Dodgers' World Series aspirations in peril after another walk-off loss to Braves

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A man with a Southern twang sparked the chants from the giant videoboard overlooking Truist Park while the Atlanta Braves swarmed their latest walk-off hero, Eddie Rosario, on the diamond below late Sunday night.

“Eh-ddie! Eh-ddie! Eh-ddie!” the man on the screen shouted, savoring 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 familiar 2-0 series deficit the Dodgers lugged with them on their cross-country flight back to Los Angeles early Monday morning.

A year ago, the Dodgers overcame the same hole — and a 3-1 deficit — to beat the Braves in seven games in the NLCS on the way to their first World Series title in 32 years. They’ll have to follow a familiar path to repeat as champions for the first time in franchise history.

“It hurts to lose in the fashion we did,” Dodgers utility man Chris Taylor said. “But at the same time, we’ve been here before.”

But this version of events was soured by a string of late-game decisions from the Dodgers’ brass 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’ve stayed in the game for 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. The left-hander was aware of the possibility and didn’t throw his usual side bullpen session to stay ready.

Atlanta's Ozzie Albies dives toward home to score off a run-scoring double by Austin Riley in the eighth inning.
Atlanta's Ozzie Albies dives toward home to score off a run-scoring double by Austin Riley in the eighth inning. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Atlanta's Ozzie Albies, front, scores a run in front of Dodgers catcher Will Smith during the eighth inning.
Atlanta's Ozzie Albies, front, scores a run in front of Dodgers catcher Will Smith during the eighth inning. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

“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 situation. He 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 four innings out of the bullpen.

But Urías on Sunday 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 short. By the time it bounced to catcher Will Smith, Rosario was sliding around his tag headfirst, touching the plate with his left hand. The safe call was upheld after the Dodgers challenged.

Dodgers pitcher Julio Urías reacts after giving up a run-scoring single to Atlanta's Ozzie Albies.
Dodgers pitcher Julio Urías reacts after giving up a run-scoring single to Atlanta's Ozzie Albies in the eighth inning. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Austin Riley, who walked the Dodgers off in Game 1, then 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 to 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 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, letting Swanson race around to score.

“They’ve had two big innings to take the lead,” Roberts said. “The series could be flipped.”

The night began in the Dodgers’ favor. It took them two batters to match their run total from Game 1 when Seager launched a two-run home run off right-hander Ian Anderson on the sixth pitch. Anderson was pulled after just three innings, exposing the Braves’ underbelly — the B-side of their bullpen — and seemingly giving the Dodgers a significant advantage with Max Scherzer on the mound.

But Scherzer was compromised three days after throwing 13 pitches to close out the San Francisco Giants in Game 5 of the NL Division Series. His first career save came at a cost evident in his start Sunday — his fourth appearance in 12 days.

The right-hander gave up a two-run blast to former Dodger Joc Pederson in the fourth inning and was limited to 79 pitches over 4 1/3 innings. He didn’t protest Roberts’ hook the way he objected on the mound in the wild-card game. He gave Roberts the ball when the manager stuck his hand out and walked off the mound.

“My arm was dead,” Scherzer said. “I could tell when I was warming up, it was still tired.”

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts relieves starting pitcher Max Scherzer during the fifth inning.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, left, relieves starting pitcher Max Scherzer during the fifth inning. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

He exited with the score tied as the Dodgers failed to capitalize on scoring opportunities, a trend that has plagued them in the playoffs. They finally produced the hit they needed in the seventh.

Justin Turner wasn’t in the Dodgers’ lineup Sunday 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 plunked him with a pitch on the left elbow, catching his protective padding, to load the bases.

Taylor then dropped in a blooper to center field that bounced past an overzealous Heredia. The miscue — a night after Taylor’s late-game baserunning gaffe muzzled a ninth-inning Dodgers rally — gifted Taylor a two-run double. It was the Dodgers’ first hit with runners in scoring position in nine tries. They had been one for 16 in the series and four for 41 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 return to California tied at one game apiece with Walker Buehler looming for Game 3. But reality didn’t follow the script, and the Dodgers left Georgia in a predicament they didn’t expect.

“We’re tired,” Taylor said. “We’re ready to get home.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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