ARLINGTON, Texas – Through eight consecutive division titles and a pair of National League pennants, the Los Angeles Dodgers produced MVPs and rookies of the year, won hundreds of games and teased their fanbase with dreams of a first World Series championship since 1988.
Yet something always seemed to be missing from a team that had vast resources and significant smarts, but often worked the edges for minimal gains, be it on the balance sheet or the lineup card.
Perhaps it was Mookie Betts.
The Dodgers forced a Game 7 in this National League Championship Series against the Atlanta Braves by twice staving off elimination, and while Corey Seager can’t stop hitting home runs and Walker Buehler blew away the Braves with a flurry of 98-mph fastballs, they are alive largely because Betts did things almost any ballplayer on the planet cannot.
Saturday afternoon at Globe Life Field, that moment came in the fifth inning, with Buehler fading and the Dodgers’ bats dormant again, a man on and Marcell Ozuna scorching a ball 101 mph off his bat to right field. Betts scampered back, caught up to the ball and at the last, leaped atop the wall to bring it in.
Run saved. Buehler saved, for another inning. And Sunday night, a Game 7 in a series that probably deserves it.
The Dodgers’ 3-1 Game 6 victory brings them square in a series they trailed by that amount just 48 hours ago. It also pushes the Braves into elimination mode – they will need their third and final shot to advance to their first World Series since 1999.
Rookie Ian Anderson, who was dominant in Game 2, will start for the Braves, while the Dodgers will likely use an opener ahead of Tony Gonsolin, who started Game 2.
Should the Braves blow this 3-1 series lead, they’ll certain curse Seager’s name – his fifth home run of the series kickstarted a three-run first that accounted for all the damage against Atlanta ace Max Fried.
And they certainly won’t forget Buehler, who struck out six in six innings and punched out of a bases-loaded, no out jam in the second on the strength of 10 consecutive fastballs he fired at least 98 mph.
But the Dodgers’ 7-3 Game 5 victory and Saturday’s affair both tilted on defensive gems by Betts. In Friday’s Game 5, the Dodgers already down 2-0 in the bottom of the third, he charged hard on a sinking line drive and plucked it off the grass seconds before the ball struck paydirt. It was such a startling catch that Ozuna, trying to tag up at third, left too soon and was called out on replay review.
RARE COMPANY: Astros can make history with comeback
SCHEDULE: World Series dates and TV times
Instead of 3-0, it stayed 2-0, and a fragile bullpen game stayed on the tracks for the Dodgers, who erupted for six runs in the sixth and seventh innings.