One year ago, isolated inside a bubble environment at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, the Los Angeles Dodgers fell behind 3-1 in the 2020 National League Championship Series.
In order to win their first World Series title in 32 years they needed a miraculously comeback that had only been done a handful of times in the history of the game.
I'm sure by now you know they did exactly that. Winning three straight elimination games to dispatch of the pesky Braves and advance to the World Series.
One year later, and they might have to do it again.
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Austin Riley homered and hit a walk-off RBI single in the bottom of the ninth, and the Atlanta Braves rallied to win Game 1 of the 2021 National League Championship Series, 3-2, at Truist Park on Saturday night.
"Well, we threw up some hits. We just couldn't get the hit when we needed it," said Dodgers' manager Dave Roberts after the loss. "There's a situational at-bat in there that I'll take our guy anytime and we didn't come through. We had a couple other opportunities and CT [Chris Taylor] being a little aggressive and got hung up there late, not giving Mookie a chance with two outs. It happens. It's baseball."
Roberts was referring to Chris Taylor's baserunning blunder in the top of the ninth that ended the Dodgers chance of taking the lead and stealing Game 1.
Bellinger hit a pinch-hit single to center field, but Taylor hesitated while trying to run first to third. He stopped halfway, and then got caught in a rundown to end the inning.
"It was just a bad read," said Taylor of the mistake. "I saw it barely got over Albies' head and I thought I could get to third. I didn't realize Joc [Pederson] had it that quickly and I tried to stop. I should have kept going, or if I could go back and do it over again, I would have just stopped at second."
Instead of perhaps heading into the bottom of the ninth with a lead and Blake Treinen on to get the save, the Dodgers went into the final frame in danger of a walk-off loss.
The damage began with a one-out single by Ozzie Albies.
The Dodgers Achilles' heel all season long has been their inability to hold baserunners. They allowed the second most stolen bases in baseball in the 2021 season, and aggressive teams like the Atlanta Braves love to exploit their opponent's weaknesses.
Albies quickly stole second on the first pitch Treinen threw, putting him in scoring position for Riley, who had already hit a game-thing homer earlier in the game. On the next pitch, Riley lined a slider down the left field line for a walk-off win that sent the crowd of 41,815 into a frenzy.
"Once I got on, I told him [first base coach Eric Young Sr.] that I'm going so I can be in scoring position for Riley," said Albies. "I'm pretty sure, he's been hot. He's going to do the job. No doubt."
"Absolutely I want to be in that moment," said Riley. "You dream of that as a little kid. It was huge. That was my first [walk-off] ever. I've come up in quite a few situations earlier in the season and wasn't able to get it done, but to get it done tonight was awesome."
The Braves were aggressive to begin the game as well.
Eddie Rosario led off the bottom of the first inning with a single to right field. He promptly stole second, and advanced to third on a ground out. One pitch later, he would score on a wild pitch by Dodgers' reliever Corey Knebel giving Atlanta a 1-0 lead.
The Dodgers were forced into a bullpen game because of what it took for them to even get to this point. They needed Walker Buehler to pitch on three days rest in Game 4, and it took everything from Max Scherzer to earn the save and close out the San Francisco Giants in Game 5 of the NLDS.
Julio Urias pitched the bulk in that game, and with Clayton Kershaw out for the entirety of the postseason with an injured left elbow, the Dodgers were without any reliable starting pitchers for Game 1.
The NLCS is a seven-game series, and therefore a little more akin to the regular season. So Knebel started for the second straight game with a well-rested bullpen that included Justin Bruhl and Evan Phillips—on the roster for the first time this postseason—behind him.
On the opposite mound was Max Fried, easily the best pitcher in the NL since the All-Star break. The lopsided pitching matchup favored the Braves, making it fair to favor Atlanta in Game 1.
But Fried was not at his best. The southpaw, who grew up in Santa Monica rooting for the Dodgers, surrendered a hit in each of the first six innings of his start.
"I felt like I was fighting myself at times, not executing two-strike pitches as well as I would have wanted," said Fried of his start in Game 1. "Defense just made some really nice plays again. Obviously Austin's big hit to get us back tied. The only thing I was trying to do was just to keep it tied right there and give us an opportunity."
Fried was unable to protect the Braves slim lead because the Dodgers would respond in the top half of the second. A.J. Pollock hit a two-out double, and Taylor followed with an RBI single that tied the game.
Fried wiggled out of jams throughout the night, but he was unable to evade a blast off the bat of Will Smith in the top of the fourth inning. Smith provided the Dodgers with a 2-1 lead when he connected on an 0-2 fastball for his third home run of the postseason.
"That's a really good, prepared team. They're probably one of the best prepared teams in the league, they know exactly what I'm going to be bringing to the table and they had a really good game plan," said Fried. "They hit some balls hard and were looking for pitches in certain areas and that's what good teams do."
Pitching on 16 days rest, Tony Gonsolin, who started two games of the 2020 World Series against the Tampa Bay Rays last season, entered in relief in the fourth inning and surrendered a home run to Riley that tied the game at 2-2.
"I was trying to be short to the ball. I felt here lately, especially on fastballs, I've been a little long, fouling pitches off that I feel like I could do some damage with," said Riley of that at-bat. "He threw me two sliders the pitch before, so I just, always be on the fastball, was able to put a good swing on it and hit it over the fence."
Entering the bottom of the ninth, the Dodgers emotional intensity had reached a fever pitch. For 19 consecutive innings, the Dodgers were either deadlocked in a time game, trailing by one, or clinging to a brief one-run lead. Now that streak will carry over into Game 2 on Sunday.
"Runs are at a premium and they did a good job keeping us off-balance so move on tomorrow and try to get back after it," said Dodgers' shortstop Trea Turner who had two of the team's 10 hits in Game 1. "I think we out hit them, they just out scored us, which is part of the game. But when you have people on base, good things happen, just a matter of getting that one more hit and getting those hits with runners in scoring position."
The Dodgers did out-hit the Braves 10-6 on Saturday night and would go on to leave seven runners on base and were a combined 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position.
Those numbers will have to change if the Dodgers want to even the series before heading back to Dodger Stadium.