By Teddy Brenner
Utility man Chris Taylor, who had been in a two-month slump, launched a hanging slider from St. Louis Cardinals reliever Alex Reyes into the left-field bleachers that clinched a 3-1 victory that sent the Dodgers into the NLDS against the Giants.
“I was trying to be ready when my number was called,” Taylor said. “These are the types of moments that you dream about and that you live for. I’ll be able to look back on this for the rest of my life.”
The way Taylor described it, he didn’t think he would get a ninth-inning at-bat. Taylor expected Albert Pujols to be the one to send everyone home with one swing when the former Cardinals great pinch hit to lead off the inning.
Pujols worked the count to 3-0 and then pounced on a fast ball. His ringing line drive had the Dodgers crowd roaring but it fell harmlessly into center fielder Harrison Bader’s glove for a loud, emotional out.
When pinch hitter Steven Souza Jr. also flew out, extra innings appeared to be the most likely outcome. Up next for the Dodgers was Cody Bellinger, who is hitting a career-low .165 and only started on Wednesday because of his defense in centerfield. Behind Bellinger in the lineup was Taylor, who had struggled through a lingering neck injury in September and was 8 for his last 72.
Bellinger nearly swung out of his shoes at a couple of sliders from Reyes. Then he altered his approach. He said he stopped swinging for a home run and “tried to work the count and get on base.”
The two-out walk that Bellinger drew marked his third time on base in the game. Bellinger then stole second on a pitch in the dirt, a risky move with the famously rocket-armed Yadier Molina behind the plate.
In some ways, the extra base was irrelevant. In other ways, it meant everything. Taylor said that he felt free to just swing for contact — not the fences — with Bellinger in scoring position.
“Once Beli got to second, I was just trying not to do too much and get a pitch up,” Taylor said. “He left it over the middle of the plate for me and I was able to get it up in the air.”
Taylor’s home run saved Major League Baseball from a torrent of complaints about the fairness of its single-elimination wild-card format. These high-stakes wild-card games are a bolt of energy that baseball desperately needs, but eventually a juggernaut team’s 100-win season is going to end early because of a bad bounce or blown call.
The Dodgers never expected to be in that precarious spot.
Max Scherzer fought through 4 ⅓ innings on a night when neither his pitches nor his command were sharp. Dave Roberts had the guts to pull Scherzer with two on and one out when his ace wanted to stay in the game. Roberts then deployed his deep, talented bullpen masterfully and they hung late-inning zero after zero.