7 moments that made NLCS Game 7 a classic

October 19th, 2020

It was Texas-sized tension.

Arlington’s Globe Life Field is a colossal construction. But because of a history of incomplete Octobers for the two franchises on the field Sunday night and the way this National League Championship Series had unfolded, the building could not contain the weight of what a World Series berth would have meant to the Dodgers or the Braves and their respective fan bases.

So Game 7 had a theatrical tautness to it before the first pitch of the Dodgers’ dramatic 4-3 win was even thrown. But this turned out to be a game that will be memorable on its own merits, and L.A.’s advancement to its third World Series in four years after falling behind 3-1 in this best-of-seven series, as well as 2-0 and 3-2 in this specific game, required resolve.

“This wasn’t an easy one,” said NLCS MVP Corey Seager, “and we’re glad to be on top.”

To get there and earn a date with the American League champion Rays took a couple epic eight-pitch at-bats, a hero at the hot corner, a homer-stealing snag and a clutch kid coming out of the ‘pen.

Before our attention turns completely to what figures to be an equally fascinating Fall Classic, let’s revisit the seven moments that made this Game 7 an instant classic.

1) The Braves came out firing

Dustin May wasn’t even officially announced as the Dodgers’ starter until around four hours before first pitch. Because he was on two days’ rest, it was a given that his outing would be brief.

But May’s inability to find the strike zone (he became the first pitcher ever to walk the first two batters of a winner-take-all tilt) limited him to a single inning in which the Braves got on the board with Marcell Ozuna’s RBI single. Atlanta then added to its lead with Dansby Swanson’s solo shot off Tony Gonsolin in the second.

So the Braves had a 2-0 lead on the Dodgers.

Sound familiar?

2) Someone finally scored off Ian Anderson

It happened in the third. After Justin Turner walked, Max Muncy doubled to the right-field corner, and Ronald Acuña Jr. made a great relay throw to keep Turner from scoring. But Will Smith’s ground ball single up the middle scored both runners to tie it at 2.

Hitters this postseason had been 0-for-12 previously against Anderson with runners in scoring position. His run of 17 2/3 scoreless innings to begin his postseason career was the third longest in history for a starter, behind only Christy Mathewson (28 innings from 1905-11) and Joe Niekro (18 innings from 1980-81). Not a bad run for a 22-year-old kid with six career regular-season starts.

“I learned I have what it takes to be up here and contribute to the team,” Anderson said. “I think everyone in that locker room learned something about themselves as the playoffs unfolded and as the season unfolded.”

3) A TOOTBLAN and Turner burned the Braves

Atlanta regained the lead with Austin Riley’s RBI single in the fourth, but that’s not how Riley’s inning will be remembered.

Swanson advanced to third and Riley to second on a Blake Treinen wild pitch. But when Nick Markakis grounded to third, Turner fielded it and threw home to get Swanson caught in a rundown that ended with Turner -- aloft in the air and parallel to the ground, a la Superman -- nicking Swanson with his glove for the first out. And with Riley aggressively trying to advance to third, Turner sagely and athletically leaped and fired to shortstop Corey Seager at third, where Riley was tagged out for the rare 5-2-5-6 double play that changed the course of the game.

Not the way the Braves drew it up back in Summer Camp.

“J.T.’s a baseball-savvy guy, man,” Seager said. “He sees the field so well. What he did right there in that moment was a lot of fun. It was really cool to be a part of.”

4) Mookie did a Mookie thing

Another night, another Betts-tacular defensive play.

In Game 5 on Friday, Mookie Betts made a shoestring catch to spark a key double play. In Game 6 on Saturday, he robbed Ozuna of extra bases with a twisting, full-extension grab against the right-field wall. And in Game 7, after a moment when he appeared to have trouble tracking the ball, he perfectly timed up a Freddie Freeman fly for a home run robbery that prevented Atlanta from taking a 4-2 lead. The Dodgers swapped for and signed Betts to that big extension not just for the way he can change games with his bat but also for his glove. He’s already richly rewarded them: three games, three big runs saved.

Which was Betts’ personal favorite?

“The one [Saturday] was probably the most important,” he said. “We stopped some momentum there, for sure. But I think [Sunday’s] is my favorite, since it was probably a home run.”

So … what did you do with your weekend?

5) Kiké came through

A brief history of pinch-hit home runs in winner-take-all games in the postseason:

David Justice, Yankees, Game 5, 2001 ALDS
Troy O’Leary, Cubs, Game 7, 2003 NLCS
Chris Heisey, Nationals, Game 5, 2016 NLDS

That’s it. That’s the list.

You can add Kiké Hernández to it, after he replaced Joc Pederson and led off the bottom of the sixth against the left-hander A.J. Minter with a game-tying solo shot that capped an intense eight-pitch at-bat. Minter’s three scoreless innings to open Game 5 had been a highlight of this entertaining NLCS, but Hernández was ready for him. And as was the case when he had a three-homer night in the Dodgers’ 2017 NLCS clincher at Wrigley Field, Hernández delivered.

“The stakes, I kinda like it,” Hernández said. “It feels cool, it feels good. This is what you dream of as a kid. You don’t just dream of being a big leaguer, you dream about Game 7.”

6) And Bellinger broke through

Cody Bellinger’s meme production had been outpacing Bellinger’s run production. He was a fairly quiet 4-for-23 with a homer in the first six games of this series, yet he was a consistent presence on Twitter as folks had some fun with his contemplative countenance.

Bellinger, though, had the last laugh, stepping up against right-hander Chris Martin with two outs in the bottom of the seventh and, in another eight-pitch at-bat, fighting off and fouling three two-strike pitches before launching a massive homer to the right-field seats to give the Dodgers the final lead.

“I was in battle mode, and I got a pitch that I could hit right there,” Bellinger said. “That's one of those that you hit it, and you know right away, it felt really good.”

Bellinger joined Rick Monday (ninth inning, Game 5, 1981 NLCS) as the only players in Dodger history to hit a go-ahead home run in the seventh inning or later of a winner-take-all game. When he gave it a good, long look while slowly strutting toward first, it was Bellinger at his contemplative best.

7) Julio Urías slammed the door

As has become something of an October tradition, Clayton Kershaw’s every movement was monitored as Game 7 evolved. And at one point he was indeed stretching out a bit in the Dodger bullpen.

But we’ll have to wait until the World Series for the next chapter in Kershaw’s October odyssey. Because when the seventh inning arrived and Dave Roberts had already burned his two most trusted leverage relievers, Treinen and Brusdar Graterol, he turned to the 24-year-old Urías on three days’ rest. The lefty not only responded with a perfect seventh, but he kept it going with a 1-2-3 eighth and ninth to finish the job.

“That’s his moment right there,” Seager said. “That was his game to win, and he went out there and did it. God, it was just a really impressive outing for him, shutting that team down and giving us length. It was fun to watch.”

Game 7 was fun to watch, and so was this series as a whole. Now, we’ve got a World Series featuring this 16-team tourney’s two No. 1 seeds -- the only clubs to win 40 games in the 60-game regular season. Both were put through the wringer in an engrossing LCS round, and come to think of it, so were we. Let’s take a night to catch our breath.