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Dodgers' World Series championship reign ends in NLCS loss to Braves

Jorge Castillo, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Baseball

ATLANTA — The Los Angeles Dodgers’ season effectively ended in the seventh inning Saturday night at Truist Park. It effectively ended with runners at second and third, stranded after Atlanta Braves left-hander Tyler Matzek mowed through three Dodgers.

It effectively ended in fitting fashion, with the Dodgers unable to capitalize on a prime scoring opportunity in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series.

When it was over, after Albert Pujols, Steven Souza Jr. and Mookie Betts struck out in succession, Matzek pumped his fist twice. He leaped and he howled. The Dodgers had six outs left to erase a two-run deficit, but their World Series hopes were extinguished there, without putting a ball in play, en route to a season-ending, 4-2 loss.

It will be remembered as a stunning result. The 106-win Dodgers won 18 more games than the Braves during the regular season. Their payroll was $100 million more expensive than the Braves’. They were the clear favorites to claim back-to-back championships for the first time in franchise history after surviving the National League Division Series against the San Francisco Giants, the only team with more wins than them during the regular season.

They took the field Saturday on a seven-game winning streak in elimination games, a run started when they roared back from a 3-1 deficit in the NLCS against the Braves a year ago. But the Braves surmounted the odds to reach the World Series for the first time since 1999. They’ll look for their first championship since 1995 against the Houston Astros.

The Dodgers’ season ended with Walker Buehler thrust into pitching on short rest for the second time in 12 days after Max Scherzer declared himself not ready to take the mound. It ended with Eddie Rosario, the series most valuable player, tormenting them again with a go-ahead, three-run home run in the fourth inning. It ended with the Dodgers going two for 10 with runners in scoring position. It ended when Matzek took the mound to face Pujols.

 

Matzek was summoned to pitch for the fifth time in the series to play fireman. Luke Jackson, who gave up Cody Bellinger’s game-tying, three-run home run in Game 3, had surrendered a run on two doubles and a walk to give the Dodgers life.

Braves manager Brian Snitker wasn’t taking chances. He went to the left-handed Matzek even with Pujols, a masher of left-handers, up next. He determined Matzek was his best choice.

Snitker’s aggressiveness was in contrast to Dodgers manager Dave Roberts’ decision-making in the fourth inning. Roberts chose to keep Buehler, a right-hander, in the game to face the left-handed-hitting Rosario. The seventh pitch of the at-bat landed over the brick wall in right field for the Braves’ most important hit in 20 years to break a 1-1 tie.

Matzek needed four pitches to discard Pujols. In years past, the Dodgers would’ve followed him with a dangerous threat off the bench. This year their bench wasn’t the same, evidenced by Souza, a veteran signed in late May to address their lack of quality depth, being used in one of the season’s most important spots. He also struck out on four pitches. Matzek needed just three for Betts.

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