Los Angeles Times
Been there, won that
Dodgers are once again proving that experience matters in October
ATLANTA — It’s an immeasurable quality, the kind even the most thorough, well-funded research and development departments still can’t quantify, so Andrew Friedman wasn’t sure if the team he constructed would ride its experience to a win Thursday night.
The Dodgers’ president of baseball operations suspected the team he constructed possessed the mettle to outlast the San Francisco Giants in Game 5 of the National League Division Series. He said he sensed the team’s battle-tested nature, derived from nine straight postseason trips and three World Series appearances in four years, as the two 109-win rivals locked horns.
He just wondered if it would shine through enough in the later innings with their World Series dreams on the line inside a tense Oracle Park.
“It’s a hard thing to isolate,” Friedman said after the Dodgers’ 2-1 win. “But I felt it and thought about it and, I think, saw it.”
Maybe advancing to the NL Championship Series for the fifth time in six years to face the Atlanta Braves simply came down to Giants rookie closer Camilo Doval making mistakes in the ninth inning. Maybe plunking Justin Turner with a 100mph fastball and giving up a two-strike single to Gavin Lux was just about execution in a vacuum.
Maybe hanging a 1-and-2 slider to Cody Bellinger, who struggled all season to catch up to elite fastballs, was just poor pitch selection. Maybe Doval, who hadn’t given up a run in his last 18 appearances, was due for a bad night, if you believe events sort out that way.
Maybe first-base umpire Gabe Morales’ wrong call on Wilmer Flores’ checked swing for the game’s final out prevented the Giants from mustering another dose of sorcery in a magical season. That we’ll never know.
But, in the end, the Dodgers, eight days after walking off the St. Louis Cardinals in the wild-card game, again bolstered the theory that experience mat
ters in October. They showed again that there is something to knowing how to suppress nerves to perform in the biggest games.
“Our guys do have a lot of experience going through this,” Friedman said, “and I think that helps, for sure.”
Bellinger might be the best example. Two years after winning NL most valuable player, Bellinger batted .165 with a .542 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 95 games. Both ranked second from the bottom among players with at least 350 plate appearances. It was the worst offensive season for a former MVP in major league history.
And yet there he was in the ninth Thursday, after recording his first multiple-hit game in nearly two months in Game 4, delivering the most important hit of the Dodgers’ season: a goahead single to score Turner from second base.
“I saw this coming a mile away,” Dodgers pitcher Max Scherzer said. “I wanted this so bad for him.”
Bellinger has a history of being a clutch hitter. In Game 2, his two-run double blew the Dodgers’ win open. Last year he clubbed the go-ahead home run in Game 7 of the NLCS against the Braves. Two years earlier, his home run in the second inning of Game 7 of the 2018 NLCS against the Milwaukee Brewers was the difference.
The three go-ahead hits in winner-take-all games are the tied for the most of all time with
Manny Ramírez and Gene Tenace.
Bellinger isn’t the only one on the Dodgers’ roster excelling on the grandest stage.
Chris Taylor won the wildcard game with a two-run home run. Mookie Betts, who went four for four with a steal Thursday, is 13 for 24 in his six elimination games with the Dodgers. The 13 hits are the most in major league history over six elimination games. Corey Seager, the reigning NLCS and World Series MVP, drove in Betts with a double in the sixth inning for the Dodgers’ other run Thursday.
Julio Urías, who logged four innings out of the bullpen, has given up one run in his last 171⁄3 postseason innings as a reliever. Scherzer pitched the ninth inning to convert his first save three days after tossing seven innings. To reach Game 5, Walker Buehler threw 41⁄3 innings in Game 4 on short rest for the first time in his career.
“We have been in it a lot,” Turner said. “And even the new guys that we’ve brought in have a lot of playoff experience, so I definitely think it helps in those situations.”
The Dodgers held the Giants, who hit the most home runs in franchise history this season, to 10 runs in five games.
“I’ve talked about it for six years,” manager Dave Roberts said. “Our expectation every year is to play through October.”
And almost every year the Dodgers have advanced this far, to the middle of the month as one of the final four clubs. Experience, positive and negative, has accumulated with each autumn. Friedman sensed the intangible surface Thursday night. But that didn’t guarantee anything as the game progressed and the nerves piled up.
“More hoping,” he said. “It’s not great for me.”
Maybe all those previous battles didn’t matter. Maybe the result would’ve been the same if it were this group’s first taste of October.
But Friedman thinks there’s something there, something his front office can’t compute that pushed the Dodgers over the edge again, eight wins from another championship.
Game 1 starter TBD
Maybe it’s strategy. Maybe the Dodgers genuinely don’t know.
Maybe Roberts will text Braves manager Brian Snitker late Friday night with the Dodgers’ starter the way he messaged Giants manager Gabe Kapler on Wednesday ahead of Game 5 of the division series.
But Roberts told reporters in a videoconference Friday night that the Dodgers didn’t know who would start Game 1 against the Braves on Saturday.
Roberts said it would be Scherzer or a reliever as part of a bullpen game.
Scherzer threw 13 pitches in the ninth inning Thursday to close out the Giants for his first career save. He would take the ball Saturday on two days’ rest.
Roberts said the decision will come down to how Scherzer feels.
It’s unlikely that the fiery Scherzer will say he’s not ready to pitch.
“He’s gonna go out there, play catch and get treatment and if he says he’s good enough and feels like he can take down a start, then he’ll be our Game 1 starter,” Roberts said.
If the Dodgers opt for a bullpen game, Scherzer would start Game 2 on Sunday followed by Buehler in Game 3 on Tuesday in Los Angeles. Urías would start Game 4 on Wednesday.
Roberts said Tony Gonsolin would be featured, perhaps heavily, Saturday if the Dodgers go with a bullpen game. Gonsolin didn’t pitch in the division series.
He hasn’t appeared in a game since Sept. 30, more than two weeks ago.
Roberts said the Dodgers likely will carry 13 pitchers and 13 position players for the sevengame series. The club carried 14 pitchers and 12 position players in the division series. … Major League Baseball on Friday announced the remainder of the NLCS start times. First pitch for Tuesday’s Game 3 at Dodger Stadium is scheduled for 2:08 p.m. Game 4 Wednesday is slated for 5:08 p.m. First pitch for Game 5 on Thursday at Dodger Stadium, if there is one, will be at 5:08 p.m.