Corey Seager’s sweet swing. Walker Buehler’s calm. Kenley Jansen’s resurgence.
The Los Angeles Dodgers got what they needed — again.
“We did what we had to do to force a Game 7,” Justin Turner said.
They sure did.
Seager homered again, Buehler pitched six scoreless innings and the Dodgers beat Atlanta 3-1 on Saturday to send the NL Championship Series to a winner-take-all finale.
Will Smith’s homer off Will Smith lifts Dodgers over Atlanta to stay in NLCS Los Angeles avoided elimination for the second time in less than 24 hours, staying alive in its pursuit of a third pennant in four years.
The team hasn’t won a championship since 1988.
“I’m still sort of recovering from this one, but already thinking about Game 7,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “That’s what you live for.”
Turner also homered for Los Angeles, and Jansen threw a six-pitch ninth for his 18th career post-season save.
The NL West and East champions play again Sunday night, with the potential for two rookie starters in a Game 7 for the first time in big league history.
Roberts was keeping his options open for his starting pitcher while Atlanta plan to go with rookie right-hander Ian Anderson, who has thrown 15 2/3 scoreless innings in his three post-season starts. Tony Gonsolin and three-time NL Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw are among the possibilities for Los Angeles.
“Shoot, we’ll go out there and let ‘er fly. A Game 7 is another baseball game,” Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said. “You have to treat it as such.”
Atlanta were hoping to celebrate Snitker’s 65th birthday Saturday with the franchise’s first World Series berth since 1999. But Max Fried took his first loss all year, working into the seventh inning after surrendering three runs during a rocky first.
Buehler, using Stan’s Rodeo Ointment to deal with bothersome blisters, threw 65 of his 89 pitches for strikes. He allowed seven hits while striking out six without a walk.
After Atlanta loaded the bases with three singles in a row to start the top of second — the last hit by his Vanderbilt roommate Dansby Swanson — the right-hander really brought the heat, with 10 consecutive fastballs to get out of the jam.
Austin Riley struck out on a 98.7 mph pitch before Nick Markakis took a called third strike on 99.7 mph. Cristian Pache, the 21-year-old rookie who had an RBI in each of his first four NLCS starts, was retired on an inning-ending groundout.
“His mound presence is just unbelievable,” Turner said.
Buehler said he has never felt that calm in a game, especially a situation like that. He credited catcher Austin Barnes — and past experiences.
“I’ve failed in those moments. I’ve been through it and I’ve been good after it, but that failure doesn’t really scare me anymore,” Buehler said. “The more times you go through things like that, your heartbeat kind of changes and can slow down.”
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— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) October 17, 2020
It was a much different result than Buehler’s post-season debut two years ago in Game 3 of the NL Division Series, when Atlanta also loaded the bases against him in the second inning. After a walk drove in a run, Ronald Acuna Jr. hit a grand slam on the next pitch.
Fried, who struck out five and walked four in 6 2/3 innings, allowed only two homers in his 11 starts while going 7-0 during the regular season. But the Dodgers went deep twice in three pitches in the first.
Seager pulled a towering shot to right on a 73-mph curveball, and Turner connected on a 93-mph sinker that went 418 feet to straightaway centre. Max Muncy walked and scored after back-to-back singles by Will Smith and Cody Bellinger.
“I came out in a game like this and kind of put us behind the eight-ball real quick.” Fried said. “To me, that’s unacceptable.”
Seager, who homered twice in Game 4 on Friday night, has NLCS records with five homers and 11 RBIs, and still a game to play. His six homers overall are already a Dodgers post-season record.
Mookie Betts, the 2018 AL MVP and first-year Dodger, made a leaping catch against the right field wall to end the fifth. While it wouldn’t have been a homer, it robbed Marcell Ozuna of extra bases, and Atlanta a likely run.
Betts let out an emphatic shout while pumping both fists, then celebrated with Bellinger while Buehler held his right arm high in the air.
With Buehler out of the game, Nick Markakis greeted Blake Treinen with triple to right leading off off the seventh and came home on a one-out double by Ronald Acuna Jr.
But the Dodgers’ bullpen closed it out from there, with Jansen finishing the victory in an encouraging performance heading into Game 7.
It was Jansen’s first save chance in five appearances since closing out the Dodgers’ first playoff win this season in the wild-card round. He struck out the side on 12 pitches in Friday night’s 7-3 win.
“Two huge outings, not only for us, but him personally, you can just see the confidence he has on the mound attacking guys,” Turner said. “That’s the Kenley Jansen I and all of us in there all know and love.”
Stephen Hawkins/The Associated Press via CBC