Eddie Rosario’s walk-off hit puts Braves up 2-0 on Dodgers in NLCS

Atlanta Braves' Travis d'Arnaud, top, jumps on top of Eddie Rosario to celebrate Rosario's walk-off single to defeat the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-4 in game two in the 2021 National League Championship Series at Truist Park on Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021 in Atlanta. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
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Gabriel Burns The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (TNS)

ATLANTA — Like Game 1, the Braves and Dodgers entered the ninth inning of Game 2 in a stalemate. Like Game 1, the Braves were the ones who came up with the pivotal hit in the end.

Catcher Travis d’Arnaud opened the bottom of the ninth with a broken-bat single off flamethrower Brusdar Graterol. Shortstop Dansby Swanson bunted into a force out at second. Swanson moved to second with a groundout.

The Dodgers pulled Graterol for closer Kenley Jansen. Outfielder Eddie Rosario then hit a ball that bounced off infielder Corey Seager’s glove and into the outfield, ending the game. The Braves won, 5-4, Sunday at Truist Park.

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Just like that, the Braves have built a 2-0 lead over the Dodgers in the National League Championship Series. And they’ll head to Los Angeles with pressure mounting on their opponent.

The Braves entered the eighth down 4-2. The Dodgers called upon left-handed starter Julio Urias in a pitching strategy that would fail them. Outfielder Eddie Rosario greeted Urias with an opposite-field single. Rosario scored on second baseman Ozzie Albies’ single, just evading the throw to the plate.

An out later, enter third baseman Austin Riley, who’s gone scorched earth in October. Riley won Game 1 on a walk-off hit. He tied Game 2 with a double to the center-field wall, his third extra-base hit of the series already.

Score it a victory for third-base coach Ron Washington and his aggressive sends. And mark it a loss for the oft-lauded Dodgers brain trust, who saw their decision to use Urias implode in their faces.

The game seemed to heavily favor the Dodgers after the top of the seventh, when the Braves’ trouble started with a common culprit: a lead-off walk. Lefty Tyler Matzek committed the sin this time, losing a 10-pitch battle with former MVP Mookie Betts. Matzek, a star of the Braves’ playoff run, followed by fanning shortstop Corey Seager. Betts stole second base.

Matzek then struck out second baseman Trea Turner. He intentionally walked catcher Will Smith, triggering a game of chess that resulted in Braves reliever Luke Jackson facing Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner. Jackson plunked Turner with a slider, loading the bases.

Jackson, whose propensity for escaping jams has saved the Braves countless times throughout the season, couldn’t keep the game tied. Chris Taylor, who’s already proven a menace in this series, popped a ball that dropped in front of center fielder Guillermo Heredia, who’d just entered the game as part of a double switch.

The ball eluded Heredia’s glove, requiring the outfielder to retrieve it from further back in the outfield, but the damage was going to be two runs regardless. Taylor’s hit was one for which the Dodgers desperately searched throughout the evening. It still wasn’t enough.

Seager put the Braves in an early hole with a two-run homer off starter Ian Anderson before an out was recorded. Anderson allowed two runs across his first five postseason starts (23-2/3 innings). He’d surrendered the same amount through six pitches Sunday.

Anderson’s first-inning woes persisted. The right-hander had a 6.38 ERA in the opening frame during the regular season (24 innings). He required 28 pitches in the inning.

The 23-year-old needed just 10 pitches to retire the Dodgers in order in the ensuing frame. After allowing two baserunners in the third – though Anderson escaped unscathed – manager Brian Snitker turned to his bullpen. Anderson’s three-inning outing was the shortest of his postseason career.

After years of benefiting from “Joctober,” the Dodgers learned what it felt like to be on the other side in the fourth inning. Outfielder Joc Pederson smacked a Max Scherzer curveball into the top of the Chop House, erasing the Dodgers’ two-run lead.

Pederson yelled “I’m a bad mother (expletive)” while returning to the dugout. He was understandably fired up for striking against the team that bid him farewell in free agency last winter. Pederson’s blast was 112 mph off the bat and traveled 454 feet, making it the longest home run of the 2021 postseason.

The Cy Young favorite Scherzer didn’t make it past the fifth inning, with Dodgers manager Dave Roberts going to his bullpen with one out in the frame. Scherzer, who’d thrown 79 pitches and exhibited a velocity dip, exited the mound to a chorus of cheers from the 41,873 at Truist Park.

Déjà vu abound: Just like a year ago, the Braves have a 2-0 lead. They’re two wins from the World Series. They’ve ensured, even if the worst-case scenario unfolds in California, they’ll host a Game 6 at Truist Park.

These Braves continue defying logic. They haven’t played their best in this series. Neither have the Dodgers. The difference is the Braves have now built a cushion. Even with first baseman Freddie Freeman struggling and his team’s missed opportunities, the Braves have the upper hand.

Game 3 – one in which the Braves can put the Dodgers in a near insurmountable hole – will be Tuesday in Los Angeles. Battle-tested veteran Charlie Morton will start for the Braves against Dodgers righty Walker Buehler.

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