ARLINGTON, Texas — Down three games to one, on the verge of another cruel postseason exit, Cody Bellinger looked at the Los Angeles Dodgers‘ lineup card, looked around the room at the men with whom he shares every day in these weird times, and started asking himself rhetorical questions.
“Why can’t we win three games in a row?” Bellinger said. “Why not us?”
This was a fair assessment of an unenviable predicament, a natural response. But there was always a better question to ask, one that he could’ve answered before the Dodgers clinched their third World Series berth in four years by completing their comeback against the Atlanta Braves with a 4-3 victory in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series: Why them?
In every baseball game, there are thousands of decisions. There are minuscule ones — a fielder choosing to take a step to the right or left, a baserunner taking a slightly bigger lead. There are whoppers — a manager figuring out how long to keep a pitcher in, a catcher calling a two-strike pitch. And then there are those in between, the ones where instinct and intelligence meet and change the course of history.
It was the fourth inning. The Braves had taken a 3-2 lead. They had teetered in the early innings of Game 7. The Dodgers were hitting the ball hard and stranding runners. And Atlanta, which the night before had seen the Tampa Bay Rays stave off blowing a 3-0 series lead in the American League Championship Series, was endeavoring to do much the same.
Dansby Swanson stood on third base. Austin Riley stood on second. There were no outs. This was their opportunity to blow the game open. Nick Markakis slapped a 90 mph one-hopper at Justin Turner, the Dodgers’ veteran third baseman. He was playing deep, the consequence of manager Dave Roberts’ decision not to bring the infield in.
Swanson ran on contact. Decision.
Turner threw home. Decision.
Catcher Will Smith chased Swanson back toward third. Decision.
Swanson reversed back toward home as Turner, now with the ball, chased him. Decision.
In the meantime, Riley was having trouble making a decision. The 23-year-old started toward third, stopped halfway and turned back, then, as Turner was diving to barely nick Swanson with a tag — decision, and almost a catastrophic one — Riley committed to third.
Justin Turner dives and throws back to third base, turning a double play as the Dodgers get out of trouble in the fourth inning.
“We made some mistakes,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “We shot ourselves in the foot a couple times. It really hurt. And in games like these, the runs are so hard to come by, you pretty much gotta play flawless baseball.”
After those early stumbles, as the championship innings approached, with a World Series appearance on the line, that’s pretty much exactly what the Los Angeles Dodgers did.