The Brewers swept, the Dodgers did not.
Just hours after the Milwaukee Brewers became the first team to advance to the championship series in the MLB playoffs, the Dodgers blew a chance to join them, falling to the Braves, 6-5, in Game 3 of the NLDS on Sunday.
The Braves broke the game open in the second inning when 20-year-old rookie Ronald Acuña Jr. hit a grand slam with brio against fellow rookie Walker Buehler to give Atlanta an early 5-0 lead.
“I was just focused on the pitch and the next pitch, and I was luckily able to connect,” Acuña Jr. said of his grand slam following the game.
The Dodgers could have packed up right then and there and prepared for Game 4 on Monday, but instead they chipped away at the lead, erasing a five-run deficit in just three innings, thanks to home runs by Chris Taylor and Max Muncy in the top of the fifth.
“Even when we got down five to nothing, nobody was worried,” said Muncy. “We got it back and we were feeling good about our bullpen versus their bullpen.”
Entering the game, Atlanta’s best hitter, Freddie Freeman, was 1-for-8 with two strikeouts in Games 1 and 2, but he gave the Braves back the lead against former teammate Alex Wood in the sixth inning.
Freeman ambushed a first-pitch curveball from Wood that he launched 396-feet to right-center for the game-winning home run.
“I didn’t know if he was going to throw a first pitch strike, but he struck me out two days ago on the slider and in a big situation,” recalled Freeman. “It was 5-5. I thought he would go to his out pitch, and I was kind of looking for something up and he gave me a slider and I was able to get him.”
After a five-pitch first inning, Buehler ran into trouble in the bottom of the second.
With runners on second and third and two outs, Buehler intentionally walked Charlie Culberson to load the bases for the pitcher Sean Newcomb.
The decision appeared to be wise at the time, with Newcomb striking out over 70 percent of the time as a hitter this season, however, Buehler walked his counterpart on four straight pitches, giving the Braves their first run of the series on a bases loaded walk.
“At some point maybe I should have tried something else other than the fastball,” Buehler said of his four-pitch walk to Newcomb. “I plan on pitching in a lot of playoff games, and this is a good lesson to get out of the way.”
Buehler continued to battle his command, falling behind Acuña 3-0, before serving up a 98MPH fastball that the rookie sent into the left field stands for a grand slam.
“It’s tough sometimes. Sometimes you just lose it,” Buehler said of his command. “I made eight to ten bad pitches in a sequence and this is a playoff team we’re facing. They’re good. If you make that many mistakes in a row, someone is going to take advantage. I’m proud I found the zone again moving forward, but there’s no excuse for the second inning.”
Acuña Jr. became the youngest player in MLB postseason history to hit a grand slam at 20 years old, surpassing Mickey Mantle’s previous mark at 21 years old.
“I don’t recognize him. I wasn’t even born then,” joked Acuña Jr. when told he surpassed Mantle for the youngest player to hit a grand slam in the playoffs. I guess I have to rank it first of all the moments just because it happened in the playoffs.”
Buehler did not factor in the decision, allowing an uncharacteristic five runs on two hits with three walks and seven strikeouts in five innings.
Atlanta starter Sean Newcomb would not be long for the game as he exited with two outs in the top of the third inning after walks to Enrique Hernandez and Chris Taylor.
Kevin Gausman, who was originally expected to start Game 3, entered in relief and surrendered an RBI single to Justin Turner that Acuña overran, allowing Taylor to score from first, and the #Dodgers had cut into the lead, 5-2.
“We’ve been a part of it before,” said Turner, recalling memories of Game 5 of the 2017 World Series last year. “We didn’t get too down when we fell behind early. We battled back and got into it, we just fell a little short tonight.”
Newcomb also did not factor in the decision, allowing two runs on one hit with three walks and no strikeouts in just 2 and 2/3 innings.
With a primarily all right-handed lineup against Newcomb, the Dodgers were forced to go to their bench earlier than anticipated as Max Muncy pinch-hit for David Freese in the third inning. The move would eventually pay dividends.
The Dodgers continued to chip away at the lead in the fifth inning as Chris Taylor crushed a 2-2 splitter from Gausman into the left field seats for a two-run home run.
“He had that split-finger changeup working,” said Taylor of the at-bat. “He left one up and in, and I was able to get a hold of it.”
Taylor did not start in Games 1 or 2, but continued his clutch hitting, hitting his first postseason homer since Game 1 of the World Series last year.
One batter later, Max Muncy tied the game with his second postseason home run, and first off a left-hander as he tied the game at 5-5.
“Credit to our guys for fighting back, and there were some big hits in there, obviously, with the Muncy home run and the C.T. homer,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “We had our chances and those guys made some pitches and got out of some traffic, but our guys stressed them, got on base and gave ourselves an opportunity, we just couldn’t get that one extra hit.”
The Dodgers had their chances to tie or take the lead throughout the later innings, Matt Kemp hit a leadoff double, but was eventually thrown out at home on a fielder’s choice groundout.
With runners at first and second in the top of the ninth with no outs, Muncy, Manny Machado, and Brian Dozier struck all struck out to end the game.
Despite the loss, Los Angeles still leads the series two games to one and can close it out on Monday.
Rich Hill is expected to start Game 4 on Monday opposite Mike Foltynewicz for Atlanta. First pitch is scheduled for 1:30PM PST.
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