ARLINGTON, Texas — One Will Smith outdid another Will Smith to keep the season alive for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
A common name, a special result for the Dodgers catcher.
Smith hit a go-ahead, three-run homer off the Atlanta Braves reliever with the same name, Corey Seager homered twice and the Dodgers avoided elimination with a 7-3 win in Game 5 of the NL Championship Series on Friday night.
"I'll always bet on our Will Smith," Dodges manager Dave Roberts said.
Smith connected in the sixth against — of all people — Will Smith, the fourth of six Braves pitchers in their bullpen night that started with a couple of postseason firsts by A.J. Minter.
"For him to come through for us in that spot. I'm happy to see him expressing himself," Dodgers right fielder Mookie Betts said of his teammate who rarely shows emotion but was clearly pumped up by his big blast.
Betts got that decisive sixth started with an infield single, and the first-year Dodger and former AL MVP had a running, shoestring catch in right field that turned into an inning-ending double play. His snag took an Atlanta run off the board after a replay challenge right before Seager's first homer.
"You're talking about momentum shifts, that's the play of the year," Roberts said. "I just thought there was no way he was going to make that play."
Game 6 is Saturday afternoon, with a pitching rematch from the series opener: lefty Max Fried for the Braves and right-hander Walker Buehler for the Dodgers. Both gave up one run in Game 1, which Atlanta won 5-1 after a four-run ninth. Atlanta is looking to get into the World Series for the first time since 1999.
"I knew it was going to be a really hard series, regardless of what situation you're in," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "I feel good tomorrow with Max on the mound. I feel really good with him going out there. Hopefully we can score a few runs and support him and wrap this thing up."
Blake Treinen, the third of seven Dodgers pitchers and the Game 1 loser in relief, pitched two perfect innings for the win. Inconsistent closer Kenley Jansen struck out the side in a non-save situation to end it, which Roberts called a highlight for him.
Betts had a stolen base after his sixth-starting single before Justin Turner's one-out hard grounder that got Betts caught in a rundown. The Braves then brought in their lefty named Will Smith to face left-handed batter Max Muncy, who drew a walk before the Dodgers' catcher named Will Smith hit a full-count pitch 404 feet to left-center for a 4-2 lead.
"It got the team going. that energy bounces off of each other," Smith said.
It was the first time since at least 1961 that a batter homered off a pitcher with the same name in the regular season or postseason, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
The Dodgers extended their lead in the seventh when Chris Taylor hit a two-out double and scored on a single by Betts before Seager hit a ball into LA's bullpen in right-center.
Seager's four homers and 10 RBIs have already tied NLCS records, with at least one more game for the Dodgers to play — two if they want a chance to get to the World Series for the third time in four years. The four homers are already a record for a shortstop in any postseason series.
"Just kind of putting good swings on pitches and everything is kind of clicking," Seager said.
Taylor turned an ankle in left field during the eighth inning but remained in the game. Manager Dave Roberts said Taylor would get treatment and testing prior to Game 6.
Minter struck out seven of the 10 batters he faced as the first pitcher in MLB history whose first start came in a postseason game. The fourth-year big leaguer became the first pitcher — starter or reliever — with seven strikeouts in three innings or fewer in a postseason game. He had already matched his career high before striking out the side — all on called third strikes — in the third before leaving with a 2-0 lead.
After Marcell Ozuna and Travis d'Arnaud had consecutive singles to start the third for Atlanta, there was one out when Dansby Swanson hit a sinking liner to right. Betts made a running catch, with his glove skimming the ground before his throw home was late. But the Dodgers challenged that Ozuna that left third base early — and it became the Braves third out instead of their third run.
"We were able to get a stop," Betts said. "Yesterday we couldn't stop the bleeding. Today, we were able to get a stop right there and put some pressure on them."
Umpires and the off-site replay crew needed nearly two minutes to make their ruling, but Dodgers fielders — and even Braves runners — had already left the field after watching the play on the big video board.
"It's not always on the offensive side that you get the spark," Seager said. "A big play in a big moment you get some energy."
Right after that, Seager's leadoff homer to straightaway center in the fourth cut the Dodgers deficit to 2-1.
Rookie center fielder Cristian Pache made a leaping try at the wall, but the ball went just behind his extended glove. But Pache did time things up in the eighth, robbing Muncy of a homer with a nearly identical play.
The Braves scored in both innings off LA starter Dustin May. Freddie Freeman doubled, went to third and scored on d'Arnaud's sacrifice fly in the first, and Pache had an RBI single in the second. D'Arnaud added an RBI groundout in the eighth.
Smith became only the third catcher in Dodgers franchise history to hit a go-ahead home run in the postseason. The last was Steve Yeager in Game 5 of the 1981 World Series of Ron Guidry of the New York Yankees. The other was Roy Campanella, who did it twice: in Game 3 of the 1953 World Series and Game 3 of the 1955 World Series.
The 21-year-old Pache, who has played in only two regular season games in the big leagues, has an RBI in each of his four NLCS starts. He became a starter after outfielder Adam Duvall's left oblique injury in the series opener.
LOT OF RELIEF
Minter hadn't started a game since his junior season at Texas A&M in 2015, the same year Atlanta drafted him in the second round. He had made 144 relief appearances (139 regular season, five playoff games) the past four seasons for the Braves, along with 77 minor league games, before his first professional start.
Braves 10, Dodgers 2
ARLINGTON, Texas — Clayton Kershaw made the slow trudge to that lonely spot in the dugout once again, this time just a few miles from his hometown.
The longtime ace of the Dodgers just can’t shake his playoff curse, not even on friendly turf in a neutral-site NL Championship Series.
Kershaw faltered at the start of the sixth inning against Atlanta, allowing three straight hits before watching the rest of a six-run outburst in the Braves’ 10-2 win in Game 4 on Thursday night.
Kershaw’s franchise-high 12th postseason loss put Los Angeles down 3-1 in the best-of-seven series at the home of the Texas Rangers, on the brink of a second straight defeat in the NLCS after posting the best record in the majors during the pandemic-shortened season.
Pitching two days after he was scratched from a Game 2 start because of back spasms, Kershaw allowed four runs in five-plus innings, boosting his career playoff ERA to 4.31.
While the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner is also the club’s career leader in postseason wins with his 11-12 record, his October resume simply doesn’t match his stellar regular-season numbers: 175-76 with a 2.43 ERA.
In LA’s seven trips to the NLCS over Kershaw’s 13 seasons, the Dallas native is 3-6 with a 4.84 ERA. And now the left-hander has been outpitched by a rookie making his postseason debut: Atlanta’s 22-year-old Game 4 winner, Bryse Wilson.
“I think that he came out and five innings, one run, again, what happened right there in that sixth inning, he gave us a chance to win the baseball game,” manager Dave Roberts said. “We couldn’t put any runs up early and get a lead, or hold a lead. That narrative couldn’t be further from the truth.”
Kershaw was handed a 1-0 lead on Edwin Ríos’ homer in the third, but gave it up on Marcell Ozuna’s solo shot in the fourth, the first of two for Ozuna.
In the sixth, Ronald Acuña Jr.’s high chopper eluded the glove of a leaping Kershaw behind the mound for an infield single. Freddie Freeman and Ozuna followed with consecutive RBI doubles, and Kershaw was done in Los Angeles’ third loss in four games since winning its first five in the playoffs.
“It would have been nice to get Acuna out,” Kershaw said. “Just part of playing on turf. He kind of chopped that one up. Freddie, I had two strikes on him. Probably just went one too many pitches inside.”
Kershaw had never pitched near his Dallas home before doing so twice in a week and a half in this unusual postseason, first without fans in an NL Division Series sweep of San Diego and then a pandemic-reduced crowd in the NLCS.
The eight-time All-Star recorded his 11th postseason win in the Dodgers’ 6-5 victory in Game 2 of the NLDS, but he was far from dominant. Manny Machado and Eric Hosmer hit back-to-back homers to cut into a 4-1 deficit.
A night after becoming the first team to score 11 runs in an inning and the first with 15 runs and five homers in the first three innings of a postseason game, the Dodgers had just three hits. Ríos’ homer was their only hit before Kershaw exited.
“Every time Kershaw gets on that mound, you want to score 20,” Ríos said. “You want to score as many runs as we can for him. It was unfortunate we weren’t able to do that tonight.”
If the Hall of Fame is in his future, Kershaw won’t be alone among star pitchers who struggled in the playoffs.
Greg Maddux was 11-14 in the postseason, most of those decisions when Atlanta won just one World Series during a run of 14 straight NL East titles. Randy Johnson was 7-9, and fellow lefty Steve Carlton just 6-6.
Another lefty, David Price, was 2-9 before winning his final three decisions for Boston when the Red Sox won the World Series two years ago.
Each of those pitchers has at least one title, though. Kershaw still doesn’t have one despite the club record in playoff starts (28) and innings (177 1/3).
Kershaw now has 11 career postseason starts of allowing at least four runs, tied with Maddux for the second-most. Only Andy Pettitte, another lefty, has more.
Ozuna’s first homer in Game 4 was the 27th Kershaw has allowed in the playoffs, breaking a tie with Justin Verlander for second-most, also behind Pettitte (31).