Momentum? Couldn’t find it.
Inspiration? Never had it.
Season? About to lose it.
One night after one of the most emotional comeback playoff victories in franchise history, the Dodgers inexplicably strolled into Chavez Ravine on Wednesday night without focus or fight.
They followed one game’s miracle with nine innings of nothingness.
They surrendered one night’s intimidation with three hours of cringe.
They shrugged, sighed and were sucker punched.
The Atlanta Braves beat the Dodgers with six relief pitchers, beat them while facing 20-game winner Julio Urías, beat them silly and sideways and maybe even beat them into next season.
The 9-2 victory by the Braves in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series at Dodger Stadium gave them a three-games-to-one lead that is the exact same edge they held in this exact same series last year before the Dodgers came storming back to win it.
“No one needs to tell us we can do it, because we’ve done it,” said AJ Pollock. “We’ve been here.”
But they’ve never been here like this.
Last year they had to win three straight games in the same Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. This year they must win Thursday night at Dodger Stadium, then win the last two games in Atlanta.
They’ve also never been here with a team that is slowly collapsing like this one.
It turns out, Tuesday’s comeback win against a relentless and resilient Braves team may have been fool’s gold. After inspiring hopes by winning a thrilling wild-card game against the St. Louis Cardinals and an historic series against the San Francisco Giants, the Dodgers may simply be out of gas, out of luck and out of time.
Their Dodgers’ pitching is a self-made mess, their hitting has disappeared, they just lost Justin Turner for the rest of their season with a hamstring injury, they miss earlier injured Max Muncy, they really miss the depth of departed Kiké Hernández and Joc Pederson, and they’re wiped out from the monumental Giants series that stretched to the final inning.
“You can be tired and execute,” said Pollock.
Well, they’re clearly tired, but they’re clearly not executing, and none of it was working after a night when everything worked.
Remember, Tuesday, eighth inning, Cody Bellinger three-run homer, Mookie Betts’ RBI single, 6-5 comeback victory, series entirely flipped?
Turns out, even though they showed up barely 24 hours later in front of a Dodger Stadium crowd still roaring from the night before, nothing was flipped from the previous weekend.
The Braves were once again, better. The Dodgers were once again, baffling.
“I really don’t have an answer,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “They just outplayed us in all phases.”
The Dodgers didn’t get a hit against reliever Jesse Chavez and demoted starter Drew Smyly until the fifth inning, and finished with just four hits and one rally against almost the entire contents of the Braves’ relief crew.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers countered with one of their three aces, yet Urías wilted. Despite pitching just three days after making an ill-advised relief appearance in Game 2, he was left on the mound for 92 pitches that the Braves batted around for eight hits, three homers, and five runs.
Said Urías: “No, I felt good. I felt good physically. I just have to give them credit for what they did today”
Said Roberts: “I don’t think he was necessarily tired … I think the stuff was good. I think they had a very good game plan for him.”
It didn’t appear to be about the game plan. It appeared that Urías was exhausted. It seemed like Urías should have been pulled about three innings earlier. It seemed like the Dodgers were worried about protecting their relievers for the scheduled bullpen game Thursday and made the clearly worn Urías — who has pitched 1171/3 more innings than his previous career high — take one for the team.
Whatever it was, Urías was bad, and the frustrated offense was just as bad. “I know it’s not from lack of work or preparation,” repeated Roberts. “I don’t have an answer.”
The answer must now come from a Dodgers bullpen-pitched game against Braves’ ace Max Fried, and that’s just the first of three steps, and the defending World Series champions are on the brink like never before.
“It’s going to be a big day tomorrow, we got to regroup,” said Pollock. “We got to get after it and anything can happen if we win tomorrow.”
Anything should have happened Wednesday, which began with Vin Scully appearing on the giant video board leading the fans in a pregame cheer.
The crowd was buzzing. The stadium was shaking. The music was deafening. “It’s time for Dodger baseball!” shouted 50,000 voices.
Turns out, maybe it’s not. The evening of such promise ended with such insult, after Freddie Freeman’s double in the ninth inning drove in Dansby Swanson from second and gave them a 6-2 lead.
From behind home plate, there arose that racist chant from fans doing the tomahawk chop.
“Guys are showing up ready to play,” said Pollock. “We’re excited to play and we just didn’t execute.”
That lack of execution was obvious from the beginning, from the mound. By the time Urías had thrown 23 pitches, he was down 2-0 and had thrown nearly as many balls as strikes while giving up consecutive home runs to Eddie Rosario (left) and Adam Duvall (center).
Then in the third it got worse, after Freeman’s leadoff homer gave the Braves a 3-0 lead. Urías showed his frustration not only at himself, but at teammate Gavin Lux.
First, Eddie Rosario hit a ball in the right-field corner and stunningly legged out a triple as Betts failed to field the ball cleanly off the wall. Then, after an intentional walk to Duvall set up a highly favorable left-lefty matchup with Joc Pederson, somehow Joc poked a 1-and-2 pitch to center field where it fell peacefully at the feet of tentative Lux and easily scored Rosario.
That was it. Urías had seen enough. He turned toward center field and spread his arms out in frustration like, why didn’t you catch that?
Then he showed his frustration in the bottom of the inning when, during his plate appearance, he swung at the first pitch and didn’t even run halfway to first on the flyout to left.
“Obviously they’re playing with a lot of confidence, but we have to come out tomorrow and play a game,” said Urías. “We have another game tomorrow.”
This game was epitomized in the seventh inning, with the Dodgers still trailing just 5-2, when Albert Pujols led off with a pinch single to left, Walker Buehler ran for Pujols, and up stepped Justin Turner.
Once again, like Tuesday night, the crowd roared, the stadium shook, but this time … Turner hit the ball right to second baseman Ozzie Albies, who stepped on second and threw to first for the double play.
Cacophony, then silence, then Turner slowly limping off the field after injuring his hamstring and ending his season. That described the night, possibly the penultimate night in the 2021 season of the defending World Series champion Dodgers.
They started out loud. They came up lame.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.