Oh, What A Game 7 It Was
Nothing beats it, this year especially.
At many times, the feeling of doom in the air at Globe Life Field in Arlington for the National League Championship Series Game 7 was palpable. A small village of players watched errant pitches fly by, therefore allowing base runners and the threat of an all-important run to possibly cross the plate. Sometimes the pitching defense rose to the occasion. There were 11 strikeouts. Fourteen men were left on base all told.
In some way, everyone failed at the plate when they had the chance to succeed, with only the occasional, glorious instance of success. At least, that’s how it felt. The negatives are heartbreaking. The successes are cause for jubilation. It’s hard to be positive when you’re a baseball player and the odds are stacked against you offensively.
The Dodgers started Dustin May and the curly red-handed fireballer did not look up to the task, walking two and giving up an RBI single to the Braves’ Ozzie Albies. Tony Gonsolin came in for L.A. in the second and gave up a shot to the left field bleachers by Dansby Swanson. Dodgers fans tried to muster rallying cries, occasionally helped out by the person doing the organ sound effects, but they were worried.
Hope arrived in the third as the Dodgers rallied with two outs against Ian Anderson. Justin Turner walked. Max Muncy struck out three times dusting the game but this time he doubled. That’s when catcher Will Smith hit the biggest single of his life. Two runs scored and the game was tied.
The Braves could muster only three hits but walked six times, three against Gonsolin. Two of them in the fourth and a walk led to a run. That brought up left fielder Nick Marsalis who hasn’t been able to hit a fastball all series. He fouled off pitch after Blake Treinen pitch before swinging just early enough to ground to short, which started a 6-2-5-6 double play getting the lead runner at home and the trailing runner at third. It was probably the most important momentum shift of the game, followed the next inning by a leaping catch at the right field wall by Mookie Betts to rob Freddie Freeman of a home run.
And then they tied. Every team needs an energy guy, a spark plug who keeps thing loose but also contributes. The 1988 Dodgers had Mickey Hatcher. The 2020 Dodgers have Kiké Hernández.
The Braves brought in A.J. Minter to start the sixth. Los Angeles countered with Hernandez, who has made a living off left handed pitching: .267 average, 37 homers, 100 runs batted in for his career.
But Kiké hadn’t been Kiké lately. After a very unaggressive approach the previous night against Max Fried, Dodger fans were worried. Kike’s free-swinging spirit is what makes him … Kike.
He watched two more as the count ran to 2-2. And then the crack of the bat and the ball soared, taking a similar line as Swanson’s and landing in about the same place. The game was tied.
After Betts’ robbery of Freeman, every pitch took on a new importance. Would this be the walk that decided the outcome? Would that questionable strike call come back to haunt whoever? What … who would be the difference.
In the end, manager Brian Snitker’s decision to leave right handed reliever Chris Martin in against two left handed hitters and a righty would be the difference. I asked a colleague something witty like ,”He does know Muncy and Bellinger are lefties, right?” I was immediately proven to be an idiot as Max Muncy and Will Smith both struck out.
And then Cody Bellinger came to the plate. The league’s reigning most valuable player has been awful this year. A major slump continued no doubt by an increasing effort to swing his way out of it. During Game 6 he was actually closing his eyes as the ball approached the plate. But tonight his eyes were wide open as the 2-2 offering from Martin zoomed toward the inside edge of the plate.
It never got there. The swing and connection that had been so lacking so many times during the year came all together. The crack, the stare, the drop, the walk.
The stadium, filled to a quarter capacity with Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves fans went nuts. Braves fans grabbed their heads in disbelief while Dodgers fans jumped up and down and air-high-fived anyone near them. It was beautiful in its pain and joy and normalcy.
Lefty Julio Urias closed out the last three innings and the Braves could muster nothing against him.
It was an amazing game in a crazy time.
When the game started, the new stadium was filled with the sound of cheers as people celebrated the players, the game, a sense of normalcy amid the Covid-19 pandemic, and -for many- their first playoff game witnessed in person. Ushers checked tickets and face masks. Fans of both teams were equally adept at failing to put their masks back on after a sip of this or a bite of that. Blissfully, they yelled in the faces of the people they were there with, regardless of whether they lived together or not. Fans were not allowed into prime home run territory for batting practice. Media coverage of Game 1 showed people failing to social distance. Thanks for nothing, New York Times. The national anthem was pre-recorded. No programs were produced for the game. Neither were NLCS shirts that would have commemorated one of the most dramatic postseason series ever.
In the end, none of it mattered. Braves fans immediately swore allegiance to the Rays. Dodgers fans rejoiced overcoming a 3-1 series deficit to meet Tampa in the World Series. It was all about baseball and nothing else. If only for a little while, it seemed everyone regained something we had lost.