'That's Mookie's move': Betts' arm halts rally

October 11th, 2021

SAN FRANCISCO -- AJ Pollock wasn’t surprised that made the play. Neither was Cody Bellinger. Giants manager Gabe Kapler said it’s come to be expected. And Julio Urías offered the most succinct summary of them all.

“It was just Mookie being Mookie,” Urías said.

Betts dramatically stopped San Francisco’s attempt at a sixth-inning rally in Game 2 of the National League Division Series and, by extension, paved the way for the Dodgers to run away with a blowout 9-2 win, evening the series at one game apiece.

With the Dodgers up, 6-1, and the Giants threatening with runners on first and third and two outs, Betts fielded Brandon Crawford’s single to right field, spun and fired a perfectly placed dart to nab Wilmer Flores advancing to third base. For Betts, it was the latest bit of defensive magic that he’s conjured under the postseason’s blinding lights.

“When you can kind of take the wind out of their sail on a play like that, it just kind of reset things,” said manager Dave Roberts. “That was a big play.”

For the few seconds that the ball lingered through the chilly San Francisco night, the capacity crowd, as well as the players on both sides, pondered Flores’ fate. But Betts, whose 89.0 mph throw was the fastest assist by a Dodgers outfielder this season, per Statcast, knew as the ball came out of his hand.

“Once I threw it, I pretty much knew he was out at that point with what I got on the throw,” Betts said.

When Justin Turner tagged an awkwardly sliding Flores for the third out, Oracle Park’s sellout crowd burst into a collective groan. Betts not only got his guys back in the dugout, but he snatched back momentum and sapped some life out of the home fans in the process. LaMonte Wade Jr., who was on third base, scored before Flores was tagged out, but Betts dumped water on the good vibes that were brewing at China Basin. In Urías’ mind, the throw had a domino effect.

“For him to make that play kind of shut down their momentum, shut down their turn, and I think that was what led to the bullpen coming out and doing their job and executing the way that they did and our offense to come back and score a couple extra runs,” Urías said.

The throw was impressive itself, but Betts’ decision to spin, almost unnecessarily, before unfurling added flavor to the play’s aesthetic element. When Pollock was asked why Betts spun, he chalked it up to the MVP’s flair.

“That’s Mookie’s move,” Pollock said. “He’s just so good. He’s almost like an infielder playing the outfield. He’s really good with his feet and all his throws are right on the money.”

Of the decision to go for third base, Flores said he thought Crawford’s hit went more toward the right-field corner. Flores conceded that he, not with the urging of third-base coach Ron Wotus, went for third on his own, a decision that, in retrospect, effectively ended San Francisco’s last best comeback attempt.

“[Flores] probably understands that that’s one he would like to have back,” Kapler said.

Flores, though, isn’t the first player to be on the receiving end of Betts’ defensive excellence. Just ask the Braves, who in the 2020 NL Championship Series had to experience a Betts masterclass.

In Game 5, Betts made a shoestring grab of Dansby Swanson’s sinking liner, starting an inning-ending double play. In Game 6, Betts made a leaping grab to take extra bases away from Marcell Ozuna. In Game 7, Betts robbed Freddie Freeman of a home run. Under the postseason lights, Betts’ glove shines all the brighter.

“You know, I don't get too excited unless -- no, that's a lie, I do kind of get excited,” Betts joked.

Before Betts made the play of the night, Trea Turner had his own opportunity to flash his athleticism. With one out and runners on first and second, Turner dove to stop Flores’ grounder up the middle, then flipped to shortstop Corey Seager at second base to record the forceout, likely preventing a runner from scoring.

That wasn’t Turner’s only nifty bit of glove work, as he made a slick sliding snag of Evan Longoria’s grounder in the seventh inning, then fired to first to complete the play. Before coming to Los Angeles, Turner hadn’t played second base since 2016. But Turner has looked right in his element.

“With respect to the defensive plays that the Dodgers made, they were both excellent, and you have to give them some credit for that,” Kapler said.