On Thursday night, Taylor might’ve added a third item to that list.
Taylor tied a postseason record with three homers in an 11-2 blowout win over the Braves in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series at Dodger Stadium. Behind his heroics, the Dodgers have now won four elimination games this postseason and seven consecutive dating back to last year’s NLCS triumph over the Braves. He became the first player in AL/NL history with three homers in a game when his team faced elimination.
“Maybe the three home runs today might have spiked his adrenaline, but probably not,” said a laughing Pollock, who also hit two homers on Thursday. “Most likely just the beer and watching surfing.”
As the series shifts back to Atlanta, the Dodgers are trying to become the 15th team to win a best-of-seven series after trailing 3-1 and the fifth to do so after trailing both 2-0 and 3-1. The latter feat was previously accomplished by the 2020 Dodgers against the Braves in the NLCS, the 2004 Red Sox (ALCS -- also trailed 3-0), 1985 Royals (both the ALCS and World Series) and 1958 Yankees (World Series).
Of the 45 previous teams to have won Game 5 after trailing a best-of-seven series 3-1, 20 then forced a Game 7 (44%). Of those 20, 14 (70%) completed the comeback and won the series.
“I guess when our backs are against the wall, we play our best and fight,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “But that’s just not an ideal spot to be in, even right now, elimination game in Game 6, but I guess it brings out the best in us.”
Elimination games seem to especially bring out the best in Taylor.
On a team with All-Stars and future Hall of Famers at every turn, Roberts has never shied away from declaring Taylor the most invaluable member of the roster. His ability to play multiple positions makes him the perfect complementary piece on a loaded roster, as was evidenced by his willingness to play third base on Thursday in Justin Turner’s absence. It’s why Roberts and the Dodgers campaigned so heavily for him to make his first career All-Star appearance in 2021.
“He’s an unbelievable guy, great teammate,” said Dodgers first baseman Albert Pujols, also one of the 11 players in Major League history with a three-homer performance in a postseason game. “Just the preparation that he goes in day-in and day-out every day, the stuff that you guys don’t get to see, but the players get to see, that’s why he has the success that he has at the plate.”
When the lights are the brightest, Taylor doesn’t perform like a glue guy. He has the ability to become the star of the show, as evidenced by his walk-off two-run homer in the NL Wild Card Game against the Cardinals. That swing is what got the Dodgers to this point. His hacks on Thursday saved Los Angeles’ season once again.
Taylor’s first big swing came in the second inning as he ambushed a first-pitch fastball from Max Fried and sent it into the Dodgers bullpen to give L.A. a 3-2 lead. The exit velocity on the homer was 112.3 mph, his hardest-hit ball since Statcast tracking began in 2015.
In his next at-bat, Taylor gave the Dodgers some insurance with an RBI single. He then went back to his driver, crushing a two-run homer off Chris Martin in the fifth and a solo shot off left-hander Dylan Lee in the seventh.
His six RBIs were the second-most by a Dodger in a postseason game, falling one shy of Kiké Hernández’s performance in Game 5 of the '17 NLCS against the Cubs. The nine total RBIs in elimination games this postseason are the most by a Dodger. He’s hitting .364 with four homers this postseason. That performance earned him his first career curtain call.
“I think any time you do something cool, when you do it in Dodger Stadium, it makes it that much sweeter,” Taylor said about his curtain call. “I think this is a special place and these fans are awesome, and for it to happen for the first time on this stage in front of this crowd, it was a special moment.”
When Taylor stepped into the box in the eighth inning with an opportunity to hit a fourth homer, Cody Bellinger said he had goosebumps while standing in the on-deck circle. Pollock was yelling at him from the dugout to swing at everything. In that instance, even Roberts became a cheerleader, hoping to see more baseball history. The Dodger Stadium crowd chanted his name.
Taylor ended up striking out. But because of him -- and a superb performance by the bullpen -- the Dodgers are heading back to Atlanta for a Game 6.
“When you look at all the years playing for the Dodgers, it’s all these big postseason games that are most special to me,” Taylor said. “I think these are moments that we’re going to look back on for the rest of our lives, and it’s pretty cool.”
Before Taylor and the rest of the offense set a franchise record with five homers in a single postseason game, it began to feel like the beginning of the end for the Dodgers. That only intensified when Freddie Freeman opened the scoring with a two-run homer in the first inning to give the Braves an early lead. A few pitches later, Joe Kelly, who started the bullpen game, left his outing with a right biceps strain, which will end his season.
But the Dodgers bullpen followed with 8 1/3 scoreless innings, while Taylor was earning a celebratory beer and surf video binge with yet another clutch performance.
“He’s a gamer and he helps the team in so many ways and he’s a special player on the field and off the field and selfless as well,” Bellinger said. “Can’t really say a bad thing about him.”