Despite Late Thrills, Dodgers Drop NLCS Game 2on October 14, 2020 at 5:11 am

Despite Late Thrills, Dodgers Drop NLCS Game 2

In the top of the ninth of this second game of the NLCS, Mark Melancon caught his second home run in two days. It was a rare feat for a closer, made all the rarer by the fact that both homers were hit by the same player, Ozzie Albies, and that both had come in the top of the ninth. But the unlikely catches were not entirely symmetrical. The home run in Game 1, a two-run shot, had put the Braves ahead 5-1, capping off a late rally that broke a tense 1-1 tie; the ball carried, as if placed by an unseen hand, directly into Melancon’s glove. He seemed more shocked than anything — with the game still fairly close, he was more concerned with preparing to close out the bottom of the ninth.

The home run in Game 2, though, was the cherry on top of a long day of scoring. It took a comfortable lead and made it that much more comfortable. When Albies made contact on a sinker from Adam Kolarek, Melancon saw his chance; he jogged over, made the catch, and broke into a celebratory trot around the bullpen.

He probably wasn’t anticipating that home run being the deciding run of the game. Why would he? It gave Atlanta an 8-3 lead heading into the final half-inning of Game 2. They had led for hours, striking first as they have through all seven of their postseason games so far. The first blow was off Tony Gonsolin, who started in place of the injured Clayton Kershaw. Gonsolin had been perfect through his first three innings, but began the first with a walk to Ronald Acuna Jr. In the blink of an eye, that small lapse turned into a two-run deficit as Freddie Freeman crushed a two-run shot in the stands in right.

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From there, it was an onslaught. First up in relief was Pedro Baez, who took over for Gonsolin in the fifth after a Cristian Pache double made the score 3-0. Inheriting two baserunners, Baez allowed a single to Freeman — another run on the board — before walking back-to-back hitters, making it 5-0. He got ahead of Albies 0-2, threw three balls in a row, and left a changeup out over the plate; Albies launched it into dead center. It took another great catch from Cody Bellinger to save several more runs from scoring, but even the catch allowed another run to cross. It was now 6-0, and there were still runners at the corners with two out.

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Out of the bullpen came Dylan Floro, who finally ended the top of the fifth with a strikeout of Dansby Swanson. But it would not go so smoothly for Floro in the top of the sixth, as a Nick Markakis double knocked him out of the game. In came Jake McGee, who finished the inning without further incident. The same cannot be said of Alex Wood in the top of the seventh, who gave up a walk, a single, and a Swanson double to make it a 7-0 laugher.

It takes two to tango, though, and the other half of this dance was the Dodgers’ scuffling offense. After only scrounging up one run on four hits in Game 1, the Dodgers managed just two hits in their first six innings. They managed to work five walks off rookie sensation Ian Anderson, even loading the bases in the bottom of the third, and ran his pitch count up enough to chase him after four innings. But, like the Reds and Marlins before them, they failed to score. And they continued to fail against Tyler Matzek, who pitched around a walk in the fifth and a single in the sixth.

The bottom of the seventh, though, was when the cracks began to show — when a game that had been overwhelmingly one-sided started to shift. Darren O’Day started the inning but promptly gave up singles to Joc Pederson and Chris Taylor. After a critical strikeout of Mookie Betts, he ceded the mound to A.J. Minter, who fell behind Corey Seager 2-1. He threw a cutter over the plate, and Seager pounced on it, putting the Dodgers on the board and cutting the lead to 7-3.

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Still, after a quiet eighth and the Albies home run in the top of the ninth, it was hard to envision the Dodgers mounting any kind of serious threat, even with Josh Tomlin on the mound and the top of the order coming up. Their bats had been so quiet for so long. The bottom of the ninth began with a Taylor strikeout — an uncomfortable one, sending him down to one knee. Two outs to go, and a five-run lead: easy. Then Betts singled. Then, two pitches later, Seager smoked a ball into the right-field corner, where, unable to recover from its injuries, it died on the dirt in front of some surprised-but-enthused Dodger fans. By the time Acuna was able to field it, Betts was well around third, heading home. Two outs to go, a four-run lead, and a runner on second: a little less easy.

It got easier for Tomlin thanks to another strikeout, this time of Justin Turner. Now he only needed one out. To the plate stepped Max Muncy. Tomlin’s first pitch, a cutter, missed inside; his second, a curveball, bounced in the dirt. His third pitch was in the zone, middle-in and 87 mph — right where Muncy wanted it.

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One out, but a lead that was down to two. Brian Snitker was forced to call on Melancon, who had so recently been safe in the bullpen, celebrating his second Albies home run catch and a win that seemed to be in the bag. Melancon quickly got ahead of Will Smith 0-2, and on his third straight curve, got Smith to ground it into the infield, right to Albies. Albies bobbled it. Smith ran through first, completely safe. Now the tying run was at the plate in the form of Cody Bellinger.

Bellinger, too, took a strike on a curve. But he was all over Melancon’s next pitch, roping it into right. Smith scored easily; Bellinger ended up at third. The tying run, all of a sudden, was 90 feet from home, the one out remaining no longer seeming such a small obstacle between the Braves and victory.

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But AJ Pollock grounded out to third, leaving Bellinger stranded. The outcome that had seemed all but certain since the fifth inning was confirmed. The path, though, had not been as smooth as it appeared.

The Braves now hold a commanding 2-0 lead in the series. Their Fried-Anderson one-two punch, so dominant in the Wild Card and Division Series, held up against baseball’s most productive lineup; their offense managed to rough up the National League’s best bullpen. And until the seventh inning of Game 2, their own bullpen held up, continuing its dominance from earlier this postseason. They have proven themselves to be a formidable force, not merely beneficiaries of the weakness of previous opponents.

Now they enter the danger zone. In their previous best-of-three and best-of-five series, they swept through easily on the strength of Fried’s and Anderson’s performances, not having to rely on their starting pitching depth to win multiple games. This, though, is a best-of-seven. They have won two games, the two games they needed to win, but they must still win two more — there will be no days off, no reprieve. And the Dodgers, though they have appeared so beatable on both sides of the ball through so much of this series, have shown a little of what they’re capable of. I think we’re going to be in for a fun ride.

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