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

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

The 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.

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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.

The Dodgers were eliminated from the postseason after losing NLCS Game 6 to the Atlanta Braves. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts discusses what happened and what the offseason will bring.

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.

On a day when he was supposed to take the mound to help save the Dodgers’ season, Scherzer told reporters he didn’t start because he was too fatigued.

Scherzer cited “general muscle soreness” as the reason why he was scratched from his scheduled start Saturday. He maintained he wasn’t dealing with an injury. He said there isn’t any structural damage in his arm. The impending free agent said he just didn’t rebound from the “dead arm” he experienced in Game 2 last Sunday in time to pitch Saturday. He explained the decision to not start was made Friday at Dodger Stadium before the Dodgers boarded their flight to Georgia.

“I just wasn’t recovering,” Scherzer said. “I got to basically Day 4 and it felt like Day 1 still.”

The Braves opened the scoring with a two-out, 1-2 punch in the first inning. Freddie Freeman had grounded into a double play when Ozzie Albies lined a double.

Austin Riley then traded places with him, smacking a slider for an RBI, ground-rule double. It was the only run the Braves scored in the inning, but they squared up Buehler. Four of the five balls they put in play had exit velocities of at least 97 mph. It was immediately evident that Buehler didn’t have his best stuff.

Buehler navigated the next two innings without giving up a run. That changed in fourth, again with two outs. Travis d’Arnaud initiated the rally with a walk. Snitker then had Ehire Adrianza pinch-hit for pitcher Ian Anderson.

Adrianza hadn’t recorded a hit in 22 days and Braves pinch-hitters were 0 for 11 in the series when he stepped in the batter’s box. Both skids were snapped on the second pitch when Adrianza lined the second pitch down the right-field line for a double.

D’Arnaud had a chance to score from first base, but third base coach Ron Washington, known for a liberal green light, held him up. It was on Rosario to make sure the choice wouldn’t be remembered as a season-changing mistake.

The decision to stick with Buehler appeared to be a good one to start. Rosario fell behind in the count 0-and-2 on two cutters. But he wouldn’t go away. Buehler tried sneaking another cutter by him and Rosario fouled it off. Then he took a sinker for a ball. Then he fouled off a cutter and a sinker.

Buehler’s strategy was obvious. He was going to attack Rosario with hard stuff. The plan backfired. Rosario clobbered a cutter to spark madness. He faced the Braves’ dugout and hopped down the first-base line, pounding his chest. The hit was Rosario’s 14th of the series, matching the major league record for hits by a player in any postseason series.

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