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Game 2 of the NLCS on Sunday was billed as a heavyweight bout between Dodgers ace Max Scherzer and Braves 23-year-old sensation Ian Anderson. Surely this would be an old-fashioned pitcher’s duel with both starters trading blows deep into the ballgame, right?
Not quite. The Dodgers jumped on Anderson right out of the gate in this one, as Mookie Betts started the game with a leadoff single and then Corey Seager demolished the first pitch that he saw from the Braves’ right-hander for a 401-foot two-run blast to give the Dodgers the early advantage.
Scherzer did his part through the first three innings, putting zeroes on the board while Anderson bounced back to do the same. In the home half of the third inning, Braves skipper Brian Snitker sent Johan Camargo in to pinch-hit for Anderson, ending his night after throwing just 55 pitches (30 strikes) in his three innings of work.
Jesse Chavez came on to work a perfect top half of the fourth inning for the Braves. Then, in the bottom half of the frame, Austin Riley worked a one-out walk from Scherzer and Joc Pederson obliterated a 1-0 curveball, sending it 454 feet into the seats in right field to tie the game at 2-2.
A.J. Minter came on to work the fifth for the Braves, and though he issued a pair of free passes, he was able to escape the inning unscathed. Scherzer came back out for the fifth, but allowed a leadoff single to Dansby Swanson and struck out Orlando Arcia before turning the ball over to Alex Vesia. Vesia came on and allowed a single to Eddie Rosario, but battled back to strike out both Freddie Freeman and Ozzie Albies to end the threat.
Scherzer threw just 79 pitches (52 strikes) in the contest. He told reporters after the game that his “arm was dead” and that he never fully loosened up during the outing, which was the reason for his early exit.
The two bullpens would trade zeroes in the sixth inning before the Dodgers finally broke through with an unconventional rally in the top half of the seventh. Mookie Betts worked a 10-pitch walk off of Tyler Matzek to begin the inning and then swiped second base as Corey Seager struck out. Matzek then set Trea Turner down on strikes for the second out of the inning before walking Will Smith intentionally to set up a battle with Gavin Lux. That’s when Dodgers manager Dave Roberts pulled Justin Turner off the bench to hit in a key spot against the Braves’ southpaw. Turner got ahead in the count 2-1 before he was drilled by a Matzek slider to load the bases. Chris Taylor then smacked a two-run double into center field to give the Dodgers the lead.
At that point, the Dodgers were just nine outs away from evening the series at one game apiece before heading home to Los Angeles for a critical Game 3 on Tuesday.
Blake Treinen came on to work the seventh inning, and though he issued a leadoff walk to Travis d’Arnaud, he was quickly erased on a double play. Treinen then got Guillermo Heredia to ground out on the first pitch that he saw to end the inning -- needing just nine pitches to retire the Braves. Chris Martin handled the eighth inning for the Braves and retired Steven Souza Jr, Betts and Seager in order to keep the Braves deficit at two runs.
Rather than leaving Treinen in for the eighth inning, Roberts turned to the league’s only 20-game winner during the regular season -- Julio Urias -- to pitch against the Braves key left-handed bats that were due up to begin the eighth inning. Eddie Rosario smacked a single into left field -- his third hit of the night -- to begin the frame. He advanced to second base on a first-pitch fly out off the bat of Freddie Freeman, which was the first time in the series that Freeman put the ball in play. Ozzie Albies followed with a single into right field that scored an aggressive Rosario from second base in a close play at the plate. Austin Riley then clubbed the first pitch that he saw from Urias for a game-tying RBI double to center, making it a 4-4 game. Urias rallied to strike out Joc Pederson and Ehire Adrianza to end the threat, but the damage had already been done.
Braves’ closer Will Smith took the hill for the top half of the ninth inning, retiring Trea Turner, Will Smith and Austin Barnes in order to keep the score tied at four runs apiece. In the home half of the frame, Travis d’Arnaud got things started with a leadoff single off of Brusdar Graterol. Christian Pache came on to pinch-run for him, but was cut down at second base on a bunt attempt off the bat of Dansby Swanson (#neverbunt). Swanson advanced to second base on a ground out off the bat of Guillermo Heredia, bringing Eddie Rosario back to the dish with two outs.
Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen was summoned from the bullpen to face Rosario. The first pitch that he threw -- a 92.7 mph cutter -- Rosario smacked off the glove of Corey Seager and into center field, scoring Swanson from second base with the winning run and giving the Braves their second consecutive walk-off victory to begin the NLCS.
It’s just the second time in Braves franchise history that they have had back-to-back walk-off wins in the postseason, the other time being in Games 3 and 4 of the 1991 World Series against the Twins.
The series now shifts to Los Angeles with the Braves holding a commanding 2-0 lead in the series. It’s the second straight season that the Braves have held a 2-0 lead over the Dodgers in the NLCS, though we all know it didn’t work out well for them during the 2020 season.
ALCS Game 3 - Red Sox vs. Astros - 8:07 PM
(Series tied 1-1)
The ALCS shifts to Boston for a pivotal Game 3 on Monday, with the winner taking commanding control of the seven-game series.
For the home team, Eduardo Rodriguez will toe the slab for the Red Sox. He was knocked around in Game 1 of the ALDS against the Rays, allowing two runs and recording just five outs before getting the quick hook. He rebounded nicely in Game 4 of that series though, striking out six over five innings of two-run baseball.
Nick Pivetta -- who had been the other candidate to start on Monday -- will be available out of the Red Sox bullpen in this one should Rodriguez run into trouble early on. The Red Sox hope that isn’t the case however, as Pivetta is likely to start in Game 4 in Tuesday as look as he isn’t used out of the bullpen in this one.
One particular hitter of note here for the Astros is Alex Bregman, who is a career .417/.462/1.000 hitter with a pair of homers and three RBI in 13 plate appearances against Rodriguez.
On the other side of the diamond, the Astros will turn to 26-year-old right-hander Jose Urquidy. They’re facing a depleted bullpen after Jake Odorizzi was pressed into emergency action in place of the injured Luis Garcia in the second inning on Saturday, so they’ll need length out of Urquidy in this one.
The problem with that though, is that Urquidy hasn’t pitched since October 3, in the team’s regular season finale. Urquidy was terrific over 20 starts during the regular season, compiling a 3.62 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 90/19 K/BB ratio over 107 innings. He has also pitched well in the postseason in his career, registering a 2.81 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 24/8 K/BB ratio across 25 2/3 innings in eight appearances (four starts).
MLB Quick Hits: Astros manager Dusty Baker told reporters on Sunday that despite his right knee injury, right-hander Luis Garcia will remain on the Astros ALCS roster for the time being. The 24-year-old hurler reported feeling “a lot better” after throwing a bullpen session on Sunday. He would be available on regular rest for Game 6 of the ALCS, or could be available on short rest in Game 5 after throwing only 33 pitches during Saturday’s loss in Game 2. … Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts confirmed after Sunday’s heartbreaking loss in Game 2 that Julio Urias will still be available to start Game 4 as scheduled on Wednesday. … Jeff Passan of ESPN reported Sunday that Major League Baseball will provide housing for all minor league baseball players starting in 2022.