LOS ANGELES -- In the third inning, Julio Urías missed his spot with a curveball against Freddie Freeman and slapped his left hand on the mound. Later that inning, Urías raised both his arms up in clear frustration after a Joc Pederson single landed in front of center fielder Gavin Lux for an RBI.
Both instances were rare signs of displeasure from Urías, whose composure on the mound is one of the reasons he became MLB’s only 20-game winner this season. But Urías’ disappointment was a clear representation of the Dodgers’ performance in a 9-2 loss against the Braves on Wednesday in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series.
The Dodgers were hoping to ride the momentum of their dramatic Game 3 win. Instead, they’ll be fighting to keep their season alive on Thursday after falling behind 3-1 in the best-of-seven series. Game 5 will be the fourth time the Dodgers have faced elimination this postseason. Dating back to last October, the Dodgers have won six consecutive elimination games.
“We’re a good team with great players, great talent,” Urías said in Spanish. “So the mentality stays the same. Tomorrow we need to come in and try to win, then go to Atlanta and do that there, too. We did it last year, why not this year?”
Teams ahead 3-1 in all best-of-seven postseason series have gone on to win the series 75 of 89 times (84%). Of course, the last team to rally from a 3-1 hole was the Dodgers in last year’s NLCS against the Braves.
These Dodgers now will try to become only the fifth team to win a best-of-seven series after trailing both 2-0 and 3-1, joining last year’s Dodgers (NLCS), the 2004 Red Sox, who also trailed 3-0 (ALCS), the 1985 Royals (both the ALCS and World Series) and the 1958 Yankees (World Series).
“No one needs to really tell anyone that we can do it. We’ve done it. We’ve been here,” said Dodgers outfielder AJ Pollock. “Obviously we got to grind tomorrow, but we win tomorrow, we’re not in a bad spot.”
Over the last week, the Dodgers’ usage of Urías has been a prominent topic of conversation. They could’ve started Urías in Game 5 of the NLDS against the Giants, but opted to use an opener ahead of the left-hander, limiting him to just four innings. But his appearance as a reliever in Game 2 of the NLCS against the Braves was easily the most unexpected.
Those outings raised questions about just how effective Urías would be as he made his fourth appearance in 12 days on Wednesday. The Mexican-born left-hander could’ve put all of those doubts to rest by delivering a dominant outing.
Instead, Urías looked uncharacteristically flat, allowing five runs over five innings. He struck out just three batters on 92 pitches. Did the heavy workload play a role in Urías’ Game 4 struggles?
“Not at all. I’ve done it before,” Urías said. “That day [Game 2] they made their adjustments, and today they made more adjustments and you have to give them credit. Obviously last year was last year, but that happened to be my moment. But today, unfortunately, they had their moment.”
Urías’ outing got off to a promising start with a scoreless first. But in the second inning, it became apparent that he didn’t have his best stuff. His four-seam fastball, in particular, didn’t have the same carry that it usually does and it became a target for the Braves.
Eddie Rosario, who is well on his way to winning NLCS MVP, smacked the first of his two homers in the game on a 93 mph fastball up in the zone to give the Braves the early 1-0 lead. Adam Duvall followed with a no-doubter of his own, also on a fastball. Then in the third, Freeman put his imprint on the series, teeing off on yet another Urías fastball.
It was just the second time in Urías’ career that he allowed three homers in a game. The last time it happened was June 2, 2016, when he was just 19 years old.
“I just didn’t see the stuff compromised,” manager Dave Roberts said. “I think that you look at the 0-2 pitch to Rosario, and it’s a guy that he knows he should handle, and he had his way with him. There was a fastball in there to Freddie. And I just thought the stuff was really good.”
While Urías’ usage will be debated for a long time, especially if the Dodgers’ October run ends without boarding another flight to Atlanta, the reality is that the L.A. starting rotation hasn’t delivered quite like they have all season long.
The trio of Max Scherzer, Walker Buehler and Urías was one of the best in the Majors during the regular season. All three pitchers will likely get top-five votes for NL Cy Young Award. In the NLCS, however, they have combined to pitch 14 innings in three games. The Braves have scored 13 runs (11 earned) against them in those outings.
“They’re a great team,” Urías said. “That’s why they are where they are, and why last year it was also difficult to knock them out. … They’re good. You have to give them credit.”
If the Dodgers want to stay alive in this series, they’ll rely on a bullpen game on Thursday. They haven’t announced an opener yet, though it’s likely to be Corey Knebel, who has opened two games already this postseason. After that, the Dodgers will likely ask their high-leverage relievers -- Blake Treinen, Kenley Jansen and Brusdar Graterol -- to pitch multiple innings.
A Dodgers win in Game 5 would send the series back to Atlanta. It would set Los Angeles up to have Scherzer on the mound for Game 6 and Buehler in Game 7.
“I think for us, we’re trying to win tomorrow and I feel good about it,” Roberts said. “And Game 6 we’re going to have Max Scherzer on the mound with extra rest. So I can assure you they’re going to do everything they can to prevent that. I feel very good about our chances to win a game at home tomorrow night.”
In addition to getting good pitching, the Dodgers will also need more production out of an offense that led the NL in runs during the regular season. The Dodgers were held without a hit on Wednesday until Justin Turner ripped an opposite-field single with one out in the fifth inning. Pollock drove in the team’s only runs with a two-run single later in that frame.
The Dodgers have been in this situation before, and their experience has carried them through difficult scenarios. But if they want a repeat of last year’s comeback against the Braves, they’ll need to play a more complete game on Thursday. It’ll have to come against left-hander Max Fried, and they’ll be without Turner, who left Wednesday’s game with a left hamstring injury and will likely be out for the remainder of the postseason.
“You never want to have your back against the wall,” Roberts said. “But we have a very resilient team, a very tough team. ... We have to win tomorrow and I really believe we’re equipped to win tomorrow’s ballgame.”