A man with a Southern twang ignited the chants on the big screen overlooking Truist Park while the Atlanta Braves swarmed their latest hero, Eddie Rosario, below late Sunday night.
“Eh-ddie! Eh-ddie! Eh-ddie!” the man on the screen shouted, relishing the Braves’ stunning 5-4 win in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series. “That’s two, Braves fans!”
Two, as in two improbable walk-off victories in two nights over the heavily favored Dodgers. Two, as in two losses the Dodgers weren’t supposed to stomach, at least not in succession to begin this final step to the World Series, against a team that won 18 fewer games than them during the regular season.
Two, as in a 2-0 series deficit the Dodgers took with them on their cross-country flight back to Los Angeles early Monday morning where they will try to start excavating in Game 3 on Tuesday.
It’s a hole the Dodgers’ brass helped dig with a string of late-game decisions that will be questioned for eons if they don’t beat the Braves four times in the next week.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts had options besides Julio Urías, a starter all regular season, to face the top of the Braves’ lineup in the eighth inning. Blake Treinen threw just nine pitches in the seventh inning. He could have taken down a few more batters. Kenley Jansen was still available. Justin Bruihl, another left-hander, could have been summoned to face the left-handed hitters due up.
But Roberts wanted Urías so Urías, the Dodgers’ listed starter for Game 4 on Wednesday, took the mound to protect a 4-2 lead in his first high-leverage relief appearance this season. After the game, Roberts said club officials discussed using Urías in relief in one of the first two games and Urías was aware of the possibility.
“He was the best option at that point in time,” Roberts said. “He was prepared for it. It was a perfect spot for him.”
The Dodgers had good reason to trust Urías in the spot. The left-hander starred in a hybrid starter-reliever role last postseason, a performance that included three scoreless innings to close out the Braves in Game 7 of the NLCS. On Thursday, he held the San Francisco Giants to one run over his four innings.
But Urías wasn’t the same pitcher who tormented the Braves a year ago. Rosario welcomed him with a single on his second pitch and shrewdly advanced to second base on Freddie Freeman’s flyout to left field.
Ozzie Albies then flared a single to right field where Steven Souza Jr., not Mookie Betts, was stationed after a double switch moved Betts to center field. Souza’s throw home from shallow right field was on line but well short. By the time it bounced to catcher Will Smith, Rosario was able to slide around Smith’s tag headfirst, touching home plate with his left hand. The safe call was upheld after the Dodgers challenged.
Austin Riley, who walked the Dodgers off in Game 1, hammered a fastball over Betts’ head in center field that scored Albies from first base to tie the score. Urías struck out the next two batters to keep the score knotted and end his disastrous outing.
The Dodgers went down in order in the ninth inning before Brusdar Graterol was summoned to extend the game into extra innings. Travis d’Arnaud led off with a broken-bat single on a 101-mph sinker. Next, Dansby Swanson’s sacrifice bunt attempt went straight to Graterol, who had time to fire to second base to retire the lead runner with help from a scoop by Corey Seager.
Guillermo Heredia then grounded out to third base, advancing Swanson to second for Rosario, one of three outfielders the Braves acquired before the July 30 trade deadline to fill the crater Ronald Acuña Jr.’s season-ending knee injury left behind.
The Dodgers countered the left-handed hitter with Jansen and Rosario didn’t waste any time. The Puerto Rican hammered the first pitch, a cutter, up the middle, just to the right of second base. Seager was perfectly positioned in the Dodgers’ shift and tried backhanding the scorched one-hopper. It bounced off his glove into center field and Swanson raced around to score, leaving the Dodgers stunned.
Braves starter Ian Anderson was pulled after just three innings, exposing their underbelly: the B-side of the bullpen. Max Scherzer, pitching for the fourth time in 12 days, gave up a two-run blast to former Dodger Joc Pederson and was limited to 79 pitches over 42/3 innings, but the bullpen kept the Braves scoreless.
Then, in the seventh inning, the Dodgers finally produced the hit they needed. Justin Turner wasn’t in the Dodgers’ lineup Saturday because of a neck stinger, snapping a streak of 77 straight postseason starts, but Roberts said he would use him as a pinch-hitter in a “big spot.”
One met the criteria in the seventh. Turner pinch-hit for Gavin Lux with two on and two out. Luke Jackson hit him with a pitch on the left elbow, catching his protective padding, to load the bases.
Chris Taylor then dropped a bloop hit to center field that bounced past an overzealous Heredia. The miscue — a night after Taylor’s late-game baserunning gaffe muzzled a Dodgers rally — gave Taylor a two-run double. It was the Dodgers’ first hit with runners in scoring position in 10 tries. They had been one for 17 in the series and four for 42 over their last five games. It was the breakthrough the Dodgers thought would win them the game.
They had Treinen, Urías, and Jansen sitting in the bullpen. They had a plan to take down the final nine outs and go back home with the series tied at one game apiece with Walker Buehler looming in Game 3. But that blueprint fell apart and the Dodgers find themselves down big.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.