The Dodgers always sound like they know something you don’t. That’s how they talked on Tuesday night, when they were more encouraged by their late rally in their Game 2 loss than discouraged by losing the first two games of the best-of-seven National League Championship Series.
Predicting their four-run ninth inning in Game 2 would carry over was spot on, as the Dodgers shattered records with a jaw-dropping 11-run first inning on Wednesday, overpowering the Braves in Game 3, 15-3, to seize momentum with ace Clayton Kershaw returning from back spasms to start Game 4 on Thursday in Arlington.
“We know who we are over here,” said Max Muncy, whose grand slam was one of five Dodgers home runs. “We’re a really good team. We kind of lost our footing the first two games, but we weren’t worried about anything, and tonight we went out and showed what we can do.”
Almost as if they had the Braves right where he wanted them, manager Dave Roberts before the game talked about the carryover effect of landing blows in the previous night’s rally, how the outburst awoke struggling hitters Cody Bellinger and Muncy, that he sensed “a good vibe” in the clubhouse on Wednesday and how, if they “remain steadfast, we will come out victorious.”
His offense was steadfast enough to rewrite the record book. His sluggers turned cavernous Globe Life Field into Dodger Stadium Southwest with five blasts -- solo shots from Corey Seager, Bellinger and Edwin Ríos, a three-run blast from Joc Pederson on his daughter's birthday and the grand slam by Muncy.
Roberts knows the Dodgers are trying to become only the 14th team to rally from an 0-2 deficit in a best-of-seven postseason series. Teams facing such a deficit that have won Game 3 have then come all the way back to win the series 12 of 48 times (25 percent). However, entering 2020, each of the past 17 teams to take a 2-0 lead before losing Game 3 had recovered to win the series, since the 1996 Yankees rallied in the World Series against the Braves. (Roberts’ 2004 Red Sox also rallied from a 3-0 deficit against New York in the ALCS.)
The Dodgers have come back from 0-2 deficits four times in their postseason history: in the 1955 World Series vs. the Yankees (they won the series, 4-3); the 1965 World Series vs. the Twins (won series, 4-3); the 1981 NL Division Series vs. the Astros (won best-of-5 series, 3-2); and the 1981 World Series vs. Yankees (won series, 4-2).
Although the first-inning blitzkrieg featured three home runs, it was Mookie Betts’ infield single on the first pitch of the game that was credited as the catalyst, in part because of Betts’ hustle, in part because it required a challenge at the suggestion of video coordinator Chad Chop and an overturn of the original out call.
“Everyone got pretty fired up over Chop,” said Pederson, making up for a disappointing season with a typical clutch postseason. “It got us going, and then from there you saw what happened. It was a really, really close play and it turned in our favor. For some reason that just ... lit a match in everyone, and we were really excited and just ran with that momentum.”
Seager, burying the ghosts of past October disappointments with a prime-time breakout postseason, doubled home Betts on the next pitch, and the rout was on.
“Two pitches,” said Roberts, “and we already got a run.”
Seager, who slugged a three-run homer in the seventh inning on Tuesday, also pointed to the ninth-inning rally in Game 2 as a turning point.
“We felt a lot better in general. To finally break through at the end [of that game] definitely helps today,” said Seager, 11-for-30 this postseason with three homers and 11 RBIs. “We rode that momentum through the first couple of innings.”
In the first inning alone, Pederson (three-run shot, one of four hits) and Ríos slugged home runs on back-to-back pitches by Braves starter Kyle Wright, and Muncy, slumping until he homered on Tuesday, blasted a grand slam off former Dodger Grant Dayton. It was the first time a club hit three home runs in the first inning of a postseason game. The 11 runs scored in one inning are an MLB postseason record and the most by the Dodgers since they scored 13 in the eighth inning on Aug. 8, 1954, against the Reds in Brooklyn.
The Dodgers really didn’t want this to be the time for their first three-game losing streak of the season. With six innings remaining, they had already set a franchise record for home runs in a postseason game at five and runs at 15, three players had driven in at least three runs and they had 13 hits. Through three innings.
They sent 14 batters to the plate in the first inning, tying a MLB postseason record for a first frame. Seager, who would later homer, had an RBI double and single; Betts that infield single and walk; and both scored twice. Two Braves pitchers threw a total of 45 pitches, leaving the Atlanta bullpen a huge workload in a series with no days off. The inning included three walks, a disputed hit batter and two overturned calls in its 32 minutes, and 10 of the runs scored with two outs.
Wait, there’s more. Bellinger, who tripled in the ninth inning of Game 2, homered leading off the second inning. Seager homered to kick off a three-run third inning. The blowout allowed Roberts to pull Betts and Seager in-game for a breather after the pair scored five runs.
“A good night for us,” said Roberts.