Betts rips go-ahead RBI, stays perfect on SB

Leadoff hitter electric during NLCS Game 3 victory vs. Atlanta

October 20th, 2021

LOS ANGELES -- Cody Bellinger’s game-tying three-run homer in the eighth inning drastically changed the tone for the Dodgers in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series on Tuesday. But without Mookie Betts’ RBI double three batters later, it’s possible that dramatic blast would have been for naught.

Instead, Betts’ hit -- his second of the night, in addition to a pair of walks -- broke a tie, leading L.A. to a 6-5 victory, cutting the Braves’ advantage in the best-of-seven series to 2-1.

After Bellinger’s home run tied it, Chris Taylor singled and stole second, which took away the double-play chance when pinch-hitter Matt Beaty grounded out to second. Taylor, who advanced to third on the play, scored easily on Betts’ 107-mph line drive to the gap in right-center field. It was Betts’ first postseason go-ahead RBI in a Dodgers uniform.

“[Bellinger’s homer] was a big hit, obviously, to tie the game up,” said manager Dave Roberts. “But then [it was important] to have another baserunner out there, and to build on that momentum and take the lead [on Betts’ double] and not let the momentum that we created subside and make it a new ballgame. They certainly had a lot of arms left in the ‘pen, so to take the lead and get it to our closer was huge.”

It’s already been a strong postseason for Betts, arguably the Dodgers’ most productive hitter over nine playoff games in 2021. The right fielder has gone 14-for-34 (.412) with a homer and five walks, leading the team in hits. His 1.004 OPS is second on the club behind Will Smith. 

Since the Dodgers acquired Trea Turner, he and Betts have alternated between the Nos. 1 and 3 spots in the lineup. This postseason, however, that leadoff slot has belonged to Betts exclusively -- and clearly, he’s thrived there.

Even more important, though, is the fact that the nagging hip injury Betts dealt with for much of the season is no longer giving him trouble.

“It’s hitting on one leg [versus] hitting on two legs,” hitting coach Brant Brown said. “I think any of us would prefer two. Him at the top of the order, too, I think he’s comfortable there. But having him back with both legs underneath him has been really nice for us.”

Truthfully, the bone spur -- which led to an injured list stint that kept Betts out of action for a little over two weeks -- didn’t seem to diminish his production. However, it did make him more tentative both on the basepaths and on the field, enough so that the Dodgers actually gave him some starts at second base to cut down on his running.

That’s certainly not an issue anymore, as Betts has been electric on the basepaths in the playoffs. He’s stolen five bases in as many attempts, pushing his career postseason total to 13-for-13. Game 3 marked his eighth postseason game for L.A. with at least one hit and one stolen base, second most in team history (behind Davey Lopes’ 14).

“I think it's just an element of my game that I can put on display right now,” said Betts. “It's not like we're just slugging and scoring a whole lot of runs, so we have to find ways to manufacture runs. And part of my game is stealing bases, so I'm just doing anything I can to help us win.”

As much as things like manufacturing runs and approach vs. the opposing pitcher matter, just as important for Betts is not letting the moment -- or the seeming direness of his team’s situation -- get to him.

“I think everybody's super aware of [trailing in the series]. It's impossible not to be aware of it,” said Betts. “But I think that's a weak way to think of things. I think our mindset has been, ‘Why are we going to focus on that when we are here now, we can win the game now, and all it takes is a hit or two?’ And then you get some energy and then you forget that you're down 0-2 and whatnot.”