The Los Angeles Dodgers were backed against a wall in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series against the Atlanta Braves. The Dodgers came through with the win to extend the series and keep their season alive. The Braves got an early run and led for the first half of the game, but a big blow turned everything around. The Dodgers would prevail in the end, 7-3.
Here are some of the major storylines and things to know.
The Battle of Will Smiths
The single biggest plate appearance of the game came in a historic matchup. Dodgers catcher Will Smith came to the plate to face Braves reliever Will Smith. Too bad this didn’t happen in Miami, right? Seriously, though, this was the pivotal moment of the game and it happened in the first bout ever in postseason history with same-named players facing off. It was 2-1 Braves with two runners on and two outs. The count ran to 3-2 with Smith the pitcher just peppering the inside of the plate. He came inside one too many times and his counterpart hammered the pitch into the left-field seats.
What a swing. What a momentum swing. Let’s not discount Max Muncy working the two-out walk in the lefty-lefty matchup to get things to Smith, but obviously the Dodgers’ Smith was the bigger hero here.
The Braves had gotten so much good pitching from relievers to that point (we’ll get to that in a second) and everything turned right there. Well, perhaps it started a bit earlier.
Ozuna leaves early
In the bottom of the third, the Braves got runners on second and third with one out. Dansby Swanson sent a liner to right field. Mookie Betts made a fine shoestring catch — if he missed the ball, it would’ve scored two runs, easily — and had a bit of a double-clutch on his throw home while trying to get the handle. Marcell Ozuna beat the throw after tagging from third to make it 3-0, though it was temporary. Ozuna very clearly left early from third base. A review corrected the call and ended the inning. It was 2-0 instead of 3-0 with a runner on second base.
In the top of the fourth, Corey Seager homered to cut the deficit to 2-1. The momentum had turned. Oh, speaking of Mr. Seager.
Seager’s exclamation point
The thing about bullpen games is you run the risk of needing around eight relievers, and there’s a decent chance one or two of them gets tattooed. In the top of the seventh, things were a bit quirky. Chris Taylor, with two outs, was ruled to have been hit by a pitch. The Braves protested and they were right. Review showed that the pitch hit the bottom of the bat instead of Taylor’s hand, so he was brought back to home plate to keep batting. He doubled. Mookie Betts followed with an RBI single and then Corey Seager dropped the hammer with another home run:
It was then 7-2 instead of 4-2 after a big two-out rally. That was indeed the exclamation point on this victory for the Dodgers. It was also Seager’s second homer of the game. He’s been killing the ball all postseason and, in fact, if the Dodgers come back to win this series, keep an eye on him for NLCS MVP. He’s hitting .400 with a 1.529 OPS, four homers and 10 RBI this series.
Minter came up huge early for Braves
The Braves were forced to go with a bullpen game, due to the way their pitching shapes in a seven-game series with no days off. Lefty A.J. Minter was making his first start since he pitched for Texas A&M. He became the first pitcher in history to make his first career big-league start in a playoff game. He hadn’t thrown even 20 pitches in a game all postseason before this game. His career high in pitches in a game was 36.
Minter threw 42 pitches in this one. He got through three innings allowing only one hit. He struck out seven without a single walk. It marked a career high in strikeouts and he actually tied Curt Schilling for a postseason record by striking out five straight hitters. What a nails performance to shorten the game for the rest of the bullpen.
Even in a loss, Minter’s outing meant the Braves didn’t have to burn nearly as many relievers as many would’ve predicted.
Dodgers’ relievers do their job
Dodgers starter Dustin May allowed two runs (one earned) on three hits and two walks in his two innings of work, setting his team behind while Minter dealt early. The Dodgers’ bullpen followed by completely locking down the Braves’ high-powered offense to keep the door open for the offense to get it together, as it did, eventually.
- Joe Kelly got bailed out with a double play and then the aforementioned Ozuna baserunning gaffe. But hey, he worked a scoreless inning.
- Blake Treinen went six up/six down in two scoreless innings.
- Pedro Baez allowed a hit in his scoreless inning while striking out two.
- Victor Gonzalez got three outs, though he was charged with an earned run.
- Brusdar Graterol allowed his inherited runner to score on a groundout, but he got all three hitters he faced out.
- Kenley Jansen, with whom major worries have rightfully been attached this postseason, struck out all three hitters he faced.
In all, the Dodgers’ six relievers went seven innings, allowing just one run on four hits and one walk while striking out seven. Not a bad day at the office.
Close-out wins are hard to come by
This doesn’t really mean much in the grand scheme of things, but it goes to how fun these league championship series are becoming. The Astros have won three straight games facing elimination while the Dodgers just did too, meaning the team facing the end of its season is now 4-0 this round.
The series has been extended to a Game 6. It’ll be a rematch of Game 1 with Max Fried taking the hill for visiting Braves against Walker Buehler of the home Dodgers. Remember Game 1? It was a doozy. The Braves got a Freddie Freeman homer in the first, the Dodgers got a Enrique Hernandez homer in the fifth and it was tied, 1-1, until the ninth. Austin Riley broke the tie with a homer and the Braves ended up scoring four that inning. Let’s hope there’s just as much drama in Game 6. Or even Game 5! This has been quite the fun series and it continues on Saturday.
The CBS Sports team was with you throughout Game 5 of the NLCS with live updates below. Feel free to scroll through and relive the very lively bout between the NL’s two best teams.