NLCS Game Five: Dead men make tales

Chris Taylor

Taylor starts the Dodger party in the bottom of the second Thursday night, hitting the first of his three bombs on the evening off Max Fried’s fastball down the chute. (TBS screen capture.)

Memorandum to: Boston Red Sox; Minute Maid Park, Houston. Subject: How to return from the dead.

Dear Red Sox: Pay attention to what the Dodgers did Thursday night. It isn’t the only way to keep postseason elimination outside the door. But it was as profound and unlikely as the night was long.

You’ve certainly got the firepower capable of doing together what Chris Taylor did almost by himself to the Braves all the live long night. You’ve got the mind over matter power to coax your bullpen back to reasonable efficiency. You’ve got the defense that’s capable of turning prospective Astro hits into definitive Astro outs.

You’re also needing two straight triumphs on the road to return from the dead to the World Series. It’ll be no simpler for you to do that than it will for the Dodgers in Atlanta. But it’s not impossible, either. Impossible is in the eye of the beholder. You proved that winning the 2018 American League Championship Series against the Astros, remember?

Just like Dodger manager Dave Roberts, who isn’t quite the tactical conqueror or strategic genius your Alex Cora happens to be, you haven’t quit believing in the impossible just yet. Have you?

Hopefully not, because you Red Sox know better than I know that anything can happen in baseball—and usually does. All you have to do is be as certain as mere human men can be that, when anything happens, it’s you making it happen, not you to whom it happens.

If Taylor can yank himself even further onto the high plateau to hit three insane home runs all by himself during an 11-2 blowout of the Braves, you Red Sox have a collection of bats who need only provide one burst of power each, preferably with someone on base ahead of him.

Hopefully, you won’t have to sacrifice a key pitching arm to save and continue your season. It might have been curtains for the Dodgers when their National League Championship Series Game Five opener Joe Kelly had to leave the game with a biceps strain in the top of the first, while in the middle of pitching to Austin Riley.

Suddenly the lack of genuine snap to Kelly’s bread-and-butter curve balls in the inning, one of which Freddie Freeman smashed into the right center field bleachers for a two-run homer, made sickening sense.

Kelly’s gone for the rest of the postseason, however long it lasts for the Dodgers. Roberts pulled six pitching rabbits out of his hat after Kelly went down, and they pitched eight and a thirds worth of three-hit, nine-strikeout, no-walk shutout relief. Taylor did most of the rest of the work for him.

You Red Sox may have such postseason supermen as Kike Hernandez to send to the plate, but you’re smart enough not to count on him alone to run roughshod over the Astros in their house. Roberts didn’t exactly plan that Taylor should be responsible for 55 percent of the Dodger runs Thursday night.

He merely leaned forward and enjoyed it with the rest of Dodger Stadium’s throng and the millions in front of the telly, the radio, or the Internet. He enjoyed the Dodger batters stretching their plate appearances, going the other way when need be, refusing to see the Braves’ pitches as incoming carnivores. He sure as hell loved the power, too.

Dodgers left fielder A.J. Pollock started the fun when he hit Braves starter Max Fried’s second pitch of the bottom of the second over the left field fence. Old Albert Pujols, starting at first base because he still has a useful bat against lefthanded pitchers, slipped a base hit to left immediately. Immediately after that, Taylor Tonight went on the air.

Fried started Taylor with a fastball right down the chute. And Taylor started the blowout by driving it clean to the rear end of the Dodger bullpen in left.

One inning later, with one out, Pollock lined a single to left with one out, Pujols cued a single the other way into right, and Taylor flared one into short center, beyond the reach of onrushing Braves shortstop Ozzie Albies and incoming Braves center fielder Adam Duvall, to single Pollock home.

Two innings after that, a leadoff walk to Will Smith turned into Pollock dialing Area Code 6-4-3. But Pujols hung in to work a full count walk out of Fried, which walked Fried out of the game in favour of Braves reliever Chris Martin. For having the audacity to start Taylor off with two strikes, Martin’s reward was his head on the proverbial plate. Also known the unsinking sinker getting sunk into the right center field bleachers.

Dylan Lee took over for the Braves in the sixth and made the Dodgers behave themselves despite Corey Seager’s two-out single, and Lee even kept the Dodgers on time out for the first two outs of the bottom of the seventh. Then he ran into Taylor. He ran Taylor to 2-2. But then Lee somehow hung a changeup, and Taylor hung it into the left field bleachers.

The Dodgers abusing yet another Braves reliever, Jacob Webb, for three in the eighth—Trea Turner singling Mookie Betts home with nobody out; Pollock sending a three-run homer into the left center field bleachers—seemed as though they were saying, “Who died and named Taylor in his will to have all the fun tonight?”

Who also died and left in his will that the Dodgers were particularly vulnerable to lefthanded pitchers? They’d gone 4-for-40 against Braves portsiders entering Game Five . . . and carved Fried up like a Halloween pumpkin going 8-for-21 before his evening ended mercifully enough.

“At the end of the day, it’s playoff baseball,” said Fried, who denied calmly that pitching playoff baseball in front of his home folks from Santa Monica (TBS broadcasters observed he’d left sixty game passes for them) got to him worse than the Dodgers did. “It’s a really good team that won a lot of games, and you’ve got to be on top of your game. Unfortunately, I wasn’t as sharp as I needed to be.”

The guy who sent the Dodgers past the National League wild card game in the first place with his eleventh-minute two-run homer didn’t need anything but to remind one and all it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing, or three of them. Some Dodger fans think that RBI single in the third only proved that Taylor’s only human, after all.

Jackie Robinson. Duke Snider. Roy Campanella. Gil Hodges. Frank Howard. Steve Garvey. Ron Cey. Pedro Guerrero. Mike Piazza. Shawn Green. None of those Dodger bombers of legend—and there are four Hall of Famers in the lot—ever hit three into the seats or beyond in a single postseason game.

What do Hall of Famers Willie Mays, Stan Musial, and Cal Ripken, Jr. have in common? They hit three postseason homers at all . . . one each: Mays, 1971 NLCS; Musial, 1944 World Series; Ripken, 1997 ALCS. It must be humbling to think you did more in one postseason game than three of the game’s all-time greatest did in their postseason lives.

What do Hall of Famers Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson, and George Brett have in common? They each hit three bombs in one postseason game and Ruth did it twice—but none of those three did it the way Taylor did, going 4-for-5 with six runs batted in in those games. One other man hitting three out in one postseason game ever did the same four-fer with six steaks: Taylor’s teammate Pujols.

And none of the above on the postseason three-bomb game did it in a game their teams absolutely had to win if they weren’t in the mood to be home in time to deck the halls and yards for Halloween. Or, to leave their teams standing as the only such team to win seven consecutive win-or-be-dead postseason games.

Taylor had one spell of three homers in a single week this year before he partied hearty Thursday night. He went 8-for-72 over the regular season’s final five weeks—and now stands 9-for-17 in this NLCS alone, including his Thursday night 4-for-5.

“The highlights,” Pujols said of Taylor postgame, “are going to be there the rest of his life. That’s something you’re going to share forever.”

“The only thing that excites him, I’ve seen, is he likes to have a beer,” Pollock said of Taylor. “He gets excited about that, a beer with the boys, and then he loves watching surfing. Maybe the three home runs today might have spiked his adrenaline, but probably not. Most likely just the beer and watching surfing.”

So, naturally, a beer-loving surfer dude who battled with a balky neck down the stretch does in a little over two weeks what nobody else has done in an entire career—namely, walk one postseason game off with a home run and then hit three in a postseason elimination game. Let’s go surfin’ now, come on on safari with me.

The only thing the Dodgers have to do now is sweep the Braves back in Atlanta. As the man once said on the radio, it ain’t easy, Clyde. Writing the Braves off this year has proven an exercise in presumptuousness so far.

Remember that, Red Sox. You, too, have been written off often enough this year. You may not have a Taylor in your midst, but the foot you’re said to have in the grave isn’t as far beneath its surface line as you think.

“You name it, we have to do it,” Cora has said approaching ALCS Game Six.

Meaning Nathan Eovaldi gotta Eovaldi when he starts Game Six. Meaning Kike Hernandez can’t take another night off at the plate the way he did, somewhat surprisingly, in Game Five. Meaning the Schwarbinator gotta Schwarbinate, and shake off his Games Four and Five plate absences.

Meaning, too, that the bullpen gotta bullpen, especially if you get to Game Seven and Nick Pivetta, Garrett Whitlock, and Tanner Houck are recalibrated fully, critical when the pen’s depth is still under compromise. (And closer Matt Barnes is still injured and among the missing.)

Meaning Xander Bogaerts has to get his bat back to where his glove at shortstop mostly remains, top of the line or close enough. Meaning the next time you pinch hit Bobby Dalbec and Travis Shaw, make sure they’re not carrying pool noodles to the plate.

Nobody has to make Chris Taylor’s kind of history Friday night, Red Sox. But your manager’s right. You name it, you have to do it. Whatever it takes to win twice in a row. The Astros won’t make it easy for you. But you didn’t get here the easy way, this time, anyway.

You have nothing to lose but your season. You have a pennant to win. Red Sox of all shapes, sizes, swings, and slings, unite.

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