The Dodgers and the Braves were like that old joke about the two guys who were being chased by a bear, and one guy says to the other, “I don’t need to be faster than the bear – I just need to be faster than you.”
Atlanta caught and passed the Dodgers early, and then managed to stay at least one step ahead through the entire trip through the woods, leaving Los Angeles to be chewed up by defeat in Game 2 of the National League Division Series, 4-3.
Not only was the game close, it was a rare thing this postseason — the first major-league game decided by fewer than three runs since the regular season ended Sunday.
After taking a 1-0 lead in the first inning, three double plays thwarted Los Angeles in the most frustrating ways. One came after the leadoff batter reached in the second inning, and was followed by a single. Another came even though the Dodgers were doing a hit and run. And a third, most painful one came with runners on first and third and one out in the seventh.
Meanwhile, Atlanta got two-out RBI hits from Andrelton Simmons in the second and Chris Johnson in the fourth off an otherwise impressive Zack Greinke (six innings, four baserunners), then poured across two more runs in a vexing seventh inning made of the stuff that causes division-winning managers to be at the risk of losing their jobs. Just like that, the Braves had a 4-1 lead.
I could go into greater detail here about the bottom of the seventh, but I think one moment sums it up: Reed Johnson was walked intentionally to face Jason Heyward.
Mark Ellis drew his second walk of the game to start the eighth, and it was at that moment that I commented at Dodger Thoughts, “Just realized Dodgers will probably lose this game 4-3.” No sooner did that get typed than did Hanley Ramirez — who had the RBI double to score Ellis in the first and another double in the sixth — hit a down-the-line two-run homer to slice the lead back down to a run.
But Adrian Gonzalez and Yasiel Puig struck out, and Juan Uribe grounded out, and the Dodgers would remain behind, even after a shutout eighth inning by Brian Wilson, heading into the ninth.
Braves super-closer Craig Kimbrel, who got the final out in the eighth inning, struck out Skip Schumaker to open the final frame, but walked A.J. Ellis after being ahead in the count 1-2. Dee Gordon pinch-ran — three stolen bases from glory, right? — as Andre Ethier came up to pinch-hit. But on a pitch in the dirt, a perfect throw from backup Braves catcher Gerald Laird nailed Gordon at second base (your view of the replay might dispute this), an excruciatingly bitter pill on a night full of them.
Then Ethier walked on a 3-2 pitch (bringing us the irony of Scott Van Slyke as pinch-runner), and the angst continued for one more batter, but Carl Crawford finally struck out to finally end the game.
Even putting aside the playoff stakes, it was the most agonizing game of the year for Los Angeles.
The Dodgers will fly to Los Angeles retaining the chance to win the NLDS at home, a two-game effort beginning with Hyun-Jin Ryu in the gloaming on Sunday.