ARLINGTON, Texas – Across eight straight division titles and a pair of National League pennants, the Los Angeles Dodgers have produced MVPs and Rookies of the Year, won hundreds of games, and teased their fanbase with dreams of ‘a first World Series championship since 1988.
Still, something always seemed to be missing in a team that had vast resources and great intelligence, but often worked the edges for minimal gains, whether on the balance sheet or the roster card.
Maybe it was Mookie Betts.
The Dodgers forced a Game 7 in this National League Championship series against the Atlanta Braves by avoiding elimination twice, and although Corey Seager couldn’t stop hitting home runs and Walker Buehler blew away the Brave with a 98 mph fastball blast, they’re alive in large part because Betts did things almost every baseball player on the planet can’t.
On Saturday afternoon at Globe Life Field, that moment arrived in the fifth inning, with Buehler fading and the Dodgers bats sleeping again, a man on and Marcell Ozuna burning a 101mph bullet from his bat in the right field. Betts backed up, caught the ball, and finally jumped off the wall to bring it back.
Run saved. Buehler saved, for another round. And Sunday night, a Game 7 in a series that no doubt deserves it.
The Dodgers’ 3-1 win in Game 6 saw them squared in a streak they were trailing by that amount just 48 hours ago. It also pushes the Braves into elimination mode – they’ll need their third and final shot to advance to their first World Series since 1999.
If they fail, they’ll certainly curse Seager’s name – his fifth home run in the series threw a three-point first that did all the damage against Atlanta ace Max Fried.
And they certainly won’t forget Buehler, who struck out six balls in six innings and came out of a loaded jam, scoreless in the second, thanks to 10 consecutive fastballs he shot at least 98 mph.
But the Dodgers ‘7-3 victory in Game 5 and Saturday’s affair both rested on Betts’ defensive gems. In Game 5 on Friday, the Dodgers were already down 2-0 in the bottom of the third, charging hard down a downline and ripping it off the grass seconds before the ball hit paydirt. It was such a surprising catch that Ozuna, trying to get third, left too early and was called out during the replay.
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Instead of 3-0, it remained 2-0, and a fragile bullpen play remained on the tracks for the Dodgers, who erupted for six runs in the sixth and seventh innings.
They kept that leverage in Game 6, with Seager and Justin Turner doing a homerun and Cody Bellinger contributing an RBI single before Fried could settle in.
But that’s all Fried would give in, making Betts’ game even bigger.
The acquisition of Betts and the subsequent signing of a 12-year, $ 365 million contract during the offseason was a massive and unusual off-season expense for the Dodgers, both in the trade and payroll department.
He responded with a signature MVP-caliber campaign over the 60-game season, and the Dodgers posted baseball’s best record, at 43-17.
But they already had. They’ve won pennants before – including a 2017 Game 7 triumph in Milwaukee.
This group never won everything, however, what Betts do know: they beat them in 2018 as the Boston Red Sox. Now he’s on their side.
And soon, we’ll find out if that makes all the difference in the world.