For the first time this year, at the worst time this year, the Dodgers have their backs against the wall. Their frantic ninth-inning rally fell just short in an 8-7 loss on Tuesday night to the Braves, who have a commanding 2-0 advantage in the best-of-seven National League Championship Series at Globe Life Field.
In postseason history, teams that have won the first two games of any best-of-seven series have gone on to win that series 72 of 85 times (85%). No team has rallied from an 0-2 deficit to win a best-of-seven series since the 2004 Red Sox pulled off the only 0-3 comeback in MLB history in the 2004 ALCS. Going back to the ‘04 World Series, teams ahead 2-0 have finished the job 22 straight times.
Since moving to a best-of-seven format in 1985, the only one of 14 teams to take a 2-0 lead in the NLCS and not win the series was the 1985 Dodgers, thanks to St. Louis' Jack Clark.
While the focus coming into the game had been on the Dodgers’ pitching drama -- from Walker Buehler’s blisters to Kenley Jansen’s uncertain role to back spasms that forced Clayton Kershaw to be scratched from his Game 2 start and replaced by rookie Tony Gonsolin -- it was offense that told the story of this game.
After scoring only one run in Game 1, the Dodgers were blanked for the first six innings while falling behind 7-0, then awoke in the seventh on Corey Seager’s three-run homer. They added four more runs in the ninth, including an RBI double by Seager, Max Muncy’s two-run homer and an RBI triple by Cody Bellinger, who was stranded at third base as the tying run.
“It’s been a battle for us the past two games and we’ve got to make the adjustments,” said Seager. “This team’s got a lot of fight, we’ve done it all year.
"We were one swing, one anything, away from tying that ballgame.”
The late eruption did nothing to change the hole the Dodgers are in, but it sounded like a moral victory for manager Dave Roberts.
“Us showing some life offensively late was very good to see,” said Roberts. “For us to get [closer Mark] Melancon in the game in a game like this, down 7-0, was big. To see some of their other [bullpen] arms we hadn’t seen yet I felt was important. The home run by Corey going the other way I felt was an exhale for everybody.
“Then in the ninth inning, we took some good at-bats and put some runs on the board. So, I definitely think that’s some momentum we can take into tomorrow.”
Breezing through the West divisions in the regular season, the Dodgers never lost more than two consecutive games. And when they did -- only four times -- they snapped back with a vengeance. After losing July 25-26, they won five of their next six. After losing Aug. 10-11, they won seven in a row. After losing Sept. 5-6, they split the next four, and following a pair of losses from Sept. 10-12, they reeled off six wins in their next seven games.
Seager delivered the biggest hits for the Dodgers, but the Muncy home run might have been the most welcome sign, given that he was only 3-for-21 in the postseason at the time (with nine walks). Bellinger’s triple, following an Ozzie Albies fielding error on Will Smith’s routine grounder, snapped an 0-for-8 drought dating back to his ninth-inning triple in Thursday’s NL Division Series clincher.
“That’s a powerful team there,” said Atlanta manager Brian Snitker. “I’m not concerned any more than I was yesterday when we started, because it’s one of those teams where until that 27th out is made, you don’t feel good because of what they’re capable of doing. These guys have been through those wars and they’re a good ballclub. You’ve got to make pitches, you’ve got to hit locations. This whole thing’s going to be tough.”
The Dodgers are looking for answers to Atlanta’s clutch duo of Freddie Freeman and Albies, both of whom have homered in the first two games this series. After scoring only one run off Max Fried in six innings of Game 1, the Dodgers had Atlanta starter Ian Anderson on the ropes in four taxing innings, but they couldn’t push a run across. The late home runs came off relievers A.J. Minter and Josh Tomlin, while Bellinger’s triple came off closer Melancon, who has been used in both games.
“I didn’t want to use him today because we’ve got five more games,” Snitker said of Melancon. “But he’s available if Josh gets in a little trouble, and after the homer, he did. Then you’ve got to win the game. Mark’s efficient. That’s the good thing about him -- it doesn’t take him long to warm up and he’s efficient with his pitches, which allows him to pitch a lot.”
If the series goes long enough, the Dodgers will need the Gonsolin who showed up for the first three perfect innings. It started to go downhill in the fourth after a two-run homer by Freeman, and Gonsolin was ultimately charged with five runs on three walks while striking out seven over 4 1/3 innings.
“I just kind of didn’t make that adjustment that I needed to make to get in the zone a little bit more later in that outing,” he said. “I wouldn’t say that I really got fatigued. I just think that my ability to make the adjustments quicker wasn’t there. There’s always room for improvement. I’ve got my first postseason outing under my belt now, so I’ll be ready for next time.”