From Game 7’s wobbly outset with 23-year-old Dustin May and 26-year-old Tony Gonsolin to its storybook finish with a perfect three-inning save from 24-year-old Julio Urías, the stealth youth movement within the Dodgers’ pitching staff was on national showcase at Globe Life Field in Arlington in Sunday’s 4-3 win over Atlanta to clinch the National League Championship Series.
There was no emergency call to the bullpen, where 32-year-old ace starter Clayton Kershaw had been stationed the past two games, despite last October’s collapse. The phone didn’t ring in the ninth inning for 33-year-old closer Kenley Jansen, the Dodgers’ all-time saves leader who retired all six batters he faced in his previous two ninth innings.
The Dodgers won this tense game and entertaining series in comeback fashion, outplaying and outthinking the Braves, minimizing mistakes and maximizing clutch performances. And while the home runs ruled the day on social media, it was Dave Roberts who silenced the critics by maneuvering his bullpen and outmaneuvering Atlanta.
Granted, it didn’t start that way. Roberts hoped that May -- making his third appearance of the series and first since allowing two runs (one earned) in two innings in Game 5 -- would get some outs with the top of Atlanta’s batting order before Gonsolin would take over and pitch the bulk of the innings.
Wrong on both counts, as May walked the first two batters he faced on eight pitches, yielded one run and wasn’t allowed back out for the second inning. Called on earlier than expected, Gonsolin allowed a big fly to his first batter, Dansby Swanson, and later walked three batters in a seven-batter span. Roberts then went to true reliever Blake Treinen.
And, no, using Treinen as early as the fourth inning wasn’t in the script.
“That wasn’t part of the scenarios,” Roberts conceded with a nervous laugh. “I just felt that at that point in time, I didn’t think the ball was coming out right for Tony as far as execution, and I didn’t want the game to get away from us and the best person at that time was Blake. If we were to get through that situation, we’ll figure out a way to piece the game together.”
And they did. Aided by Justin Turner’s heads-up play to escape that fourth-inning jam, Treinen retired all five batters he faced. Brusdar Graterol pitched around a one-out walk in the sixth with a pair of strikeouts. Enrique Hernández slugged his tying home run in the bottom of the sixth, and Roberts brought on Urías and stayed with him as he flawlessly mowed through the Atlanta order, nine up and nine down.
Roberts insisted that every decision was about winning Game 7, and not using Kershaw and Jansen leaves them rested for Game 1 of the World Series, which opens on Tuesday. Kershaw -- who started Game 4 on Thursday after being scratched from Game 2 with back spasms -- would be starting on regular rest, but Roberts hasn’t announced any World Series plans.
Urías, now 4-0 this postseason, is just the sixth pitcher in MLB history to finish a postseason Game 7 victory with at least three scoreless innings of relief; he’s the third pitcher to throw at least three perfect innings and earn a win in a postseason game and just the fourth Dodger to allow zero hits in a postseason appearance of at least three innings.
“Julio is very talented, very smart and he’s very tough,” said Roberts. “We’ve kind of handled him over the last four years with kid gloves. Put him in different roles, some that he hasn’t really liked and appreciated, which I totally get. But he just wants to pitch, compete and help the Dodgers win. Tonight, it was his moment. I wanted him to finish that game.”