LOS ANGELES — There are the big guns in the Dodgers lineup and then the less notable experienced ones for whom October baseball has become second-nature.
Chris Taylor falls into the latter category as a jack of all trades unfazed by any situation. Thursday night, with his team needing a victory to keep its season alive, Taylor became a postseason hero.
All told he blasted three homers and drove in six runs to lead an 11-2 victory over the Braves in Game 5 of the NLCS at Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers clawed to within 3-2 in the series, sending it back to Atlanta for Game 6 on Saturday, when Max Scherzer is scheduled to receive the ball on five days’ rest. The Braves will counter with Ian Anderson.
“This is why you play the game,” Taylor said. “When you look back on all the years playing for the Dodgers, it’s all these big postseason games that are the most special to me. These are the moments we are going to be able to back on for the rest of our lives, and it’s pretty cool.”
Masters of the bullpen outing, the Dodgers received a cumulative big performance from the six relievers who followed Joe Kelly (he surrendered the Braves’ only runs, in the first inning, before departing with injury). Kenley Jansen got the final three outs, triggering the team’s victory song, “I Love LA,” through the stadium’s sound system.
Until they close out this series — if that happens — the Braves will be reminded that in last year’s NLCS they led the series 3-1 before the Dodgers rallied for three straight victories.
“That’s going to be the narrative, it seems, because every day it’s brought up, the last couple of days,” Freddie Freeman said. “I don’t think we have a choice until we kill that narrative.”
AJ Pollock, another seasoned veteran who hardly falls into the star category, blasted two homers to give the Dodgers five for the game, tying a franchise postseason record. Taylor’s three homers tied a franchise postseason record that Enrique Hernandez established in 2017.
Taylor, who started at third base — Justin Turner was removed from the roster before the game with a strained left hamstring — had two homers when he stepped to the plate in the seventh. He then blasted a changeup from left-hander Dylan Lee into the left-field seats. Taylor received a curtain call (he said it was his first) upon returning to the dugout.
“Any time you do something cool, when you do it in Dodger Stadium it makes it that much sweeter,” Taylor said. “This is a special place and these fans are awesome, and for it to happen for the first time on this stage in front of this crowd, it was a special moment.”
Taylor had a shot at attaining further glory when he came to the plate in the eighth, but he struck out. The biggest Dodger homer of this series came Tuesday, when Cody Bellinger hit a three-run rocket in the eighth inning that tied the game before Mookie Betts’ double put the Dodgers ahead in the victory.
On this night, Taylor’s second homer of the game, a two-run shot in the fifth, sank the Braves into a 6-2 hole and made a return to Atlanta for at least a sixth game appear imminent. Albert Pujols walked, his third time reaching base in the game, and Taylor followed with a shot to right-center against Chris Martin that kept carrying to the bleachers.
Pollock and Taylor smashed homers in the second to give the Dodgers a 3-2 lead, resurrecting a team that had quickly fallen into a two-run hole. After Pollock homered leading off the inning, Pujols — who started at first base against lefty Max Fried — singled to left before Taylor hit a vicious shot (exit velocity 112 mph) into the left-field bullpen to put the Dodgers ahead. It marked the first time Fried surrendered two homers in an inning since Game 6 of last year’s NLCS, when Corey Seager and Turner went deep against him in the first.
The Dodgers extended their lead with successive singles from Pollock, Pujols and Taylor in the third. Fried avoided further damage by striking out Bellinger and retiring pinch-hitter Andy Burns.
Fried was charged for five earned runs on eight hits with two walks and a hit batter over 4²/₃ innings that consisted of 90 pitches. The Braves ace was much sharper in Game 1, when he limited the Dodgers to two runs over six innings.
Kelly lasted just two-thirds of an inning for the Dodgers before exiting the field with right biceps tightness. Freeman’s second homer in as many games, a two-run blast on a Kelly curveball, put the Dodgers in an immediate hole. After Kelly departed with the injury, the Dodgers received a boost from Evan Phillips, who gave the team 1 ¹/₃ scoreless innings.
“This is what the NLCS is about,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “It’s two really good ballclubs and you have to execute to get out of it. I like where we’re at.”