Despite all the odds, the 2020 baseball season made it to the World Series and it got there with an epic, sprawling Game 7 in the National League Championship Series that reminded everyone why the sport was the tumult of spring and the chaos of Summer amid endured a global pandemic:
It so happened that we all had a night like this where the Dodgers beat the Atlanta Braves 4-3 in a Game 7 for the ages. The Dodgers will face the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday night in the same building, in the same building where they wrote an instant classic on Sunday night.
A game of massive momentum swings and moments like that happened when Dodgers center fielder Cody Bellinger arrived, who faced Braves reliever Chris Martin in the seventh inning with two outs, no up and a score of 3. On a 3 : 2, the eighth stroke, Bellinger hit a 94-mile sinker into the right-hand stands, about 15 rows deep.
After giving the Dodgers the first tour of the night, Bellinger dropped his bat excessively, took six paces toward him first, and then yelled to his own dugout before jogging around the bases. When Bellinger and teammate Enrique Hernandez arrived at his dugout, they released such a violent high-five that Bellinger’s shoulder, he later said, was out of place – forcing him to visit the coach’s room, where it returned in time was attached to play defense.
“Now he knows,” said Hernandez with his tongue out, “that he can be hurt if he celebrates with someone who is much stronger than him.”
Six outs later, the Dodgers became the 14th team in history to come back from a 3-1 deficit – with the final out in Bellinger’s glove in midfield. They will be representing the NL for the third time in four seasons, having lost to the Houston Astros in 2017 – a title later stolen in a signage scandal – and to the Boston Red Sox in 2018.
“I texted the boys after the game,” said third baseman Justin Turner of the aftermath of Game 4, in which the Dodgers lost eight runs to fall into a 3-1 hole in the series. “And I just said,” Hey this is just an opportunity to do something special. Just embrace the moment, win every space, bring the energy. The energy they brought every day – against every seat, big swings, big games, big squares – it was pretty special. “
The Dodgers believe this is the best of their eight straight division winners – a regular season juggernaut with a 0.717 percent gain – but each of the past seven seasons, one loss after another, only deepened the feeling that they were this elusive one World need series titles to confirm this otherwise dominant era in franchise history.
“It’s been a crazy year,” said manager Dave Roberts at the trophy presentation as groups of Dodgers fans cheered from the stands. “People away from their families. [Protests over] social injustices. . . . These guys stuck together. We have a lot of work [still] do. This year is our year! This is our year! “
The Braves now look like a team that will soon be back on this stage. They started their starting pitcher on Sunday with five players aged 23 or younger, including Ian Anderson. Five of their seven games in the series were started by newbies, the other two by 26-year-old ace Max Fried. Next year, 23-year-old Mike Soroka, who missed most of that season with a torn Achilles, should return.
“We fell short, but anyone on this team can put their head on their pillow tonight and know that they gave absolutely everything they left in the tank,” said Freddie Freeman, the first Braves baseman. “It’s an emotional time when the season ends, especially when it ends like that. But this group in this clubhouse – this is the start of something special for a long time
That doesn’t make this loss any less painful. And for the remainder of this fall and most of winter, if not the rest of their lives, the Braves will be haunted by the base run horror show they put on in the fourth inning on Sunday night if they play in a piece somehow succeeded encountering two outs near third base – a rare mistake that cost them a potentially large inning and changed the game.
The game Turner made on third base to turn a grounder into pair outs was so brilliant that it offered some degree of cover to the Braves: it was less of a huge mistake than an all-time mistake. great defensive game from Turner. But to be clear, it was also a colossal mistake.
With the runners in second and third and no one out of the race and the Braves being led by a run, Nick Markakis rolled a tapper to Turner who threw home to the runner who dropped out of third place, Dansby Swanson to get caught in a rundown. Swanson tried to stay alive long enough for the second runner, Austin Riley, to advance to third place. But in one fell swoop, Turner dived in to tag Swanson, then threw himself off his knees in third place to get Riley. A 5-2-5-6 double game if scored at home.
“It was huge,” said Braves manager Brian Snitker of Turner’s game. “We’re usually a good grassroots running team and just got a few basic things wrong.”
The Braves still had a one-off lead and would survive the fourth and fifth, but not the sixth. That was when the Dodgers’ Hernández shot a solo homer from the front of the second deck in the left center from a 97 mph ball from AJ Minter, the fourth pitcher of the night in Atlanta. Tie game.
Both at the time of the game and the drama built up, the innings seemed to creep by, each oozing with tension. The fourth felt like the seventh, the seventh like the ninth. A crowd of 10,920, limited by novel coronavirus guidelines, nonetheless made enough noise for 40,000 as the innings went by. Each frame seemed to bring with it a ton of missed opportunities – runners staying on the ground, screaming line drives hitting outfields, huge strikeouts, and in the fifth, the newest mookie moment.
In their nightmares this winter, when the Braves don’t see visions of their own base runners stumbling in outs, they’ll see Mookie Betts, the electrifying right fielder for the Dodgers stealing runs with one amazing game at a time. Sunday night’s version: a towering flyball right in front of Freddie Freeman’s bat in the fifth, for which Betts jumped against the wall and caught him and robbed Freeman of a homer. Betts, the most significant player acquisition in recent Dodgers history, made game-saving games in games 5, 6 and 7, all of which were won by Dodger.
It was the seventh game in seven days for these two teams – a tough pace even in the regular season, but an unfathomable and unprecedented melting pot in October. Any arm still hanging from one shoulder was available, but in limited quantities and with no promise of effectiveness. There were 10 walks in the first five innings alone. But all that traffic on the bases made for some huge custom pitches and moments.
The first three pitchers to climb the hill at Globe Life Field were newbies – Dustin May, the Dodgers opener; Anderson, the Braves’ preeminent right-hander; and Tony Gonsolin, whom the Dodgers were hoping to be their bulk guy and at least get in the middle of the game but only give them two innings.
The bullpens at Globe Life Field were possibly the least socially distant places in the world, jam-packed with the usual suspects and a handful of extra starters ready for an all-hands-on-deck game. Among the weapons available to the Dodgers on Sunday was the left Clayton Kershaw, whose final relief was a disastrous appearance in the decisive loss to the Washington Nationals in Game 5 of last year’s divisional series.
It was the Dodgers’ fifth pitcher that night, left Julio Urias, who became their hill saver, pulling back all nine Braves batters he faced on the seventh, eighth, and ninth to stabilize a game that was constantly threatening To get out of control and let the game play Dodgers are staying away from Kershaw – who is now likely to start the first game of the World Series on Tuesday night.
Randy Newman’s “I Love LA” boomed over the speakers as Dodgers players, now wearing their “World Series” tees and caps, were celebrated with their families and small groups of Dodger blue fans watched and cheered . The Dodgers will be the home team for Games 1, 2 and (if necessary) 6 and 7 in the first neutral World Series in history due to their better record.
“I know we weren’t able to be with the family,” said Betts of the team he joined this season after six years with the Boston Red Sox. “But I think this team is a family. We spend so much time together, in the hotel, here in the field … We always laugh and joke. I couldn’t ask for a better group of people to call family. “
Baseball didn’t just make it to the World Series – it zoomed and raced on Sunday evening and ran to the front door. If the next series doesn’t offer anything half as exciting, it’s all worth it.