The Los Angeles Dodgers became the first team to punch their ticket to the LCS round of the MLB playoffs on Monday night, when they beat the Atlanta Braves in Game 4 of the best-of-5 NLDS to win the series, 3-1. Fans will remember, either in agony or ecstasy, Juan Uribe’s homer in the 8th inning of Game 4, but first let’s remember how the series got there.
Game 1: Dodgers 6, Braves 1. Game 1 will be remembered for Clayton Kershaw’s pitching performance and the Braves 15 strikeouts against Kershaw, Brian Wilson, and Kenley Jansen. But the game started with Braves P Kris Medlen striking out the side in the top of the 1st. A Skip Schumaker sacrifice fly and an AJ Ellis double gave the Dodgers a 2-0 lead in the 2nd, and Adrian Gonzalez hit a 2-run homer in the 3rd to give the Dodgers a 4-0 lead. The rest of the Dodger scoring came from a Mark Ellis RBI single in the 4th and a Hanley Ramirez double (get used to hearing that) in the 6th. Kershaw’s only flaw was in the 4th when a Chris Johnson single plated Freddie Freeman. Beyond that, the 15 strikeouts had the Braves doomed, and the Dodgers led the series, 1-0.
Game 2: Braves 4, Dodgers 3. Had the Braves gone on to win the series, this game would’ve found a place in the annals of Braves classics. The Dodgers actually led early, as Hanley Ramirez doubled off of Mike Minor to drive in Mark Ellis. The Braves fought back against Zach Grienke, and tied the game in the 2nd on an Andrelton Simmons RBI double. Like in the 4th of Game 1, in the 4th inning Chris Johnson’s single scored Freddie Freeman, and the Braves led, 2-1. The game’s biggest defensive moment was in the top of the 7th, when the Dodgers had men on 1st and 3rd with 1 out, in a 1-run game, and Luis Avilan came on to pitch. Carl Crawford hit one right back to the mound, which Avilan threw to 2nd, and Simmons threw to 1st for a huge double play. In the bottom half, a Jason Heyward RBI single, after a controversial Dodgers bullpen decision by Don Mattingly, added some insurance runs that would be crucial, making the score 4-1. David Carpenter came in to pitch the 8th, walking Mark Ellis and allowing a 2-run homer by Hanley Ramirez, making the score 4-3. To Carpenter’s credit, after the homer he struck out Adrian Gonzalez and Yasiel Puig, no easy task. Fredi Gonzalez then called on Craig Kimbrel for his first try all year at a 4-out save, and he delivered. The biggest out of those 4 came when Dodgers pinch-runner Dee Gordon was caught stealing, and let his surprise at the call be known by his astonished look. Kimbrel struck out Carl Crawford for the final out, and the series was tied, 1-1.
Game 3: Dodgers 13, Braves 6. The series moved west to Los Angeles, after the first two games in Atlanta, and Game 3, despite the lopsided score, actually started well for the visitors. RBI singles by Evan Gattis and Chris Johnson off Dodgers P Hyun-Jin Ryu gave the Braves a 2-0 1st inning lead. In the bottom of the 2nd, Ryu made it a 2-1 game with a sacrifice fly, followed immediately by a Carl Crawford 3-run homer to give the Dodgers a 4-2 lead against Julio Teheran. The Braves tied it in the 3rd on a pair of fielder’s choice groundouts (of all things) by Brian McCann and Chris Johnson (again). The game was taking the feel of a 10-9 type of game, and there were 19 runs scored, but it got ugly for the Braves. Adrian Gonzalez batted in Hanley Ramirez, who had doubled to start the bottom of the 3rd, and Skip Schumaker scored Yasiel Puig later in the inning, making the score 6-4, Dodgers. A Hanley Ramirez triple, which tied the all-time NLDS extra-base hit record for a series at 6, as well as a Dodgers franchise record for any playoff series, scored Crawford and made the lead 3. Ramirez scored when Puig singled, then Juan Uribe hit a 2-run homer to make the score 10-4. 3 more scored in the bottom of the 8th on singles by Ramirez, Gonzalez, and Puig, and the score was 13-4. Those extra two runs came in the 9th on the Braves only homer of the series, a 2-run shot by Jason Heyward. After the homer, two more reached, and the Dodgers actually brought in their closer in a 7-run game to make sure they got all 27 outs (he struck out Brian McCann to end the game). The Dodgers led the series 2-1, and had one more chance to clinch the series at home.
Game 4: Dodgers 4, Braves 3. The story of Game 4 started in Dodgers manager Don Mattiingly’s office in the hours after Game 3, when he asked Clayton Kershaw if he wanted to try to clinch the series at home on short rest, instead of pitching a potential Game 5 in Atlanta. News broke the next morning that Kershaw, not Ricky Nolasco, was pitching for the Dodgers, against Braves starter Freddy Garcia, the veteran who had been impressive enough in just 3 starts at the end of the regular season to earn a playoff rotation spot. The Dodgers struck first when Carl Crawford hit a leadoff homer in the 1st. Both pitchers settled in, and there were several strikeouts both ways, and the hardest hit ball for a stretch was actually off Garcia’s bat, as he surprisingly hit a ball to the wall in the top of the 3rd. After Crawford’s next at-bat in the 3rd, when he hit another solo homer, the Dodgers led 2-0. Immediately in the top of the 4th, the Braves tied the score with an RBI single by (you guessed it) Chris Johnson and an RBI fielder’s choice by Andrelton Simmons. An Adrian Gonzalez throwing error on a potential double play had set the stage for the rally. Both pitchers matched zeros until both finished their nights after 6 innings. In the 7th, Elliot Johnson tripled to lead off the Braves half of the inning, and pinch-hitter Jose Constanza hit an RBI single to give the Braves a 3-2 lead. Had the Braves held the lead, it would have been similar (a little smaller stakes, though) to Francisco Cabrera in 1992; a role player who spent much of the year in the minors grabbing the big hit. In the bottom half, Luis Avilan gave up a 2-out double to Mark Ellis, before intentionally walking Hanley Ramirez to pitch to Adrian Gonzalez. Gonzalez hit a high fly ball to deep right, but it was playable on the warning track for Justin Upton and the inning was over. After the Braves left two on in the top of the 8th, David Carpenter came on to pitch, to “setup” for Braves closer Craig Kimbrel. After Yasiel Puig led off the inning with a double, Juan Uribe came to the plate. Uribe tried to bunt, but bunted two straight pitches foul. After 2 balls to even the count, Uribe hit the next pitch into the seats in left for a 2-run, go-ahead homer, putting the Dodgers on top, 4-3. Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen struck out the side in the 9th, and the Dodgers won the game 4-3 to clinch the series, 3 games to 1.
Game 4 ended a great day of playoff baseball, as other games on Monday included a walk-off homer by a backup catcher, a no-hitter taken to the 8th by a rookie, and a war of words between an Australian and a Venezuelan. A couple of notes about the fateful 8th inning of the Braves-Dodgers game:
Juan Uribe became the first player in MLB history with a go-ahead homer in the 8th inning or later of two postseason games, also winning Game 6 of the 2010 NLCS with an 8th inning homer while a member of the San Francisco Giants. He also becomes the second Dodger to hit a game-winning homer in the 8th or later while trailing a postseason game, with the other being Kirk Gibson’s classic walk-off (or should I say limp-off) in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. Uribe is trying to win his third World Series title this postseason (2005 with White Sox, 2010 with Giants). By the way, I don’t ever remember seeing a player attempt to bunt, fail, and homer in the same at-bat, and of course the circumstances made the odd sequence much more meaningful and memorable.
Many people, from the media to fans on Twitter, questioned Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez’s choice of Carpenter in the 8th, since closer Craig Kimbrel appeared to be ready in the bullpen, particularly once Puig was on base. Gonzalez said the plan was most likely for Kimbrel to come in with 2 out in the inning to try for the 4-out save, something he’s only done a handful of times but did in Game 2 of the series. The Braves didn’t want to stretch Kimbrel too far, since he’s never recorded a save of longer than 4 outs in a Major League game. While the question is valid why Gonzalez didn’t pitch Kimbrel, David Carpenter had come through for the Braves all year, starting the year in the minor leagues but working his way all the way into the setup role by year’s end. It was refreshing to see so many of Carpenter’s Braves teammates come up to him in the dugout after the third out in the 9th to console and reassure the 28-year-old right-hander.
Braves C Brian McCann, who was a lifelong Braves fan from the Atlanta area, and became a great Braves player, may have played his final games in a Braves uniform, because he will be a free agent this offseason. I expect the Braves to make him an offer, but I also expect other teams with more money to give him a much better offer, maybe even to play DH, instead of catcher, if he goes to an American League team. In Game 4, he was 0-for-4 with 4 strikeouts, and for the series, he was 0-for-13 with 6 strikeouts and 3 walks, although he did have 1 RBI on a fielder’s choice in Game 3.
I watched every pitch of the series, and knew Chris Johnson had played well and had multiple RBIs, but until typing this I didn’t realize how good he really was, with 5 RBI over the 4 games.
The Braves have now lost 7 postseason series in a row, dating back to 2001, and also the NL Wild Card Game in 2012. The only other such streak in MLB history was by the Cubs in between their 1908 World Series win and the 2003 NLDS win over, ironically, the Braves. You can say the Braves are lucky the streak only goes back 12 years, considering the Cubs streak lasted 95, but I’m sure that’s of absolutely no consolation to Braves fans right now. It’s almost as if the franchise is paying for the success they had in the 1990s, with a World Series win in 1995 and 5 NL Pennants (1991-92, 95-96, and 1999).
Had the Braves held the lead and won, Game 5 would have certainly been interesting in Atlanta on Wednesday. Instead, the Dodgers will wait to see who wins the Pirates-Cardinals Game 5 on Wednesday and prepare to play one of those two teams in the NLCS starting on Friday.