The Atlanta Braves took a 5-2 lead into the eighth inning but watched it slip away in a 6-5 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 3 of the NLCS.
The Braves threatened to make some noise right away as Eddie Rosario and Freddie Freeman reached on back-to-back singles off of Walker Buehler to begin the game. However, the rally was cut short as Ozzie Albies lined out to Gavin Lux in center, who threw to second to double off Rosario at second. Rosario was running on contact and never had a chance to make it back safely. Buehler struck out Austin Riley to end the threat.
The Dodgers then made the Braves pay for that base running mistake in the first. Charlie Morton walked Mookie Betts to begin the inning and then hung a curveball in the middle of the plate to Corey Seager, who drove it out to center to give Los Angeles a 2-0 lead. It was basically the exact same start as Game 2, where Seager hit a high Ian Anderson curveball out for a two-run homer to kick off that game.
Morton got Trea Turner to ground out and then struck out Will Smith before walking the bases loaded. He escaped, though, as Chris Taylor popped out to Dansby Swanson at short to strand the runners. Morton needed 34 pitches to escape the inning.
Morton started to settle in from there and the score remained 2-0 until the fourth when Atlanta’s offense finally broke through.
Freeman got things started in the fourth with a single. After an Albies fly out, Riley lifted a deep fly to center that bounced off the glove of Gavin Lux. Riley was credited with a double on the play but that is a ball that Lux needed to catch. At any rate, it put runners at second and third with just one out for Joc Pederson.
Buehler’s 1-2 pitch to Pederson was called a ball but appeared to be in the strike zone. He made them pay with a single to right on the next pitch to make it 2-1. Adam Duvall followed with a broken bat flare to left that scored Riley to tie the game.
Apparently shaken, Buehler then walked Travis d’Arnaud on four pitches to load the bases. Swanson followed with a single off of Seager’s glove at short, scoring Pederson to give the Braves a 3-2 lead.
Ehire Adrianza had been on deck but he was called back and Morton hit for himself. He didn’t take the bat off his shoulder, striking out on four pitches for the second out. Buehler then walked Rosario to force in Duvall to extend the lead to 4-2. That was the last pitch Buehler threw, as Dave Roberts summoned Alex Vesia, who got Freeman to fly out to left to end the inning.
It was a tough ending for Buehler who allowed seven hits, three walks and four runs in just 3 2/3 innings. He struck out three while throwing 76 pitches.
Now with the lead, Morton dug in. He struck out Taylor to begin the fourth and got Steven Souza to pop out to Freeman. He then issued another free pass to Betts but struck out Corey Seager with a nasty curveball to leave Betts stranded.
Charlie Morton, 97mph Fastball and 82mph Curveball, Overlay. pic.twitter.com/oK8w5vfXTJ— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 19, 2021
The Braves added another run in the fifth. Albies got things started with a single off of Corey Knebel and then stole second base. Knebel then walked Riley and got Pederson to fly out to center with Albies moving over to third on the play. Roberts replaced Knebel with Phil Bickford who allowed a single to Duvall that scored Albies to extend the lead to 5-2.
Morton came back out for the fifth and got Trea Turner to ground out for the first out. Will Smith followed with a single to left but was erased as Justin Turner bounced into a 4-3 double play.
Morton wasn’t sharp to start but he was able to keep the Braves in the game with a gutsy performance. He allowed three hits and a career-high six walks but just two runs over five innings. He struck out five and threw 96 pitches.
The Braves threatened again in the sixth and made Roberts burn through two more bullpen arms. Swanson led off the inning with a single to right. Bickford was then replaced by Justin Bruihl, who struck out pinch-hitter Johan Camargo and Rosario. Freeman followed with a single to left, his third hit of the game to put runners at first and second. Roberts then went to his pen again bringing on Joe Kelly who struck out Albies to escape.
Atlanta’s bullpen took over from there. A.J. Minter allowed a two-out single to Taylor in the sixth but stuck out pinch-hitter Albert Pujols to end the inning.
AJ Minter, Nasty 90mph Cutter. ✂️ pic.twitter.com/F11VPkWoh1— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 20, 2021
Tyler Matzek has appeared in all seven of the Braves’ postseason games and struck out two more in a scoreless seventh.
Luke Jackson took over for the eighth and the game shifted. Will Smith led off with a single to get things started. After a Turner pop up, AJ Pollock singled to center to bring up Cody Bellinger. Jackson jumped ahead 1-2 and tried to elevate a fastball. Bellinger chased it and squared it up driving it out for a three-run home run that tied the game.
Taylor followed with a single to chase Jackson from the game. Jesse Chavez replaced Jackson and got pinch-hitter Matt Beaty to ground out to Albies for the second out. However, Betts lined the first pitch he saw into the gap in right center to score Taylor and put the Dodgers in front 6-5. The Braves intentionally walked Seager but Turner followed with an infield single to load the bases. However, Smith popped out to Swanson to escape.
Kenley Jansen slammed the door in the ninth by striking out the side.
It was a painful loss for Atlanta and one that they will need to put behind them quickly with Game 4 coming up Wednesday.