Mookie Betts' reaction was somewhere between a jog, a dance and a strut. With his back to the fence and the ball safely in his glove, Betts craned his neck to the sky, screaming with emotion as he charged in from right field.
For the second consecutive night, Betts had made a game-changing play, this time leaping at Globe Life Field's warning track to rob Marcell Ozuna of a sure RBI double in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series. The catch came less than 24 hours after Betts started a key double play with a shoestring catch in right, and it once again helped the Dodgers avoid elimination. In beating Atlanta, 3-1, Los Angeles forced a decisive Game 7 on Sunday night.
“That’s an unbelievable play by an unbelievable player in a big moment,” shortstop Corey Seager said. “That’s what you need to win baseball games at this time of year.”
Initially, Betts appeared to slightly underestimate the flight of the ball, which came solidly off Ozuna’s bat at 100.6 mph to the opposite field. As he drifted back, Betts extended his right hand to feel behind him for the wall, but he never found it. Instead, Betts leaped as the ball arced down over his head, snaring it with his glove as he backed into the fence.
“He made a great play,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “If that’s to the right a little bit, that’s a homer.”
The catch stranded Freddie Freeman on the basepaths, allowing Walker Buehler to complete a fifth consecutive scoreless inning in a 3-0 game. It was merely the latest contribution from Betts, whose Game 4 catch on Friday turned into a double play when Ozuna left third base early.
“We’re one game away from elimination, and so you know you have to be ready to play,” Betts said after that one. “Every out is important.”
The Dodgers are still one game away from elimination, but now -- in large part because of Betts’ glovework -- so are the Braves. Combined, the NLCS box scores show that Betts has merely five hits in six games, all of them singles, none of them particularly impactful. Betts may not be slumping at the top of the Dodgers’ lineup, but he hasn’t quite been the game-changing force that his history suggests he can be.
His defense is what has kept his value high. An MVP candidate in large part because of his glove, Betts led all NL right fielders this season with 11 defensive runs saved. Since moving to right on a nearly full-time basis in 2016, Betts has amassed 104 DRS at the position -- more than double anyone else in baseball.
So good has Betts been that he makes the spectacular seem mundane. Following Game 5, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts called Betts’ catch “the play of the year.”
“A tick behind last night’s play, but it just shows the athleticism,” Roberts said. “Right there, Walker was kind of stressing a little bit. And so to make that play to get out of it … was huge. He just impacts the game in so many ways.”