The Dodgers strike back; Braves squander two chances

Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman walks off of the field after grounding out during the ninth inning. Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com
Caption
Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman walks off of the field after grounding out during the ninth inning. Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton

LOS ANGELES — The Braves will say they’re still in control of the National League Championship Series. That’s true. Sure, that was a tough loss to the Dodgers in Game 5 on Thursday night. But didn’t the Braves blow Game 3 on Tuesday before coming back the next day and dominating the Dodgers?

That’s the right outlook for the Braves as they head home after losing 11-2 at Dodger Stadium. They’ll get up to two chances to beat the Dodgers at Truist Park and advance to the World Series. Game 6 is Saturday, and Game 7, if necessary, would come Sunday. The Braves have the advantage.

“I think we’re going to be fine,” Braves slugger Freddie Freeman said.

Still, there’s no downplaying it: The Braves squandered two good chances to leave L.A. with the pennant. They came here with a 2-0 series lead. They led Game 3 by three runs in the eighth inning before losing. The Braves had a chance to close the series Thursday with their best pitcher, Max Fried, and couldn’t do it.

The two losses conjured the specter of the last year’s NLCS. In that series, the Dodgers overcame deficits of 2-0 and 3-1 to beat the Braves. The Braves say that experience is one reason they’re a different team. I believe them, but the only way the Braves can prove it is to finish off the Dodgers.

Caption
Los Angeles Dodgers left fielder AJ Pollock reacts after hitting a three-run home run off of Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Jacob Webb. Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton

Los Angeles Dodgers left fielder AJ Pollock reacts after hitting a three-run home run off of Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Jacob Webb. Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com
Caption
Los Angeles Dodgers left fielder AJ Pollock reacts after hitting a three-run home run off of Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Jacob Webb. Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

Win one game this weekend, and the Braves will advance to the World Series for the first time since 1999. Lose both, and the 2021 Braves will be added to the pile of postseason collapses for Atlanta sports teams.

About that history, Freeman said: “It’s going to be the narrative, it seems, because every day it’s brought up the last couple days. So I don’t think we have a choice until we kill that narrative. We’re up 3-2 and we’re going home. That’s a great position to be in.”

The Braves overachieved to get this far. Coming from ahead to lose to the Dodgers again would take the luster off their run. There were good reasons to believe the Braves would win Game 5.

Nearly all their hitters came alive at the same time in Game 4. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts had used so many of his pitchers that he was forced to deploy a so-called bullpen game Thursday. The Braves started Fried, MLB’s ERA leader after the All-Star break.

Fried held the Dodgers to two runs over six innings in Game 1. He pitched six scoreless innings against Milwaukee in the previous round. Fried was back home in Southern California. There was every reason to expect him to be sharp.

Instead, Fried surrendered five earned runs over 4-2/3 innings. He was staked to a 2-0 lead on Freddie Freeman’s homer in the first inning. Fried gave up three runs on two home runs in the second, and allowed another run in the third. He just didn’t have it.

“Physically, felt great,” Fried said. “Just a really good, aggressive lineup (that) hit some pitches over the middle.”

It’s been a while since Fried struggled. It happened at the worst possible time. Chris Martin replaced Fried in the fifth inning and immediately gave up a two-run homer to Chris Taylor. The Dodgers piled on with five more runs after the Braves had conceded.

The Dodgers appeared to be a tired and beaten down team after the 9-2 loss in Game 4. The defending World Series champions got back up. By the end of the long night, the Braves seemed to be sapped of energy. The return home should rejuvenate them.

The Braves couldn’t build on their fast start against right-handed pitcher Joe Kelly. They struck first, same as Game 4. Ozzie Albies singled with one out and Freeman followed with the homer. Worse for the Dodgers: Kelly left the game with forearm tightness after recording the second out and getting a 2-2 count against Adam Duvall.

Roberts summoned right-hander Evan Phillips. He struck out Duvall with one pitch. But the Dodgers trailed 2-0 and already were deep into their bullpen. The Braves had their ace on the mound.

Fried gave up a one-out single to the second batter he faced, Trea Turner, but got out of the inning with no issue. Fried’s troubles began in the second. After Pollock’s leadoff homer, Albert Pujols singled and Taylor hit another homer for a 3-2 Dodgers lead.

Cody Bellinger followed with a single. Fried struck out pinch hitter Steven Souza. That brought up Mookie Betts, L.A.’s most dangerous hitter. Betts drilled a fly ball to left field that Eddie Rosario tracked down and caught.

The Braves had a chance to erase their one-run deficit in the third inning. Rosario singled off off lefty Alex Vesia, and Freeman was up with two outs, but Rosario got caught stealing to end the inning. Taylor’s one-out, RBI single in the third inning pushed L.A.’s lead to 4-2.

Fried pitched a perfect fourth inning. By then the Dodgers had turned the lead over to Brusdar Graterol. Graterol only occasionally goes longer than an inning, but he did it with no problem against the Braves. He needed only six pitches to retire the Braves in order in the fourth inning. Graterol’s 1-2-3 fifth inning was over in eight pitches.

Getting those innings from Graterol was a big boost for the Dodgers. Taylor’s two-run homer off Martin in the fifth gave them more breathing room. The Dodgers added six more runs. The Braves had no response. They managed to put only three runners on base after the first inning.

Dodgers 11, Braves 2 (box score)

After the final out, Dodgers fans gave their team an ovation. They hope to see the Dodgers back here next week for another World Series. The Braves can make sure that doesn’t happen. They still are in control of this series.

Braves right-hander Ian Anderson is scheduled to start Game 6. Charlie Morton is slated for Game 7, if necessary. Both pitchers will have extra rest.

Said Anderson: “We’re still in a good spot. The vibes are still good, and we’re going to hop on a flight, head home, and be ready to play Saturday.”

This time the Braves will get a chance to finish off the Dodgers in their packed ballpark instead of a neutral stadium in Texas. They say they’re a different team than the one that faded against the Dodgers last October. The Braves get a chance to prove it come the weekend.

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