ARLINGTON, Texas — The Los Angeles Dodgers were already having a grand time before Max Muncy’s big slam capped the highest-scoring inning in a major league playoff game.
That new ballpark in his home state of Texas where the Dodgers hope to keep playing right through the World Series suddenly doesn’t seem too big anymore, and they are right back in the National League Championship Series after a 15-3 rout of the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday night.
Muncy’s slam off Grant Dayton capped an 11-run first inning when Los Angeles benefitted from a game-starting replay challenge, hit three home runs and had nine consecutive batters reach base after two outs. The Dodgers set franchise post-season records for runs and home runs with five, cutting their NLCS deficit to 2 games to 1.
“It’s pretty cool. Not too many things that are cooler than that,” Muncy said. “But the biggest thing to me is our team got a W and got us back on track.”
Joc Pederson hit a three-run homer off starter Kyle Wright to start his four-hit night, and Edwin Rios went deep on next pitch. Corey Seager had a pair of RBI hits in the opening burst, then added a solo homer in the third as the Dodgers built a 15-0 lead — the first team with that many runs in the first three innings of a post-season game.
Winner Julio Urías, made his first post-season start and improved to 3-0 in these playoffs, striking out five while allowing one run and three hits over five innings. He walked the first two batters but no more.
Atlanta’s miserable start was eerily similar to the Braves’ flop in Game 5 of last year’s Division Series against St. Louis, when they gave up a 10-run first inning at home in a season-ending start by Mike Foltynewicz.
Manager Dave Roberts said Clayton Kershaw will start Game 4 for the Dodgers, two nights after the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner was scratched because of back spasms. Bryse Wilson makes his post-season debut as the third rookie right-handed starter for Atlanta in this series in what will be his first appearance since the final day of the regular season on Sept. 27.
“We still are in a good spot with four games left,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “Like I say, for the whole team, you just turn the page and get ready to go tomorrow.”
The Dodgers had left the tying run at third base in a four-run bottom of the ninth during an 8-7 loss on Tuesday night. They were the visiting team in Game 3 and sent 14 batters to the plate for seven hits, three walks and a hit batter over 32 minutes in the the 29,786th half-inning in post-season history.
“It was a carryover,” reigning NL MVP Cody Bellinger insisted.
“That was fun to be a part of,” Pederson said. “I think some of the momentum from last night, the last inning definitely carried over and got us feeling a little bit more comfortable at the plate.”
Those 15 runs over two tines up came after the Braves had allowed only nine runs in their previous six games plus eight innings, a stretch that included four shutouts over en route to a 7-0 post-season start.
Bellinger walked and scored in the first, led off the second with a homer and added an RBI single in the third. His long ball came right after his running, leaping catch at the centre field wall to rob Ozzie Albies with two on to end the Atlanta first.
“It’s not ideal how we started the series, but we feel good about ourselves,” Bellinger said.
Wright gave up seven runs while facing only nine batters. He had had thrown six scoreless innings in the Game 3 NL Division Series clincher over Miami last Thursday.
Mookie Betts had an infield single on the first pitch of the game, though he was initially called out before a replay challenge overturned the call by umpire Dan Iassogna. Seager drove in Betts with a double on the next pitch before groundouts by Justin Turner and Muncy.
“Mookie does so many good things on the baseball field. I think it was more so that we won the challenge,” Pederson said. “Everyone got pretty fired up. … It got us going, and then from there you saw what happened.”
Nine consecutive batters reached with two outs. Will Smith had an RBI double to make it 2-0, when he just beat a throw to the bag to avoid being the third out before Bellinger’s walk and the homers by Pederson and Rios. After No. 9 batter Chris Taylor drew a free pass, Dayton walked Betts, gave up the the RBI single to Seager and hit Turner on the foot before Muncy’s 435-foot slam to right-centre.
When Braves No. 9 hitter Cristian Pache finally got to bat leading off the third, the rookie hit his first big league homer — in the regular season or playoffs. All but one Dodgers starter had already batted three times.
JANSEN IN RELIEF
Kenley Jansen, the Dodgers’ primary closer since 2012 and career leader with 312 saves, pitched a 1-2-3 sixth. It was a week after he needed 30 pitches to get two outs and gave up two runs without being able to finish the 6-5 victory in Game 2 of the NLDS against the Padres.
Manager Dave Roberts, who bypassed Jansen when he went to the bullpen to start the ninth in a 1-1 tie in Game 1 of this series, has avoided being specific about the closer’s role. The 33-year-old Jansen’s velocity had been noticeably down and his control inconsistent.
Jansen threw seven of his 10 pitches for strikes, all but one of them between 88-92 mph. He was averaging 93-94 mph earlier this season.
“Kenley’s still our guy,” Seager said. “You trust him to go out there and get outs. We expect nothing different.”
Wright and Dayton were the second set of teammates to both allow at least seven runs in a post-season game after Cleveland starter Bartolo Colon (seven runs) and Steve Reed (eight runs) in a 23-7 loss to the Boston Red Sox in Game 4 of the 1999 AL Division Series.
DEEP IN TEXAS
The Dodgers, who led the majors with 118 homers in the pandemic-shortened 60-game regular season, had only one homer in their three-game NL Division Series sweep of the Padres last week at the Texas Rangers’ new $1.2 billion ballpark with the retractable roof also open. They have eight through three games of the NLCS, where the World Series will be played.
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Stephen Hawkins, The Associated Press