The Dodgers will play a Game 3 on Wednesday night against the Braves that will feel like a Game 7 for them, one that feels as big and important as any postseason game they’ve played since they won their last World Series in 1988. No team came into this postseason with more pressure or expectations than the Dodgers -- not even the Yankees. Now they are in an 0-2 hole, even after the scare they gave the Braves in the bottom of the ninth of Game 2.
If the Dodgers lose on Wednesday night, it is as good as losing their season, unless you see them as the second coming of the 2004 Red Sox. The Yankees were really good in ’04 on their way to getting ahead 3-0 in the American League Championship Series that is a part of baseball legend now. They were 6-1 that October before the sky came crashing down on them. The Braves are 7-0 in the postseason of 2020.
This isn’t an official elimination game for Dodgers. It just feels like one.
Everybody knows what has happened to the Dodgers over the past few years. They lost Game 7 to the Astros in the 2017 World Series. Lost another World Series to the Red Sox the next year. Then they lost Game 5 of the NLDS to the Nationals last October when Clayton Kershaw, out of the bullpen, could not hold a 3-1, eighth-inning lead.
A year later, Dave Roberts is just hoping the Dodgers can get a game on Wednesday, so he can get to Clayton Kershaw for Game 4 (if Kershaw has recovered from back spasms), and ask him to get the NLCS even. As much as any of them, it is the great Kershaw, the best pitcher the Dodgers have had since Sandy Koufax, who has been the face of so much Dodgers postseason heartbreak in this time when they have won eight NL West titles in a row.
After all the games the Dodgers have won, after winning 106 a year ago and getting more wins in the short season than anybody else, now they just need to get one game.
“What might be happening to [the Dodgers] has happened a lot,” former Yankee Paul O’Neill was saying on Wednesday morning. “I don’t know if that’s the monster they’re fighting, at the same time they’re fighting the Braves.”
O’Neill was on a team once that fell behind the Atlanta Braves in October. It was in the 1996 World Series, and the Yankees were trying to win their first Series since 1978. It wasn’t as long a drought as the Dodgers have waited for another once since ’88. It just felt even longer in Yankees years. The Yankees finally made it back, and then they not only lost the first two games to the Braves, they lost them at Yankee Stadium.
“You try to tell yourself that you just need to win one game,” O’Neill said. “But when you feel like you’re basically playing for your season, there’s a sense of desperation that you can’t avoid.”
“And as good as the Dodgers are,” he said, “they have had a history of this at this time of year.”
“I was never one to look at a comeback that came up short that way,” O’Neill said. “I just walked away from games like that frustrated.”
He knows from his own experience that you can come back from 0-2 down, because his Yankees ended up doing that in 1996. Joe Torre gave the ball to David Cone for Game 3 and Cone gave Torre six innings of one-run ball in what Cone would later call “the biggest game of my life.” Before the Yankees left Atlanta, O’Neill -- playing on a bad leg -- made the biggest catch of his life, ending a 1-0 Game 5 by catching up with a ball hit by Luis Polonia in front of the right-field wall at old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. The Yankees then went back to New York and won Game 6. They had climbed out of that hole to win four in a row.
“I will say this about the Braves, as good as things look right now,” O’Neill said. “Winning those last two games is hard.”
The Dodgers are only looking to win one right now. Game 7 comes early for them. Not just playing the Braves. Playing those monsters O’Neill talked about.