In one corner, was 20-game winner and Cy Young Award candidate Julio Urias. The Dodgers' lefty allowed just one run in eight innings against the Braves in the bubble last year, and had been so good this year, the team felt confident inserting him into a game whenever and wherever they saw fit.
In the other corner was 17-year journeyman pitcher Jesse Chavez and veteran lefty Drew Smyly, together, they had a combined ERA over 4.00. It was only inevitable LA would even the series, right?
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Chavez and Smyly combined for a perfect game through three innings, and a no-hitter through four. Meanwhile, Urias had his worst start in five years and emptied the tank on a night that was supposed to be a celebration, not a wake.
The Braves combined to hit four home runs, defeating the Dodgers in a blowout, 9-2, in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series on Wednesday night at Dodger Stadium. Atlanta now leads the best-of-seven series 3-1 for the second straight year.
"You never want to have your back against the wall," said Dodgers' manager Dave Roberts about the 3-1 deficit. "That's not how you draw it up. But we have a very resilient team, a very tough team, and it's not going to get much tougher than facing Max Fried in an elimination game, but we've done it before. Like I said, we got to win tomorrow and I really believe we're equipped to win tomorrow's ball game."
The Dodgers got knocked down in the second when Urias allowed back-to-back home runs to Eddie Rosario and Adam Duvall.
It was the third time the Braves had hit back-to-back homers in the postseason in their franchise history, and first since 2002.
"We told ourselves after what happened yesterday, good or bad, that the biggest game is today. You just got to focus on getting a victory today and just keep punching," said Duvall. "This is the time of the year where everything matters, every out, every pitch, every hit, every run, every defensive play, it all matters."
An inning later is Freddie Freeman's turn to tee off on an Urias' fastball.
"They're a good team," said Urias. "We had a plan going into the game. Obviously they made their adjustments. They hit the ball when I made those pitches. They made those adjustments throughout the game. Some of those pitches I thought were a little bit better than the results showed, but just kind of, it's just part of baseball, it's just what happens."
Freeman started the NLCS 0-for-8 with seven strikeouts, but is 5-for-8 with a home run, a double, two RBI and two runs scored since.
"I've done nothing different. It's just baseball," said Freeman of his poor start to the series. But when asked about the Braves ability to close out the Dodgers, something they weren't able to do last year, he got serious.
"This is a whole different team, a whole different thing," said Freeman. "So if anybody's thinking about 2020, I think everybody wants to be in a 3-1 lead, so we'll take it and hopefully we -- we got Max going tomorrow so we're feeling pretty good."
The three home runs was the first time Urias had allowed three homers in the same game since June 2, 2016 when he was just a 19-year-old rookie.
The Braves would tack on two more runs off Urias before he left the game after the fifth inning, allowing five runs on eight hits with two walks and three strikeouts. It was the worst playoff appearance of his career.
"I felt good physically. I just have to give them credit for what they did today," sair Urias who was pitching on two days rest after an appearance in Game 2. "That Rosario home run in particular, I didn't think it was going to go out of the stadium and when it did it was just one of those things that happened. It was their day."
Huascar Ynoa was supposed to start Game 4 for Atlanta. He was scratched at the last-minute and Chavez took his place. Smyly was the Braves least reliable pitcher. He allowed five runs on nine hits against the Dodgers in a loss at Chavez Ravine on August 30. Atlanta inserted him because they had no other options in a bullpen game. Instead, Smyly smashed all expectations.
"I mean, you're going to have bad starts when you're making 30 starts across the season. I shook that start off the next day and I was ready to pitch and I've just been trying to make the most of my opportunities," said Smyly of erasing that previous game at Dodger Stadium from his memory. "So I was excited to get back out there today and have another chance at 'em. I just took it like any other game, just get every out I can until they take the ball from me."
Dodgers' manager Dave Roberts said his team looked "dead in the water" prior to Cody Bellinger's game-tying three-run homer that resuscitated them in Game 3. He said it was the "shot in the arm" his team needed and that the momentum would carry over into Game 4.
Less than 24 hours after that proclamation was made the Dodgers looked dead on arrival to start Game 4. It took them five innings before they showed their first signs of life.
Justin Turner broke up the Braves no-hitter with a single off Smyly to start the 5th. Bellinger moved him to third with a single to left-center, and AJ Pollock brought them both home by beating the shift on a single to centerfield that cut the lead to 5-2.
"I was just trying to hit a line drive the other way and sometimes you do exactly what you want to do," said Pollock of his two-run single. "So I wasn't trying to do too much with it."
The three-run deficit was exactly the same as it was before Bellinger's blast in Game 3. But this time there would be no comeback, no drama, no dancing at Dodger Stadium.
Rosario, who finished a double shy of the cycle, delivered the knockout punch in the top of the ninth inning with a three-run blast into the Braves' bullpen that gave Atlanta a 9-2 lead. Rosario finished the game 4-for-5 with two home runs, a triple, four RBI and three runs scored.
"I want to try to help the team to win. Three RBI is better than hitting a double," said Rosario of missing the cycle on his final swing. "I'm really proud of the effort that I've put in, proud of myself for the way things have been going on. But I'm still dreaming for bigger things. I kind of want more at this point and just dreaming for the next thing and hopefully we can get there."
Six Braves relievers combined to beat the Dodgers, and now it's the Boys in Blue that will be forced to throw a bullpen game on Thursday with their backs against the wall.
"Fried isn't going to feel sorry for us. He's going to go for the jugular," Roberts said of Atlanta's ace on the mound in Game 5. "Our backs are against the wall and no one's going to feel sorry for us. We've got to find a way to stress him, get guys on base, and push them across, that's just the bottom line."
Unexpectedly, they find themselves in a familiar position facing a 3-1 series deficit against Atlanta. They were in the same situation last season and they rallied to win three consecutive elimination games.
In order for history to repeat itself, the Dodgers will have to catch lightning in a bottle without three of their best players. Home run leader Max Muncy and future Hall-of-Famer Clayton Kershaw were already ruled out of this series before the postseason even began. But honorary team captain, and the Dodgers leader in nearly every offensive category in postseason history, Justin Turner, was injured wile running to first base in the 7th inning.
Turner grounded into a double play and came up limping on his way to first base. He appeared to reach back towards his left hamstring and immediately came out of the game and headed back to the locker room.
"Early indication it's a grade [hamstring strain], so I think that will be it for him [for the postseason]," said Roberts of the injury that is expected to end Turner's season.
If any team in baseball can win three straight games its the Dodgers. They won three games in a row 49 times during the 2021 season.
"No one needs to tell anyone that we can do it. We've done it," said Pollock. "We've been here. Obviously we got to grind tomorrow, but we win tomorrow, we're not in a bad spot."
Win tomorrow, and the Dodgers keep their season alive. Here's hoping history repeats itself.