The Los Angeles Dodgers lost on a tie-breaking ninth-inning hit for the second time in the two 2021 National League Championship Series games, falling 5-4 to the Atlanta Braves Sunday evening in Cumberland, Georgia.
The Dodgers are the fourth team in MLB history to lose Games 1 and 2 of a postseason series via walk-off, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
The Dodgers took a 4-2 lead in the seventh on Chris Taylor’s tie-breaking two-out, two-run double and had an 85.6% chance of winning entering the eighth inning, according to ESPN. However, the Braves scored twice in the eighth and once in the ninth to take a two games to none lead over the Dodgers in the NLCS for the second consecutive year.
The Dodgers won Game 3 in 2020, lost Game 4, then won each of the last three to advance to the World Series, where they defeated the Tampa Bay Rays.
Game 3 of the best-of-seven series will be played Tuesday at Dodger Stadium, where the Dodgers have won 17 of their last 18 games.
Dodger pitcher Max Scherzer called the deficit “unfortunate,” but cited Walker Buehler starting Game 3 as a reason for optimism.
“If the baseball sayings are right, you’re only as good as your next day’s starting pitcher and so we got Walk going on the mound and we definitely believe we can win with him,” said Scherzer, who was the Dodgers’ starting pitcher Sunday, allowing two runs and four hits in 4 1/3 innings.
“So that will be our mindset … just win the next game.”
Buehler had MLB’s second-best winning percentage, .800 on a 16-4 record, third-best ERA (2.47), and was tied for third in victories in the regular season. Opposing batters hit .199 against him, the second-lowest average in MLB.
Pitching on two days rest after pitching four innings Thursday, Julio Urías entered the game at the start of the bottom of the eighth inning.
“He hadn’t thrown a bullpen and he was the best option at that point in time,” manager Dave Roberts said. “He was prepared for it. It was a perfect spot for him and getting him through that eighth to go to Kenley (Jansen) to finish the game.
MLB’s winningest pitcher in 2021 allowed a single to Eddie Rosario, the first batter he faced. Rosario advanced to second on Freddie Freeman’s fly out, and scored on Ozzie Albies’ single. Austin Riley followed with a double, driving in Albies.
Urías 14-pitch appearance will not effect plans to start him in Game 4 Wednesday, Roberts said.
Brusdar Graterol entered the game at the beginning of Atlanta’s half of the ninth and allowed a single to the first batter he faced, Travis d’Arnaud. The next batter, Dansby Swanson, bunted into a force out. Swanson moved to second on Guillermo Heredia’s ground out.
Kenley Jansen relieved Graterol with two outs and runners on first and second base.
Rosario grounded Jansen’s first pitch up the middle for his fourth hit. The ball went under the glove of Dodger shortstop Corey Seager, who was playing just to the right of second base, near the outfield grass, and into center field, allowing Swanson to score the winning run from second base.
The Dodgers had taken the lead two innings earlier when Taylor hit a fly ball that dropped just in front of Heredia, the Braves’ center fielder, and rolled behind him, allowing Mookie Betts and Will Smith to score.
Heredia entered the game two batters earlier as part of a double switch that brought right-hander Luke Jackson into pitch.
Jackson hit the first batter he faced, pinch-hitter Justin Turner, to load the bases.
Both Betts and Smith reached base on walks, Smith on an intentional walk.
The Dodgers were held to one hit — Smith’s third-inning single — in the 6 2/3 innings between a two-run homer by Seager in the first inning and Taylor’s seventh-inning double.
The Dodgers were 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position and left 10 runners on base in front of a crowd at Truist Park announced at 41,873. Atlanta was 2-for-6 with runners in scoring position and left six runners on base.
The Dodgers were 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position in Saturday’s 3-2 loss in Game 1.
Roberts said the Dodgers’ hitting problems with runners in scoring position is “an approach thing.”
“I think that certain times in scoring position we’re expanding too much,” Roberts said.
Dodger leadoff batters reached base five times — four times on walks — with Betts scoring in the first and seventh.
The Dodgers were out-hit 10-4. The final five spots in their lineup were 1-for-17, with Taylor getting the only hit.
Graterol, the sixth of seven Dodger pitchers, was charged with the loss, allowing one run and one hit in two-thirds of an inning. Will Smith, the last of eight Braves’ pitchers, was credited with the victory, retiring all three batters he faced in the ninth, striking out the final two.
Smith is not related to the Dodgers’ catcher.
Braves’ pitchers walked nine batters and struck out 10.
“We did a great job of limiting damage against a really good club and that’s not a really good recipe for success against a team like this when you’re letting that many guys get on base because these guys are so dangerous,” said Atlanta manager Brian Snitker, who turned 66 Sunday.
Dodger pitchers struck out 12 and walked two.
Ian Anderson, the Braves’ starter, was lifted for a pinch-hitter after allowing two runs and three hits in three innings, walking three and striking out two.
“It just wasn’t his day,” Snitker said. “The location wasn’t good.”
The Braves tied the score in the fourth on a two-run homer by Joc Pederson, who played for the Dodgers from 2014-20.
Scherzer’s stint matched his second-shortest stint among his 14 starts as a Dodger.
“I would just say my arm was dead,” Scherzer said. “I could tell when I was warming up that it was still tired. And I’ve been in this situation before. You don’t want to always go out there and pitch full strength. Usually in those situations kind of once you get past pitch 45 sometimes it kind of loosens up and you’re able to get deeper into a game.
“But after that third inning it didn’t loosen up. It was still more tightening up. So I could tell that my pitch count was going to be limited. I wasn’t going to be able to get truly deep into a game and I wasn’t going to be able to get to that 95-, 100-pitch count. I knew it was going to be sooner than that.
“After the fourth inning, I was like, `Hey, if this is a long inning, you’re going to have to pull me, but if it’s a quick inning, I can go back out there. And that’s when we looked at the lineup and said, all right, I got Swanson, the pinch hitter, and then at that point, I knew I wasn’t going to be better than (Alex) Vesia.”
Vesia allowed a single to the first batter he faced, Rosario, advancing Swanson to second. Vesia struck out Freeman and Albies to end the inning.
The Dodgers had planned to start Scherzer in Game 1 Saturday, but he was scratched because he “was a little kind of arm-tired” after pitching the ninth inning of Game 5 of their National League Division Series on Thursday, and “the best opportunity to have success in a start” for Scherzer would mean starting him in Game 2, manager Dave Roberts said.
The loss was the Dodgers’ second straight when Scherzer was starting after winning each of his first 12. The other was Monday, 1-0, to the San Francisco Giants in Game 3 of their National League Division Series, with Scherzer allowing one run and three hits in seven innings, striking out 10 and walking one.
Turner, the Dodgers’ third baseman since 2015, had his streak of 77 consecutive postseason starts ended when he was scratched after failing to recover enough from a neck stinger suffered during batting practice prior to Game 1, Roberts said.