But it may be just as accurate to say the Dodgers lost the first two games of this series. After nine innings of mishaps and missed chances in Game 1, the Dodgers followed with more missed opportunities, that ball Seager couldn’t stop and a failed late-game pitching maneuver in Game 2 — a string of unforced errors that helped give Atlanta a 5-4 win and a 2-0 series lead.
The main spot of trouble materialized like this: After innings of men left on base, Chris Taylor blooped a ball into short center field that gave the Dodgers a two-run lead in the seventh. By the time the bottom of the eighth rolled around, they were six outs away from tying the series.
The Dodgers had plenty of relievers available and a day off coming Monday. But despite having more than one of his many formidable relief options available, Manager Dave Roberts turned to left-handed 20-game winner Julio Urías to pitch the eighth and hold that lead.
What followed was the kind of inning made for second-guessing, the kind of inning that would have led to second-guessing regardless of who was on the mound when it happened, an inning in which Roberts went out on a proverbial limb.
Pulling his scheduled Game 4 starter into duty in the eighth inning of Game 2 to face the tough lefties at the top of Atlanta’s order was not an obvious decision. And by the time Urías surrendered three hits, including a game-tying double to Game 1 hero Austin Riley, it also looked like the wrong one.
Roberts said later that the Dodgers had planned to use Urías out of the bullpen at some point in Game 1 or Game 2. He skipped his between-starts bullpen session. And given the choice between Urias and a less experienced left-hander, Roberts went with Urías.
“Julio, in my opinion, was the best option that we had,” he said.
The Braves went on to win in the ninth when Rosario hit a line drive up the middle with a runner on second. The ball bounced off Seager’s glove and was ruled a base hit. They lead the defending World Series champions 2-0 in the series, a stunning development — although they led this same series against these Dodgers last year 2-0, too.
“[That series] is in the back of your mind,” Riley said later.
“It’s one of those things where you can’t stop now.”
Seager had given the Dodgers a lead two batters into the game with a two-run homer off Atlanta starter Ian Anderson, who lasted just three innings, forcing Atlanta Manager Brian Snitker to, as he put it, “audible.” He had to force relievers into service earlier than expected. His pitchers walked nine Dodgers hitters, perched on a tightrope between limiting damage and disaster. The Dodgers’ offense never pushed them off.
The Dodgers, too, had to go to their bullpen somewhat earlier than expected. They started Max Scherzer, who was pitching on short rest after pitching on short rest, his fourth appearance in 12 days after interrupting his regular schedule to close out Game 5 of the NLDS Thursday.
Scherzer said his arm “felt dead” in the bullpen warming up before the game. He thought it might loosen up as the game went on. Instead, it got tighter, and by the third inning, Scherzer said later, he knew he wouldn’t have many more to give.
And in the fourth inning, after he issued a leadoff walk, Joc Pederson caught a curveball out over the plate with a man on. The former Dodger whose pearl necklace has become the latest in rally fashion here in Cobb County crushed it 454 feet to right field to tie the score at 2, staring it down until it landed. He then hollered at his teammates when he got back to the dugout. The message, at least by an amateur reading of what the broadcast cameras caught, was something along the lines of “I’m a bad son of a gun” — but less suited for national television.
“Obviously, I’ve been a part of the Dodgers for a long time and they’re a really good team and organization,” Pederson said. “But right now, they’re in the way of our common goal.”
Scherzer didn’t last long after that swing. He got one out in the fifth before Roberts came out to get him. Instead of resisting or fuming, Scherzer held the ball out without protest and told Roberts he gave it all he had.
“I could tell that my pitch count was going to be limited. I wasn’t going to be able to get truly deep into a game and I wasn’t going to be able to get to that 95-, 100-pitch count,” Scherzer said. “I knew it was going to be sooner than that.”
At that point, the game transformed into another battle of the bullpens. Again, the Dodgers created chances. In the sixth, Taylor walked, stole second and advanced to third on a deep flyball. AJ Pollock struck out. So did pinch hitter Albert Pujols. Through 15 innings of the NLCS, the Dodgers were 1 for 15 with runners in scoring position.
That record worsened in the seventh when Mookie Betts walked and stole second as Seager struck out. Then Trea Turner struck out, too — 1 for 16. Atlanta intentionally walked Will Smith.
Then, in desperate need of a big hit from somewhere, Roberts asked Justin Turner — who was out of the lineup for the first time in 77 Dodgers postseason games because of a stinger in his neck — to pinch-hit for Gavin Lux. He got hit by a pitch to load the bases for Taylor, whose base-running error in the ninth Saturday night cost the Dodgers a chance to take a late lead.
After a game and a half of utter futility with runners on, Taylor hit a 77-mph blooper to short center that dropped in as two runs scored. Taylor had the Dodgers’ only two hits with runners in scoring position in the series to that point — and it didn’t seem likely they would need another to win Sunday. Their bullpen needed to navigate just three more innings.
But instead of leaving right-hander Blake Treinen and his devastating stuff in for another inning after he handled the seventh or turning to a fresh lefty such as Justin Bruihl, Roberts called on Urías to pitch the eighth.
“I just think that if you’re talking about performance, experience, nothing against Justin, but when you have a choice between him and Julio, I think it’s pretty clear who I was going to choose,” Roberts said.
It did not go well. Urías, who started all season before handling four innings of relief in Game 5 of the NLDS, surrendered hits to Rosario and Ozzie Albies, then a double to Riley that tied the score. An inning and a hard-hit ball by Seager later, Atlanta had stolen another close game from the hands of the Dodgers.
“This is a team, you better not leave early. It’s — don’t leave in the fourth quarter when the team is down because you’ll end up missing the best part of the game and listening to it on your way home,” said Snitker, whose team now owns a 2-0 lead in a series no one expected it to win — a lead that might be described as convincing, had the Dodgers not come back from the same deficit, against this same team, just a year ago.