LOS ANGELES — For the second straight season, the Atlanta Braves had a 2-0 lead on the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL Championship Series.
Once again, the Braves missed their chance to put their big-budget opponents into the deepest of series holes.
And this 6-5 heartbreaker at a raucous Dodger Stadium on Tuesday night probably stung the Braves a whole lot more than last year’s 15-3 loss in Game 3.
A blowout is a whole lot easier to shake off than a defeat in which the Braves had a three-run lead with five outs to play but failed to close out their 106-win opponents.
“We have lost tough games before and bounced back and done really good things,” Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said. “So this is just one of them games that it’s like, you’ve got to get 27 outs, man.”
The first 22 outs went quite well, but two relievers out of Atlanta’s fairly reliable bullpen couldn’t hold the lead.
Cody Bellinger hit a tying three-run homer off Luke Jackson before Mookie Betts connected for an RBI double off Jesse Chavez.
The Braves had held the Dodgers to four hits in the first seven innings of Game 3, with Charlie Morton and his bullpen largely quieting LA’s wealth of offensive talent. Los Angeles then got six more hits off Jackson and Chavez in the eighth.
Atlanta’s 4-5-6 hitters then struck out against Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen, and a series that appeared to be moving the Braves‘ way in a landslide abruptly shifted course heading to Game 4 on Wednesday night.
The Braves‘ inability to take a 3-0 series lead doesn’t matter in the bigger picture to Snitker, who scoffed when asked to compare his feelings to the way he felt after Game 3 last October.
“Hell, I don’t even remember how I felt last year,” Snitker said. “I can’t remember what I had for breakfast. … We feel good. We’re confident. Every year, our guys, we’re getting more battle-tested.”
The Braves led 5-2 entering the eighth inning of this Game 3 with another impressive hitting performance against Dodgers ace Walker Buehler. Atlanta had another particularly promising sign along the way: 2020 NL MVP Freddie Freeman got three hits after going 0 for 8 in the first two games and 4 for 21 in the postseason.
Atlanta’s hitters got to one of the Dodgers‘ star pitchers fairly early again, too. After chasing Max Scherzer in the fifth inning of Game 2, the Braves got Buehler off the mound in the fourth inning, tagging him for seven hits and four runs.
Chavez Ravine was quiet and discontent as Game 3 headed to the late innings and Morton gave way to his relievers. The Braves’ bullpen had posted a 3.97 ERA during the regular season that was good for 10th in the majors.
The relievers will have to shake off this shock quickly, since Snitker confirmed he plans to throw a bullpen game Wednesday night.
Bellinger, a former NL MVP in a nightmare year, batted just .150 against fastballs in the regular season and struggled to hit high pitches. Yet he improbably got every bit of a high 95.6-mph fastball above the letters from Jackson, crushing a 399-foot drive into a sea of ecstatic fans in right field.
Chris Taylor then singled and eventually scored when Betts came through with the latest in his long series of clutch hits for the Dodgers, connecting on a solid pitch from the veteran Chavez, a Los Angeles-area native who has played for both the Dodgers and the Angels.
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