ARLINGTON, Texas - Will Smith versus Will Smith. It was an apt encounter for a big moment in Major League Baseball's warped 2020 season. Will Smith, the catcher for the Dodgers, sought to continue the momentum his club had created facing elimination. Will Smith, the left-handed reliever for the Atlanta Braves, sought to wiggle free from a mess in the seventh inning of Game 5 of the National League Championship Series on Friday.
The clash ended on the sixth pitch - a 3-2, 94-mph fastball - after Will Smith, the hitter, laid off three close pitches as if he knew what the other Will Smith was thinking.
The pitch was not poorly placed; it darted to the inside part of the plate above the knees. But Will Smith, the hitter, anticipated the location after four getting four straight pitches inside. So he dropped his hands and barreled the baseball.
Both Will Smiths knew the outcome off the bat. The pitcher didn't bother to look. The hitter couldn't stop looking. He watched the ball for its entire trajectory as he jogged to first base with bat in hand. He flipped the lumber when the ball landed over the left-field wall for three-run home run to give the Dodgers their first lead in their 7-3, season-saving win at Globe Life Field.
Corey Seager sandwiched Smith's power display with two home runs and three RBI. Mookie Betts collected two hits and drove in the Dodgers' other run. Six relievers combined to allow one run in seven innings after Dustin May lasted just two. Kenley Jansen, the beleaguered former closer, struck out the side in the ninth inning to finish it off.
The series is now 3-2 in favor of the Braves. Game 6 is scheduled for 1:38 p.m. Pacific time Saturday. Max Fried will start for Atlanta. The Dodgers will give the ball to Walker Buehler with their season on the line again.
The Braves planned for a bullpen game Friday. Dodgers didn't. And yet the Dodgers, in a disastrous development, went to their bullpen first. They hoped Dustin May could give them between 75 and 90 pitches through the sixth inning, but he threw 50 pitches in just two innings before he was pulled.
The rookie right-hander didn't get any favors in the first inning. Freddie Freeman was credited with a double on a ball that first baseman Max Muncy could've stopped. It bounced off his glove and down the right-field line. Freeman advanced to third on a passed ball by catcher Will Smith. He scored on Travis d'Arnaud's sacrifice fly to put Atlanta on the board first.
The Braves scored again in the second inning when Cristian Pache - after failing to drop a sacrifice bunt - lined a hanging 0-2 curveball to center field for an RBI single. It was one of the 19 curveballs May threw in his outing - an unusual ratio for the right-hander, who threw a curveball just 13.4% of the time during the regular season.
A.J. Minter, meanwhile, was muzzling the Dodgers in his start since he threw five innings against Nebraska for Texas A&M in 2015. Before the game, Braves manager Brian Snitker said the club wanted one inning from Minter. He instead gave them three dominant frames. The left-hander allowed one baserunner - Justin Turner doubled - and compiled seven strikeouts. He completed the outing with five of them.