Los Angeles Dodgers

Back From The Brink! Dodgers Claw Back to Beat Braves 6-5 in Game 3, Still Trail 2-1 in NLCS.

The Los Angeles Dodgers overcame a three-run deficit in the bottom of the eighth inning to defeat the Atlanta Braves, 6-5, in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series on Tuesday afternoon at Dodger Stadium.

National League Championship Series Game 3: Atlanta Braves v. Los Angeles Dodgers
Daniel Shirey

The game of baseball can change in an instant. One singular moment that shifts the pendulum of momentum from one side to the other like a weather vane on a sailboat stuck in stormy seas.

That storm hit the Dodgers in the fourth inning of Game 3, and with one swing the tides of change swung it back in the bottom of the eighth.

Los Angeles went from being on life support to seeing their chances of repeating as world champions rise like the phoenix from beyond the crumbling ashes of despair.

Atlanta rode that wave of momentum during a four-run fourth inning, but the Dodgers sailed it home, completing one of the most miraculous comebacks in postseason history, defeating the Braves 6-5 in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series.

"We were dead in the water, you could see it," admitted Dodgers' manager Dave Roberts before the bottom of the eighth inning. "We need that kind of shot in the arm and I'm expecting it to carry over to tomorrow."

The Braves still lead the best-of-seven series 2-1, but the Dodgers might have gotten that 'shot in the arm' they needed from the thunderous bat of beleaguered first baseman Cody Bellinger. But before Bellinger got his chance to play the hero of this three act play, there was first and act one and an act two.

For the second consecutive game, the Dodgers jumped out to an early 2-0 lead. Mookie Betts worked a leadoff walk, and Corey Seager followed with a two-run homer. That nearly identical formula is how the Dodgers opened Game 2 back in Atlanta.

"We knew if get somebody on base in front of Corey that can steal a base, that Charlie [Morton] would try to quicken up his delivery and slide step," said Roberts of the opening sequence. "He left a breaking ball up, and when you're trying to be quick in 1, 2 instead of his 1, 4, or 5, to execute a pitch, that was a byproduct of Mookie being on first base. So he hung a breaker and Corey hit it out. If you make a mistake, he'll make you pay and it was big."

Staked to a two-run lead, Walker Buehler was cruising when the fourth inning rolled around. He had faced just one batter below the minimum through the first three innings before Freddie Freeman began the fourth inning with a leadoff single.

Ozzie Albies flew out, and Austin Riley appeared to have done the same before the train suddenly derailed off the tracks. Riley's fly ball to the warning track in centerfield went into the webbing of Gavin Lux's glove and bounced out. Instead of the second out of the inning, Atlanta had runners on second and third with one out.

NLCS: LA Dodgers vs. Atlanta Braves
Wally Skalij/Getty Images
Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Gavin Lux is unable to catch a fly ball hit by Atlanta Braves' Austin Riley during the third inning in game three in the 2021 National League Championship Series at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021 in Los Angeles, CA. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

"I know that it's a play that Gavin expects to make," said Roberts of the dropped fly ball. "There's the wall, there's some sun and I just don't know and Gavin won't make any excuses. It's a play that I know he knows he should make."

Buehler was more forgiving.

"Gavin is extremely talented and has been put in a position that's extremely difficult in that he's playing a position he's never played before for September and now in the playoffs," said Buehler of the dropped fly ball. "In talking to him after the game, I think he's going to learn a lot just on how to make that specific play. It just so happens that it happens at this time of year and everyone is watching it."

Buehler beared down, and dug his cleats down into the dirt. He threw three perfect cutters to former teammate Joc Pederson for the presumed strikeout and potential second out of the inning. Only home plate umpire Jerry Meals didn't call the third pitch a strike. Buehler barked at him. Pederson followed with an RBI single to right field.

"So that inning is on me, not on Gavin, not on the umpire, not on anything like that," said Buehler after the game.

Instead of what should have been the final out of the inning, the Braves had now cut the Dodgers lead in half, and had runners at the corners with one out.

A visibly frustrated and irritated Buehler came undone. He surrendered two singles and two walks to four of the next five batters he faced, and was forced to leave the game without exiting the fourth inning. The Braves had delivered a four-run gut punch and it knocked the wind out of the Dodgers' sails.

In the shortest postseason start of his young career, Buehler allowed four runs on seven hits with three walks and three strikeouts in just 3 and two-thirds innings.

"There's days where nothing seems to be working," said Buehler of his start. "But it was really big for our team, our bullpen, and our offense to pick me up." Going home tonight throwing the way that I did and losing is something that's hard to deal with, but our team finds a way to make it happen and I get to go home happy that we won."

NLCS: LA Dodgers vs. Atlanta Braves
Robert Gauthier/Getty Images
Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Walker Buehler wipes his forehead before pitching to Atlanta Braves' Travis d'Arnaud during the fourth inning in game three in the 2021 National League Championship Series at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021 in Los Angeles, CA. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

For the next seven innings, the Dodgers failed to get a runner on second base. This cannot be underplayed, they were dead, on life support, barely a sign of a pulse...but then, in the bottom of the eighth inning, proof of life.

Will Smith led off the inning with a single. Two batters later, AJ Pollock hit a single of his own. Suddenly, despite all the mental miscues, the bad defense, the inability to hit with runners in scoring position, the Dodgers were one swing away from tying the game.

"We've been in similar situations before...but one hit really can change things, and get energy back in that dugout. So props to Will and then AJ for continuing it. Back-to-back hits is huge," said Bellinger of the singles. "I don't have that swing without Will and AJ, though. They really brought the energy into the dugout and when I'm walking up to the plate I just try to continue that and continue to pass the baton."

That 'one swing' came as swift and as strong as a strike from Thor's Hammer. Down in the count, Bellinger demolished a 96 MPH fastball from Luke Jackson halfway up the seats in right field to tie the game, sending the 51,307 fans at Dodger Stadium that were standing on their feet on bated breath into delirium.

And with one swing, that same crowd that was half-asleep just minutes earlier, suddenly came roaring back to life. Overwhelmed with emotion, and starved for something to get excited about for hours, they bellowed and bawled, hugged and high-fived, with pure ecstasy and elation they brought their Dodgers back from the brink.

"It was pure elation, pure joy," said Roberts of Bellinger's home run. "I mean, it's just hard to imagine a bigger hit that I can remember really, just kind of what was at stake. I couldn't be happier for him. So just what a win. I'm just kind of exhausted right now, but very happy for Cody. We fed off that energy. It was as loud as I've heard Dodger Stadium after that homer."

Dodger Stadium went from being so silent you could hear a pin drop, to a cacophonous chant of "Cody! Cody! Cody!"

And just as Roberts mentioned, the team began to feed off that energy.

Chris Taylor followed with a single, the cheers grew louder. He stole second, and they rose again. They reached a fever pitch when Betts hit an RBI double to gap in right-center that completed the comeback. Los Angeles finally led 6-5.

"A stolen base right there is huge, just to rase the double play and get another guy up to the plate and give us two more chances instead of one," said Betts of Taylor's stolen base before his at-bat. "CT [Chris Taylor] has been amazing. All year he's just been a grinder, man. He is just a baller. He's obviously someone that is kind of like an unsung hero, but everybody needs a CT on their team."

For all the praise the Braves deserve for their walk-off victories and ability to weather the storm throughout the 2021 season, the Dodgers have gifted them two games on a silver platter. On Tuesday, it was about to be three before Bellinger's big blast.

"It hurts. I mean, we lost the game because I made a couple bad pitches that some days are outs and some days they're home runs," said Luke Jackson who took the loss for Atlanta. "To feel like this is a dagger. This is just a speed bump in the road and I wish it didn't happen and I wish were were up 3-0 going into Game 4 and having a chance to sweep."

Instead of a sweep, the Dodgers have 20-game winner Julio Urias on the mound in Game 4, while Atlanta has to throw a bullpen game. On paper, that matchup would favor the Dodgers, but based on how this postseason has gone you can crumple that paper into a ball and throw it out the window.

"It's never going to just be easy and handed to us," said Bellinger of Game 3. "We got to fight for it."

Teams that win the World Series often find moments where heroes rise up and make the kind of plays that are replayed on a loop for a lifetime. Mookie Betts had many of those moments during the 2020 title run for the Dodgers. He knows how important they are, and in a slang that only he would understand, he calls them "Benzs" [like a Mercedes Benz].

Going into the eighth inning on Tuesday, the Dodgers were in danger of being haunted by the mental lapses and mistakes, that could overshadow an entire offseason.

But then Bellinger had his signature moment, and now, the Dodgers have life. And with that restored life, their hopes of defending their World Series title still remain alive.

"Tell them, Belli. They're good, but you drive a Benz too," Betts told Bellinger in the postgame press conference after the game.

"I do got a Benz," said Bellinger laughing.

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