22 minutes of intrigue in the NLCS

An entire October drama unfolds across 4th inning of Game 3

October 20th, 2021

LOS ANGELES -- The top of the fourth inning at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday afternoon featured a bit of everything -- questionable calls, curious decision-making, odd bounces, shaky defense.

Before ’s eighth-inning homer flipped Game 3 of the National League Championship Series on its head, before struck out the side in the ninth to seal a 6-5 Dodgers victory -- and cut Atlanta’s series lead to 2-1 -- an entire October drama unfolded across 22 minutes in the fourth inning.

The opportunistic Braves were ready to capitalize on it, turning a two-run deficit into a two-run lead. Here’s a breakdown of the five key fourth-inning moments and decisions:

1. Lux's misplay
The first indication that things were about to get weird came with one on and one out. made good contact with 's 2-0 fastball and sent it to deep right-center. drifted back toward the wall and raised his glove to make the play. Except he didn’t. The ball caromed off the heel of Lux’s glove, and Riley cruised into second for what was initially ruled a double before being changed to an error on Lux.

But how did the Dodgers get here in the first place -- with Lux playing center field with their season on the line?

They had one of the best center fielders in baseball in their starting lineup, after all. But Bellinger was instead at first base, replacing , who dislocated his left elbow in the regular-season finale. The Dodgers liked Lux’s bat over ’s, so they decided to sacrifice some defense and moved Bellinger to first.

“Gavin is extremely talented and has been put in a position that's extremely difficult, in that he's playing a position he never played before September, and now in the playoffs,” Buehler said. “Gavin's confident enough and talented enough to handle that kind of stuff.”

2. Ball one to Pederson
Buehler needed to bounce back, and he quickly got ahead, 0-2, with a pair of well-placed cut fastballs to former teammate . Then Buehler went back to the well -- a cutter at the knees, a pitch that appeared to tail over the inside part of the plate. Pederson watched it. Buehler thought he had strike three.

Plate umpire Jerry Meals disagreed.

Given a new life, Pederson took full advantage. He got a 2-2 fastball and shot it into right field for an RBI single. The Braves were on the board. Buehler was on the ropes.  Afterward, the right-hander made no excuses for some rough luck early in the frame.

“At the end of the day,” Buehler said, “I have the ball in my hand, and me and [catcher] Will [Smith] control the game and control what we want to do. That inning is on me, not on [Lux], not on the umpire, not anything like that.”

3. Swanson puts the Braves on top
For the second consecutive game, Dodgers shortstop gave his team a 2-0 lead in the first inning with a no-doubt two-run home run. For the second consecutive game, his misplay on a sharply hit one-hopper proved costly, too.

In Game 2, Seager couldn’t corral Eddie Rosario’s walk-off single up the middle with a shifted infield. This time, with the game tied at 2, it was who shot a liner to Seager’s right. The ball caromed off Seager’s glove and into shallow left field, allowing Pederson to score. It appeared as though would score, as well, but Ron Washington -- one of the sport’s most aggressive third-base coaches -- strangely held Duvall.

Perhaps Washington had taken into account the fact that had grabbed a bat and was in the on-deck circle, apparently ready to pinch-hit for starter . But...

4. Morton hits for himself
When Swanson singled, Camargo raced toward the batter’s box to give some help to any baserunners who might need it on a slide at the plate. Then he turned back toward his dugout, where manager Brian Snitker asked him to return.

With a bullpen day looming in Game 4 on Wednesday, the Braves needed more length from Morton. They decided to let him hit. Morton struck out, but he completed five innings -- a major accomplishment, considering that he faced eight hitters and threw 35 pitches in the first.

“What he went through in the first inning, to get through five innings, that was huge for us,” Snitker said.

5. Buehler’s off day
The bases were loaded with two outs following Swanson’s single and Morton’s strikeout, and the Braves had a chance to blow the game open. Buehler remained in the game -- but not for long. Rosario worked a four-pitch walk, and Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was off the top step of his dugout quickly, calling for his ’pen.

Buehler, one of the sport’s best big-game pitchers, had been chased after just 3 2/3 innings, having allowed four runs on seven hits and three walks. It was the shortest playoff outing of his career. Afterward, Buehler downplayed the notion that he might be experiencing the effects of pitching on short rest against the Giants in his previous start. He said he felt fine, noting that he got six days of rest before Game 3.

“There's days where nothing seems to be working,” Buehler said. “It kind of is what it is. At some point you have to be better.”

Roberts’ decision to lift Buehler proved hugely important. Left-hander faced only one batter in Game 3 -- but it was a big one. With the bases loaded, he got to hit a fly harmlessly to left field.

At long last, the top of the fourth inning had its conclusion. The Braves led, 4-2. The Dodgers were down. But, evidently, not out.

“It’s baseball, man,” Bellinger said. “We've been in that situation before. It's just baseball. It's never going to just be easy and handed to us. We had to fight for it.”