Atlanta first baseman Freddie Freeman belted a two-run home run in the fourth inning on Tuesday as the Braves built a big lead and then held off the Los Angeles Dodgers 8-7 in the MLB’s National League Championship Series.
The victory in Arlington, Texas, gave the Braves a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
“This is a good ballclub we’re playing, and they’re explosive, as we saw,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “I didn’t feel good with a big lead because these guys are too powerful. That is a good ballgame to win. They all are now.”
The winner of the series is to take on either the Tampa Bay Rays or the Houston Astros in the World Series.
In the American League Championship Series (ALCS), Joey Wendle and Hunter Renfroe each drove in two runs in the sixth inning as the Rays moved within one win of their second World Series appearance with a 5-2 victory over Houston.
The Braves, trying to return to the World Series for the first time since 1999, took charge early against a Dodgers team who endured a big blow with the late scratch of expected starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw with back spasms.
His replacement, Tony Gonsolin, got off to a solid start, retiring the first nine batters he faced, but he gave up a walk to Ronald Acuna to open the fourth and Freeman followed with a homer to the right-field stands off a slider from the rookie.
Freeman added a run-scoring single in the Braves’ four-run fifth inning and the Braves were up 7-0 before Corey Seager smacked a three-run home run with one out in the bottom of the seventh inning for the Dodgers.
It still looked like Ozzie Albies’ home run in the top of the ninth was just window dressing for the Braves, giving them an 8-3 lead, but the Dodgers added some drama in the ninth, when Max Muncy hit a two-run homer off Dodgers reliever Josh Tomlin.
Cody Bellinger then delivered a run-scoring triple off Dodgers closing pitcher Mark Melancon, who induced a ground out from Justin Turner to seal the win.
“This team has a lot of fight and we’ve done it all year,” Seager said. “We were one swing, one anything away from tying that ballgame and going into extras. This is a long series and we are looking [forward] to the challenge.”
Braves starting pitcher Ian Anderson stretched his personal post-season scoreless streak to 15-2/3 innings, striking out five and surrendering five walks over four innings.
Five Atlanta relievers combined to notch the final 15 outs.
“The coaching staff does such a good job of keeping you in the moment and giving you the information you need at that time. Then it’s up to executing. We had a good game plan, and in the playoffs you have to keep your opponent from scoring and we were able to do that,” Anderson said.
In San Diego, Renfroe and Kevin Kiermaier each made a pair of sterling defensive plays for the Rays, who seized a 3-0 lead in their best-of-seven series.
Randy Arozarena had a double and two singles to become the first rookie with four three-hit performances in a single playoff season.
The top seeded Rays can book a berth to the World Series for the first time since 2008 with a win over Houston in Game 4, which is to be played this morning Taiwan time.
“We have a good chance. We will have a good show,” Renfroe said.
Renfroe made a clutch sliding catch in right field to end the seventh inning and another for the second out in the eighth, the latter with the bases loaded and one out.
“I knew I had a good chance to catch it. I got a good jump on it,” he said. “If I didn’t catch it I was going to block it any way possible.”
“We’ve played just tremendous defense all season long,” Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash said. “It’s a credit to the guys how hard they work at it.”
Kiermaier, the longest-tenured Tampa Bay player, said it was “an amazing feeling” to be so close to going to the Fall Classic.
“I knew that this group would be capable of getting to this point. I had no doubt in my mind,” Kiermaier said, praising everyone from the front office to the coaches to the players. “This is what it’s all about. I’m so proud to be a part of this and have so much fun with these guys.”
Tampa Bay reached the World Series in 2008, but lost to the Philadelphia Phillies.
“There’s a very confident mindset with this group,” Cash said. “We’ll stay consistent and do everything we can behind Glasnow to make plays.”
The innovative Rays had one of the MLB’s lowest payrolls during the COVID-19 pandemic-shortened season and still finished with the AL’s best record at 40-20.
It seems that a different player comes up big every night, whether it is an unsung hitter or reliever — sometimes both.
They have also played spectacular defense.
The Astros got into the post-season with a 29-31 record before going 5-1 to reach the ALCS.
However, they have looked nothing like the team who won the AL pennant two of the past three years and they remain villains to many for illegal sign stealing en route to the 2017 World Series title.
Houston fell apart in the sixth, when the Rays sent 11 batters to the plate and scored five runs on four hits, two hit batters and Altuve’s error at second base.
One of the runs was unearned.
Losing pitcher Jose Urquidy held Tampa Bay to two singles through five scoreless innings before Randy Arozarena singled leading off the sixth.
Brandon Lowe hit a grounder to Altuve, who tried for a routine forceout, but short-hopped the throw and it skipped past shortstop Carlos Correa into left field.
Enoli Paredes replaced Urquidy, and Yandy Diaz singled to load the bases.
Wendle lined a single off third baseman Alex Bregman’s glove to give Tampa Bay a 2-1 lead.
Manuel Margot, whose three-run homer in Game 2 followed the first of Altuve’s two errors, laid down Tampa Bay’s first sacrifice bunt of the season.
Paredes hit Kiermaier on the hand to load the bases and then grazed Willy Adames on the pinkie with a pitch to bring in another run.
“A nightmare inning,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said.
Renfroe, who like Margot began his career with the Padres, flared a pinch-hit double into right to bring in two more runs.
“That big hit has been eluding us the whole series,” Baker said. “It seems like they get whatever they want.”
Renfroe came up big with his bat and glove two nights after striking out four times.
Left-hander Ryan Yarbrough pitched into the sixth for the win, holding the Astros to two runs and three hits while striking out five and walking two.
Diego Castillo pitched the ninth for his second save, stranding two runners.
“We’re in a good spot, but we’re not counting anything yet. We know we have another ballgame to win,” Wendle said.
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