I am legend: Will Smith homers off Will Smith

October 17th, 2020

Will Smith -- the one with Dodger blue on his jersey -- shrugged off the absurdity of it all.

“It’s a common enough name,” Smith said late Friday night after hitting a go-ahead three-run homer off the Braves’ Will Smith in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series.

Smith had faced the other Smith before. He had gone to high school with a guy named Will Smith. He didn’t see what all the fuss was about.

That fuss may have initially been about a common name, but it quickly became about an uncommon occurrence. The first batter-pitcher matchup between players with the same name in postseason history ended when the Dodgers’ Smith homered, leading Los Angeles to a 7-3 win over the Braves and cutting Atlanta's NLCS lead to 3-2. The Dodgers will have a chance to even the series in Game 6 on Saturday.

“I’ll always bet on our Will Smith,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.

Roberts has little reason not to, considering Smith’s status as one of the top young catchers in baseball. In his second season, Smith hit .289 with eight homers and a .980 OPS in 37 games, establishing himself as the Dodgers’ starting backstop.

But that other Smith has been a standout reliever for nearly a decade, joining the Braves as a free agent last winter. He and Smith had squared off once before on Sept. 6, 2019, when the reliever Smith was with the Giants. The veteran left-hander notched a strikeout for the final out of a San Francisco victory, then predicted afterward that the rivalry was not complete.

“I'm sure we’ll cross paths throughout our career a couple more times,” the elder Smith said. “We’ll see who wins the Will Smith battle at the end.”

On Friday, the victor was the younger Smith, who came to the plate after the Braves’ Smith walked Max Muncy with two outs in the sixth inning. That created a right-on-left matchup of Smith vs. Smith, and a competitive one at that. Falling behind in the count, 0-2, the Dodgers' catcher took two fastballs and a slider inside to run the count full. The Braves’ Smith went inside yet again with a fastball, but he left it out over the plate, allowing his namesake rival to swat it a Statcast-projected 404 feet over the left-field fence.

“He’s a good hitter -- he’s considered one of the best in the world, just like everybody in the lineup is,” Atlanta’s Smith said. “He put together a really good AB, took some really tough pitches and then put a good swing on a pitch inside and got the head to it and clipped me. Oh well.”

Known for his reserved demeanor, the Dodgers’ Smith grew unusually animated as he rounded the bases, screaming “Let’s go!” while touching third. The Braves’ Smith fixed his eyes on the ground, sighing deeply before returning to the pitching rubber.

“I was pumped up,” said the former. “It got the team going. You look over to the dugout, they’re all fired up. That energy bounces off of each other, so I was letting the emotion go and just enjoying the moment.”

Given Major League Baseball’s three-batter minimum rule for relievers -- and the fact that the Dodgers’ Smith regularly hits between lefties Muncy and Cody Bellinger -- it’s possible the two Smiths could see each other again this weekend. The Braves’ Smith has allowed runs in consecutive games, but he remains an integral part of Atlanta’s bullpen.

As for the younger Smith, he became the first player to homer off a pitcher with the same name since at least 1961. Most players to share names did not share eras, though some -- Chris Young and Chris Young, or multiple Luis Garcias, to give two modern examples -- have. Still, none of them have accomplished something quite like what the Dodgers’ Smith did in Game 5.

“He’s been huge for us all year,” Los Angeles outfielder Mookie Betts said. “For him to come through in that spot, I’m happy to see him expressing himself.”