NLCS Game Six: The Braves’ new world

Eddie Rosario

Eddie Rosario hits the three-run homer that proved the game/set/NLCS winner for the Braves. (TBS screen capture.)

You thought Yordan Alvarez was the force the Red Sox couldn’t stop in the American League Championship Series? Have a good, long look at Eddie Rosario, the force the Dodgers couldn’t stop in the National League Championship Series.

There should be some interesting showdowns in the forthcoming World Series. When each LCS Most Valuable Player threatens to throw every round of ammunition they have, including cruise missiles, at each other’s pitching and defenses. If Alvarez and Rosario stay as they just were, they’ll make World War II resemble a snowball fight.

Rosario’s three-run homer off Walker Buehler in the bottom of the fourth Saturday night, and the Braves bullpen—especially AJ Minter and Tyler Matzek—throwing five one-run, ten-strikeout, one-walk innings, sent the Braves to the World Series with a 4-2 win. The regular season’s least-winning division winner buried the season’s second-winningest team.

Maybe the Astros don’t resemble such overdogs after all? Maybe this year’s Braves resemble not on-paper favourites but a miracle team?

Wrestled by the Dodgers out of last year’s short-season, ghoulash-playoff National League pennant. Buried a game under .500 at this year’s All-Star break. Then spending the second half playing .611 baseball while most of the rest of the National League East—which wasn’t all that powerful in the first place—dissipated. The Astros were .604 at the break but .563 in the second half.

Now the Braves stand as National League champions with a legitimate shot at taking the Astros down. They manhandled the Dodgers when it mattered most Saturday night. They didn’t let a little thing like getting blown out 11-2 in Game Five to lose twice in three games in Dodger Stadium bother them all that much.

“We’re up 3-2, and we’re going home,” said Braves first baseman and franchise face Freddie Freeman after Game Five. “It’s a great position to be in.” The guy whose eighth-inning division series Game Four blast off Brewers relief ace Josh Hader made the NLCS possible for the Braves in the first place sounded like an incurable optimist then. After Game Six, he sounds like a prophet.

But he put any prophetic powers he had to one side in the middle of the Braves’ postgame celebration. “I think this might be the definition of pure joy,” he said. “It really is. I really don’t, it hasn’t hit me at all. I don’t really know how to feel.”

Rosario know exactly how to feel, especially after he caught hold of Buehler’s dangling cutter with Travis d’Arnaud (two-out walk) and pinch hitter Ehire Adrianza (two-out double) on second and lined it a few seats inside the right field foul pole. “It’s truly a great moment,” Rosario said amidst the celebration, “not just in my career, but in my life as well, but I want more. I want to win the World Series.”

He was one of three mid-season trades Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos delivered when the Braves resembled the walking dead. They’d lost young superman Ronald Acuna, Jr. for the year to a torn ACL. They’d lost young pitching comer Mike Soroka to an Achilles tendon blowout after nine months rehabbing its original tear. They’d lost bombardier Marcell Ozuna to domestic violence issues and administrative leave.

Only one man around or observing the Braves decided there was still something worth saving. Anthopolous brought in Rosario from the Indians plus former Dodger Joc Pederson from the Cubs, Adam Duvall from the Marlins, and Jorge Soler from the Royals.

Pederson made himself enough of a pain in the rump roast casting a string of pearls before swine against his former team with his NLCS heroics at the plate. But even Anthopolous couldn’t have predicted Rosario—traded from the Indians for faded early-season pinch-hitting wonder Pablo Sandoval; the guy who came to the Braves injured and unable to play until 28 August—would steal the show and the set in the end.

“It’s still not lost on any of us that we didn’t accomplish our goal,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts postgame. “But for me, I’m giving credit to the Braves, because they outplayed us, plain and simple.”

The Dodgers knew going in that winning Game Six Saturday night would be on wings and prayers almost regardless of the opponent. Especially after Max Scherzer’s wing still remained dead enough to keep him from starting the game. Especially having to put the ball into Buehler’s wing on three days’ rest for only the second time in his young and promising career and this postseason.

They couldn’t afford a bullpen game so close to the one that hoisted them while they blew the Braves out in Game Five. But for three innings Buehler looked more than capable of keeping the Braves at bay, other than Austin Riley’s ground rule RBI double in the bottom of the first.

“I could tell when I was warming up that it was still tired,” Scherzer said after his Game Six scratch. The concern is “arm fatigue.” Historically, “arm fatigue” or “shoulder fatigue” have proven too often that they’re euphemisms for more serious issues. Late Saturday we learned Max the Knife said he’d be good to go for starting Game Seven.

Could it be our boy’d done something rash? The Dodgers still had to get there first. So much for that idea.

Scherzer’s trade deadline acquisition from the Nationals along with shortstop Trea Turner helped secure the Dodgers’ postseason arrival in the first place. Now, no matter what Buehler had starting Saturday night, the Dodgers’ streak of seven straight postseason elimination wins started Game Six close to final jeopardy.

Even allowing their injury quotient, they’d played like minor leaguers in most of the first four NLCS games. Chris Taylor almost singlehandedly yanked them back to the majors with his three-bomb Game Five.

Even if they managed to make the Braves look somewhere between silly and foolish in that game, by way of a bullpen worn down to their own winging prayers, and a jack-of-most-trades who’d hit about half his own weight down the final season stretch but who suddenly resembled what used to be his Hall of Famer-in-waiting teammate Albert Pujols.

These Dodgers couldn’t afford much of anything entering Saturday. They entered the postseason without first baseman Max Muncy thanks to his dislocated elbow and without longtime pitching ace Clayton Kershaw thanks to an elbow strain, and Dustin May to Tommy John surgery.

They’d lost reliever Joe Kelly to an injured bicep and third baseman Justin Turner to a hamstring injury during the NLCS. Both were considered gone for the rest of the postseason, however long it might last for the team that won 106 regular-season games—but still had to win the wild card game before the division series triumph that put them here at all.

Dodger fans approaching Game Six wanted to think, “They have us right where we want them,” even in Atlanta. It turned out the Dodgers had the Braves right where the Braves wanted whatever remained of Los Angeles’s Blue Man Group.

It didn’t have to be a plunge. It had only to be Minter relieving starter Ian Anderson and pitching four-strikeout, three-up/three-down ball in the fifth and the sixth. It had only—and especially—to be Matzek, walking into a second-and-third, nobody-out Dodger fire, after A.J. Pollock doubled the second and final Dodger run home . . . and striking out the side on eleven pitches. Including the Mookie Monster on three straight, ending the last serious Dodger threat of the night.

The night before, Red Sox starter Nathan Eovaldi bulled his way out of a bases-loaded jam in Houston by striking out the side. The difference was that Eovaldi stuck his landing while his offense remained sound asleep. Matzek stuck his landings with a two-run lead to protect and hand off.

He dispatched the Dodgers three-and-three in the eighth, handed Braves reliever Will Smith the two run lead, and watched with a packed Truist Park as Smith struck out the first two before getting Pollock to end it with a ground out to shortstop.

Once upon a time, Matzek was a Rockies washout who had to re-invent his pitching career with the independent leagues’ Texas AirHog. Now he’d blown what air was left out of the Dodgers’ tires. With his room for error about the size of a linen closet.

“My job is simple,” the beefy lefthander said after the game. “It’s go ahead, get out there and just try to strike guys out . . . I can’t let a pop up or a ground ball go through. I am looking to get those guys out and strike them out. It’s a simple job. Just go out there and throw my best stuff and I was lucky that my best stuff worked tonight.”

Just about all the Braves’ best stuff worked Saturday night. Just about none of the Dodgers’ did.

Especially against that mid-season pluck from the Indians who just nailed a 1.647 OPS for the entire NLCS, with a posteason series record-tying fourteen hits, nine runs driven in, three home runs including two in Game Four, two four-hit games, plus the base hit that walked a second straight Braves win off in Game Two.

This is a National League champion who didn’t even reach the .500 level until 6 August. They broke the record for the latest .500 reach by three days. The previous record holder was a team that went on to win the pennant and sweep the World Series. You may have heard of them: the 1914 Miracle Braves.

Sometimes things that happen to be in your franchise DNA take awhile to manifest. For the not-so-miraculous Astros awaiting the World Series showdown, that may not prove to be a good thing. It may well depend upon which half of Yordan and Eddie Tonight proves the bigger performer.

They may not have the Hall of Fame power (pitchers Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, and John Smoltz; third baseman Chipper Jones) of the last Braves World Series team. But there shouldn’t be anyone calling this year’s Braves flukish now.

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.

Laz call finishes Super Tuesday

Jason Castro

What should have been strike three, side retired, game tied in the top of the ninth in Boston Tuesday night . . .

One game’s eighth inning was topped only by another game’s ninth. One team returning from the near-threshold of a too-early winter vacation was topped by another team returning from the threshold of a 3-1 series hole. One earthquake on the West Cost topped by one hurricane in the northeast.

Could anything to come be any more earth-moving or element-splitting than National League Championship Series Game Three and American League Championship Series Game Four?

Well, that may depend among other things upon who’s calling balls and strikes in either set’s remaining games. Because the rule book third strike that should have been called in the top of the ninth in Fenway Park didn’t send the Red Sox tied to the bottom of the ninth with yet another chance to walk off a postseason win.

Reality check. There were bad pitch calls in both NLCS Game Three and ALCS Game Four. Against all sides. There didn’t seem any particular favour or blessing bestowed particularly upon the Braves and the Dodgers out west or the Astros and the Red Sox back east.

When Laz Diaz called ball two on what even Ray Charles would have seen was strike three to Astros catcher Jason Castro, side retired, it might not necessarily have opened the door to that fresh Red Sox walkoff win. But they should have had the chance to try. Or at least to send the game to extra innings.

Red Sox pitcher Nathan Eovaldi, who’d pitched well enough in Game Two and should now have retired the side in Game Four’s top of the ninth, admitted postgame he thought he’d nailed the punchout. “I thought it was a strike,” the stout righthander said, “but again, I’m in the moment. I’m trying to make my pitches. I’m attacking the zone.”

Castro hinted that he, too, thought he was frozen alive in his own postgame comment. “Where that pitch started,” he said, “I didn’t think it was one I could pull the trigger on. It was a ball, then I was able to move on to the next pitch.”

He moved on to foul the next pitch off, rap a single the other way to right field sending Carlos Correa (leadoff double) home with the tiebreaking run, and leave the vault open for a walk and Eovaldi’s exit in favour of Red Sox reliever Martin Perez. The vault stayed unguarded for a three-run double (Michael Brantley), a free pass (to Alex Bregman), two RBI singles (Yordan Alvarez and Correa batting the second time in the inning), another RBI single (Kyle Tucker), and an inning-ending fly out (Yuli Gurriel).

The Red Sox and the Astros kept things to a 2-1 Red Sox lead until Jose Altuve tied it with a home run in the top of the eighth. Neither team hit particularly well against either Red Sox starter Nick Pivetta or each other’s bullpens until then. The Red Sox also led the entire Show in comeback wins on the regular season.

They didn’t have any similar self-resurrection in them in the bottom of the ninth.

Astros reliever Ryan Pressly surrendered a pair of two-out singles (Kike Hernandez, Rafael Devers), saw Castro let a pitch escape into a passed ball setting up second and third with two outs—a situation in which the Red Sox are customarily dangerous—but strike Xander Bogaerts out swinging for the 9-2 Astros win and ALCS tie.

Diaz blew 23 pitch calls Tuesday night, according to ESPN Stats & Info and cited by ESPN columnist Jeff Passan. He blew twelve thrown by Red Sox pitchers and eleven thrown by Astros pitchers. “[T]he one everyone— at least everyone in Boston—is going to remember,” Passan said soberly, “is the Nathan Eovaldi curve.”

“Good teams adjust to the ump,” snorted a followup tweeter. We’ll assume that tweeter couldn’t care less about getting it right by, you know, the actual rule book, even when a side should have been retired or when championships or progress toward them are on the line squarely enough.

To think that the Dodgers thought they’d stolen the day’s headlines, in Dodger Stadium far earlier, when they spent most of NLCS Game Three missing no opportunities to miss opportunities, until—standing five outs from season over—Cody Belllinger hit a three-run homer, before a base hit and a ground out set the table for Mookie Betts’s tiebreaking and ultimately game-winning RBI double.

And, for Kenley Jansen to strike out the side in the top of the ninth to secure the 6-5 Dodger win.

“it’s just hard to imagine a bigger hit,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts postgame about Bellinger turning on Braves reliever Luke Jackson’s high fastball and sending it into the right center field bleachers.

Just like that, the Dodgers taking the early 2-0 lead on (stop me if you heard this after Game Two) Corey Seager’s first-inning two-run homer, the Braves tearing Dodger starter Walker Buehler apart for four runs in the top of the fourth, then the Braves tacking a fifth run onto the board against reliever Ryan Bickford in the top of the fifth, seemed a pleasant memory. Even if the Braves still have a 2-1 NLCS lead.

“Does this feel like a dagger?” Jackson asked postgame. Then, he answered. “No. This is just, you know, a speed bump.” Ordinary speed bumps in ordinary roads don’t destroy undercarriages as broadly as Bellinger and Betts destroyed the Braves Tuesday afternoon.

To hear Bellinger say it, it’s just hard to imagine a tougher hit. “Yeah, it’s not a hitter’s pitch right there,” he said postgame. “But in the moment, whatever happened, I saw it and I just tried to put the barrel on it and continue to pass the baton.” He passed the baton, all right, and Chris Taylor swung it for a followup single to chase Jackson in favour of Jesse Chavez.

There’s a story in and of itself. Chavez warmed up but finally sat back down in the Braves bullpen three times earlier in the game, before he was up and throwing in the eighth yet again. He probably threw the equivalent of a quality start’s worth of pitches in all four warmup. He managed to induce the second Dodger out on pinch hitter Matt Beatty’s grounder.

He lived long enough for the Mookie Monster to split the right center field gap on the first pitch, sending Taylor home with the sixth hard-won Dodger run of the day. If you can tell me what’s brilliant about warming up and sitting down a pitcher three times before warming him up yet again, then bringing him in as gassed as the day is long, you’re a better manperson than I.

Well before Eovaldi threw the third strike that wasn’t, longtime Boston Globe scribe turned MLB Network analyst Peter Gammons tweeted, “the best interests of baseball does not not include Laz Diaz theoretically trying to call balks and strikes in post- season.” Grammatical flaw and malaprop to one side, Diaz didn’t try even theoretically but failed factually 23 times.

Jerry Meals wasn’t exactly a virtuoso behind the plate so far as both the Braves and the Dodgers were concerned. But he didn’t blow the third strike that should have retired a side with a League Championship Series game tied to the bottom of the ninth, either.

“I don’t know how he did it,” said Correa of Castro finally singling him home with the tiebreaker, “but I admire that. Because I will tell you I wouldn’t be able to do that. Sitting down for that long and then going out there facing a guy throwing 100 in crunch time? That’s special.”

All Correa left out was the should-have-been side-retiring third strike that wasn’t. If the Red Sox don’t forget their now-lost home field advantage and dust themselves off to go on and take the set and the pennant, it might become the most infamous third strike that wasn’t in New England history. If not beyond.

The bullet bites the Dodgers

Corey Seager

Seager couldn’t stop the unstoppable smash hit in the bottom of the ninth.

It didn’t cost anyone a World Series they were one strike away from winning. It didn’t cost anyone a pennant. It was only Game Two of the National League Championship Series, and one team has a 2-0 disadvantage that actually can be overcome and overthrown in a best-of-seven set.

Corey Seager’s inability to stop Eddie Rosario’s two-out smash up the pipe in the bottom of the ninth Sunday night, and thus stop Dansby Swanson from scoring the winning Braves run, stands to be a candidate for the worst individual moment in Dodger postseason history. Unless the Dodgers can perform that overthrow.

How many years have you mused how readily one player can go from hero to goat in the same game—if not the same inning? But how often does it happen in a game—and a set so far—in which his team seems to see men in scoring position as allergies above opportunities?

Twice on Sunday, Seager played the hero, once in the top of the first and once in the bottom of the ninth. Within minutes of the second play, he stood shriven and the Dodgers stood halfway toward the end of their season, and all he’d been asked to do in that harrowing moment, in effect, was to try what amounted to catching a speeding bullet with his teeth.

Seager opened the Dodger scoring in the top of the first with Mookie Betts aboard on a jam-shot pop single to shallow left. He turned on Braves starter Ian Anderson’s first service and hammered it over the right center field wall. In two blinks he put Anderson and the Braves into a 2-0 hole.

In a four-all tie in the bottom of the ninth, Seager hustled from defensive shift positioning well behind second base to take Dodger reliever Brusdar Graterol’s slighly offline throw to second to erase pinch-runner Cristian Pache on Swanson’s would-have-been sacrifice bunt. That’s the way to make the Braves waste a precious offensive out even worse.

After Braves center field double-switch insertion Guillermo Heredia grounded out to push Swanson to second, Dodger manager Dave Roberts lifted Graterol for Kenley Jansen, with Rosario checking in at the plate having a 3-for-4 night and counting.

A ground out pushed Swanson to second, Graterol was lifted for Kenley Jansen with Rosario coming up, having gone 3-for-4 thus far—and having scored the Braves’ third run when third base coach Ron Washington waved him home daringly on an eighth-inning Ozzie Albies base hit, diving behind the plate just eluding Dodger catcher Will Smith’s tag.

All Jansen did now was throw Rosario one nice little cutter heading for the inside part of the plate. All Rosario did was fire it right back up the pipe at a reported 105.4 miles per hour. Seager had little choice behind second but to turn down to his right to try backhanding the bullet. It blasted off his downstretched glove and into shallow center field.

Swanson shot home with the winner in a 5-4 Braves win, the second walk-off-winning run in two NLCS games for these Braves, who must be feeling as though they’re living charmed lives so far. The bullet bit Seager and the Dodgers. With 32 teeth.

But if you’re going to pound the goat horns into Seager’s forehead, or even demand Dodger manager Dave Roberts’ immediate execution over one or two of his pitching decisions, you really should consider this:

How come the team that led this year’s National League in runs scored, and had a team .806 OPS with runners in scoring position, couldn’t go better than 2-for-18 with four walks and a hit batsman in 24 chances to get runs home so far in this set?

How come the two hits each came from Chris Taylor, with one of them a Game Two bloop misplayed by Heredia into a tiebreaking two-run double in the top of the seventh? Where have all the other Dodger bats been when they manage to get somebody on second base or beyond?

Go ahead and second-guess Roberts’ pitching moves all day long if you must. Argue as you must how foolish it was to send Max Scherzer out to start when Scherzer by his own postgame admission had a dead arm going in.

When Roberts lifted Scherzer for Alex Vesia in the fifth, this time there was no objection from the gassed marksman. Max the Knife was probably lucky that the worst damage in four and a third innings was former Dodger Joc Pederson—now a Brave, by way of the Cubs’ trade deadline fire sale—hitting a two-run homer well above the Chop Shop behind Truist Park’s right field seats in the third.

Argue as you must, too, that Roberts’ real weakness handling his pitching staff isn’t so much playing it by any analytical script as it is relying far too heavily on the more highly-revered members of his pitching staff, instead of paying close attention to which arms have which hot hands regardless of star power.

This time, it was using his 20 game-winning starter Julio Urias in an oft-familiar role—moving him between postseason starting and relieving, a role he’s normally thrived in performing—only to see it backfire spectacularly enough in the Braves’ two-run, re-tying eighth.

Argue as you must that Roberts could well have Graterol for the seventh—after Joe Kelly got rid of the Braves in order in the sixth—and saved Blake Treinen and Jansen to start clean eighth and ninth innings. Or, that he could have given Graterol the night off and used  Treinen and Jansen over the final three innings to divide the last nine outs between them. Or, that he could have brought lefthanded Justin Bruihl in to handle the lefthanded Braves due to swing in the eighth.

Roberts said postgame that in weighing every option the lefthanded Urias was the best arm he had to bring in for the eighth. There’s nothing but positive when you reach for what you think is the best available arm when there’s a two-run lead to protect. That’s what a smart manager does. But even Urias is only human, not Superman.

Sometimes, even in the worst possible moment, the other guys are just a little bit better. The goat hunters too often like to forget that when they’re prowling for a head onto which to plant the horns.

Roberts is no stranger to calculated gambling. If the Urias gambit worked, he’d have resembled a Stengelian genius. When he said postgame that the postseason is the time of year when “careful” isn’t an option, he was dead right. “Careful” wasn’t exactly an option for the Braves, either, when Washington waved Rosario home and left room for Game One walkoff conqueror Austin Riley to send an RBI double to the back of center field.

Since the Braves managed to stand the Urias gambit onto its own head with a little risk taking of their own, it may force Roberts into even deeper such gambling, since Urias was originally his projected Game Four starter but now may be compromised going into that game if he’s still on the slate.

But offer succor to Seager, not sulfuric acid. The Braves didn’t walk Game Two off because Seager did what he wasn’t supposed to do or what he knew better than to do. He’d done his level best to send his team toward a win as the game opened. He’d done his level best to keep them alive and toward extra innings.

Now, Seager did his level best again to keep his team alive but failed to stop the unstoppable bullet. The Dodgers have nine Game Two goats to hold to account. Those batters who couldn’t and didn’t hit with six more Dodgers in scoring position after Seager’s homer and before Taylor’s double.

There’s a reason a smash hit is called a smash hit. Often as not, it’s just too unstoppable.

Go easy, Braves Republic

Dansby Swanson, unable to elude Superman in a single step. Swanson tried to correct a mistake on the spot and got tagged and bagged for his trouble.

No sport’s history is as thick and hydra-headed as baseball’s, and that includes its chapters on heart-crashing loss. Few sports fans are as addicted as baseball fans to the idea that the other guys can’t win so much as the teams to which they plight their troths can only choke.

It’s one thing to marry your rooting passion to teams that seem forever mired in mediocrity. It’s one thing to marry that passion to teams that struggled to make the journey, finally got their periodic pass to the October ball, and found the queen of the ball laughing in their faces when they asked her to dance.

But marrying your passion to teams who get to the top of Mount Nebo as regularly as the Atlanta Braves and the Los Angeles Dodgers and get kicked to the rocks below when they thought they’d cross to the Promised Land at last, just as regularly?

The Braves haven’t won the World Series since NASA lost contact with Pioneer 11. The Dodgers haven’t won it since the birth of Donald Trump’s fourth White House communications director (Hope Hicks). For a little perspective, the Milwaukee Brewers, the San Diego Padres, the Seattle Mariners, the Tampa Bay Rays, the Texas Rangers, and the Colorado Rockies have never yet reached the Promised Land.

The Braves have eighteen division titles since 1991, including that staggering (if you disallow the season disruption of the 1994 strike) fourteen straight, with five pennants and that one World Series win. The Dodgers have thirteen division titles since 1988, including the incumbent eight straight, with two pennants (back-to-back) and no World Series wins.

The demigods of the Elysian Fields being who they are, naturally the Braves and the Dodgers played for the pennant in this pandemically arrayed season almost straight out of Bizarro World.

Commissioner Rob Manfred’s pandemic-inspired short irregular season inspired his too-far-expanded postseason experiment that actually allowed two teams with irregular season losing records (the since-vanquished Brewers and the Houston Astros with identical 29-31 records) to enter in the first place. Perhaps with exemplary and extraterrestrial justice, the World Series will feature nobody whose butts weren’t parked in first place at irregular season’s end.

But I digress. Too many teams lose because someone does what he knows is wrong and nobody else has the presence or the authority to stop him. Too many more teams lose because someone doing the right thing has it blow up in his face courtesy of the unexpected countermove or glitch.

Too many fans, too, cling tighter if their teams’ histories feature too deep a canon of falling short when it was time to stand the tallest. It’s never the other guys who were just that much better, it’s their guys who can only and always dissemble. Even if they didn’t dissemble. Even if the parallel to the law that somebody has to lose is that everybody gets to play again tomorrow or next year.

Braves fans are starting the choke memes already, if they didn’t start them right after Dansby Swanson and Austin Riley ran them out of a possible game-out-of-reach rally in the top of the fourth inning in National League Championship Series Game Seven.

Well, maybe they waited until Mookie Betts fleeced Freddie Freeman with a staggering, solo home run-stealing catch that would have fattened a Braves lead back to two runs in the top of the fifth Sunday night. Maybe they waited until pinch hitter Enrique Hernandez tied the game at three with a leadoff solo home run in the bottom of the sixth.

Maybe they waited until Cody Bellinger broke the tie with a solo bomb in the bottom of the seventh and Julio Urias finished what he started, three innings’ shutout relief.

Maybe.

Swanson didn’t cut his Braves off at their own pass by going rogue, exactly. He tried turning a mistake into a virtue and learned the hard way that the other guys administer justice but not mercy.

When Nick Markakis grounded one sharply to Justin Turner right of the third base line, Swanson probably should have stood fast forcing Turner to take the sure out at first keeping two runners in scoring position. But he ran on contact.

Swanson tried for the textbook play when Turner threw home right on the button, getting himself into the rundown starting maybe fifteen feet from the plate, the better to leave Austin Riley—whose RBI single busted the tie to set up first and second, which became second and third on a wild pitch—room to take third and keep at least one insurance run ninety feet from the plate with two on and one out for on-deck batter Cristian Pache.

What Swanson didn’t expect was Riley at second hesitating before breaking for third. Maybe Riley saw no chance to advance at first no matter how well Swanson handled things on the rundown track. When Riley broke for third at last, Turner tagged Swanson with a Superman-like dive and threw from his knees to shortstop (and eventual NLCS MVP) Corey Seager hustling to cover third just before the dive.

Riley dropped into his slide the split second Turner threw. He was D.O.A. It turned out that so were the Braves from there, but they still had five innings to atone. They didn’t bargain on the Dodgers’ relief pitching keeping them to one measly walk the rest of the night.

Neither did they bargain on the Dodgers’ Game Six starter Walker Buehler flicking away the bases loaded and nobody out in the second inning by striking out the next two batters before inducing an inning-ending ground out. Never mind Betts robbing Marcell Ozuna with that likewise back-to-the-wall-scaling, extra base hit-stealing catch in the fifth.

Neither did they bargain on their pitching staff that became a shutout machine in the earlier postseason rounds suddenly proving human, after all. Or, on the Dodgers shaking off manager Dave Roberts’ day-late/dollar-short lift of Clayton Kershaw with Game Four tied at one to win three straight elimination games for the pennant.

It would have been mad fun to see the Braves tangle with the Rays in the World Series. The Scrum of the Southeast. But there wouldn’t necessarily have been a guarantee for the Braves. Not against a team that got out-hit by both the Empire Emeritus and the Houston hulks and still found ways to beat them both. Not against a team that hit .171 with men in scoring position all postseason long—and still won the American League pennant.

But I have a personal message for Braves Republic. Go easy on the choke label. The cumulative differences between the Braves and the Dodgers are half a pencil thin. The Dodgers only out-hit the Braves by nine points and only out-pitched the Braves by 1.26 in the ERA column. Makes perfect sense when you remind yourselves as the broadcasters did too often: including the NLCS, the Dodgers scored exactly one more run than the Braves all year.

Timing often has the bigger hand, unfortunately. That and, as good as you are, the other guys proving to be just that little bit better. It’s not as though the Braves were taken down by a fluke team. They didn’t fall to the 1944 St. Louis Browns, the 1945 and 2006 Detroit Tigers, the 1959 Chicago White Sox, or even the 2002 Anaheim Angels. It’s also not as though the Dodgers had to beat a bunch of pushovers to win the National League pennant.

Think about this, too, Braves Republic. What you have now is a team with at least one potential future Hall of Famer on the assumption that a 30-year-old Freeman isn’t on the threshold of his decline phase, and a lot of good-to-great-looking youth on the mound, at the plate, in the field. You have a steady manager and a smart enough front office.

What those fourteen-straight Braves division winners had was as many as four Hall of Famers at once—three top-of-the-line pitchers (Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, John Smoltz) and the arguable number five third baseman of all time (Chipper Jones)—and still had only one World Series ring to show for it.

Even as this year’s Braves go home from this season that will be remembered as Alfred Hitchcock Presents The Inner Sanctum of the Outer Limits of the Twilight Zone, well, Lucy, who got more splainin’ to do?