Matzek, who two years ago was pitching for an independent league team in a nearly empty stadium just a few miles from Globe Life Field, where the first-ever neutral-site NLCS is being played at the home of the Texas Rangers.
This crowd wasn’t what it could have been, with another pandemic-reduced total of about 11,000 in the first setting with fans this season. They ended up getting a pumpkin instead of a fairy tale October story.
Matzek surrendered Seager’s homer, and two innings later Atlanta’s Smith walked the first hitter he faced, Max Muncy, with two outs, forcing the lefty and losing pitcher to face LA’s Smith, a right-handed hitter. The Dodgers catcher hit a 3-2 fastball 404 feet into the seats in left.
The three-batter minimum wasn’t a factor for Snitker with his Smith, who didn’t allow a hit or walk in his first five appearances this post-season but has walked three and allowed three runs in the last two games in this series.
“I’ve got every confidence in him,” Snitker said. “He has been so good and he’s so reliable. He wants the ball. It happens. We’ll give him the ball probably in the same situation tomorrow.”
Jacob Webb gave up Seager’s second homer of the game and fourth of the series, a two-run shot after Mookie Betts‘ RBI single in the seventh.
Fried struck out nine in six innings in a no-decision in Game 1, when the Braves scored four times in the ninth in a 5-1 win.
“It’s going to be all about execution,” said Fried, who pitched seven innings in another no-decision in Atlanta’s playoff opener, a 1-0 win over Cincinnati in 13 innings. “It’s kind of more of the same, not trying to overdo too much, not trying to overthink.”
Ian Anderson, a 22-year-old right-hander and likely Game 7 starter if needed, hasn’t allowed a run in 15 2/3 innings in these playoffs, covering the first three post-season starts of the rookie’s career.
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If only it were always this easy. The Dodgers’ best starter pitched like an ace and their best position player looked like an MVP.
As for the Rays, their flamethrower struggled to throw strikes and their breakout post-season star was held hitless.
After an 8-3 win over the Rays, the Dodgers now hold a 1-0 World Series lead. Here are some takeaways from the series opener…
Watch every game of the 2020 World Series between the Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angeles Dodgers on Sportsnet and SN Now.
Not bad for a guy who can’t pitch in the playoffs
Three batters into Game 1, Clayton Kershaw found himself in a precarious position. Thanks to a Yandy Diaz single and a walk to Randy Arozarena, the Rays had two on with just one out against a pitcher who has often struggled in October.
But Kershaw escaped the first with a strikeout and a groundout, and from that point on he looked like the guy who posted a 2.16 ERA this season. After some early troubles commanding his slider, that pitch became a weapon for Kershaw, who used it to induce 11 swinging strikes. Those whiffs contributed to eight strikeouts for Kershaw and the only run he allowed came on a Kevin Kiermaier solo homer.
Inning by inning, Kershaw pushed back against the notion that he’s ineffective in October. More importantly, his team’s now three wins away from winning it all. And after throwing just 78 pitches in Game 1, he should be well rested for his next appearance.
Betts at his best
To this point in the post-season, Mookie Betts‘ most memorable contributions have come with the glove. He’s been hitting well enough – .311/.407/.444 through 12 games – but nothing he’s done at the plate compares to the series of memorable catches he made in the NLCS.
On Tuesday, Betts showed off the rest of his skillset. With the Dodgers leading 2-0, he led off the bottom of the fifth inning with a walk before stealing second and third. Then, when Max Muncy hit a grounder to first, Betts broke for the plate, challenging Diaz’s arm and narrowly beating the throw.
The very next inning, Betts led off again, this time with his first home run of the post-season. In the span of those two at-bats, the 28-year-old showed why he’s such a dynamic offensive threat.
It’s because of that ability that the Dodgers acquired him from Boston and promptly signed him to a 12-year extension last off-season. The Red Sox may have payroll flexibility, but the Dodgers have one of the game’s best players and he’s doing it all when it counts the most.
A study in depth
The best teams have stars, of course. But as the Dodgers and Rays can both attest, depth is just as important as star power. In Game 1 of the World Series, it was the Dodgers who showcased their depth in especially memorable fashion.
Consider these examples and decide for yourself which one is most remarkable:
• AJ Pollock, who tied Betts for the team lead with 16 home runs this season, was not in the starting lineup. Sure, he had an .881 OPS during the regular season, and would be hitting toward the top of most batting orders, but for the Dodgers that’s not quite enough to crack the starting nine.
• Kike Hernandez, who has a lifetime .820 OPS against lefties, is perhaps most valuable when he doesn’t start. On days he’s available off the bench, manager Dave Roberts just has to wait for a left-handed reliever to enter the game before deploying Hernandez. On Tuesday, that led to a pinch-hit RBI single for Hernandez against Ryan Yarbrough.
• Cody Bellinger, who won the MVP last year and hit a game-winning home run in the Dodgers’ most recent game, was batting sixth in Roberts’ lineup. Again, just so many elite hitters to choose from. And again, Bellinger homered. Only this time he celebrated more cautiously after dislocating his shoulder in the series clincher over Atlanta.
A rough debut for Glasnow
Sometimes, the Rays are accused of tinkering too much with their pitching staff. Rarely do they veer far in the other direction.
Yet in Game 1 on Tuesday, Rays manager Kevin Cash showed plenty of faith in Tyler Glasnow, sticking with him for 112 pitches – the most by any Rays pitcher in more than two years. This time, despite a blazing fastball that helped the 27-year-old generate eight strikeouts, he struggled. The patient Dodgers lineup worked six walks against Glasnow on their way to six earned runs in just 4.1 innings.
Next time around, Cash won’t leave him out there as long, but the Rays will need Glasnow again if they’re going to rebound from this loss and win the series.
Keeping the powder dry for Game 2
It took five games out of a possible five for the Rays to beat the Yankees and seven games out of a possible seven for them to beat the Astros. To say the last couple of weeks have taxed their bullpen heavily would be an understatement.
With that in mind, there’s a potential silver lining to the Game 1 loss for Tampa Bay. Because the Dodgers took a big lead early, Cash didn’t use Diego Castillo, Nick Anderson or Pete Fairbanks, which means all three are candidates to pitch in Game 2 when Blake Snell’s slated to start.
Of course the same logic holds true for the Dodgers, as Kenley Jansen, Brusdar Graterol and Blake Treinen all got the night off too.
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