Marcell Ozuna and the Atlanta Braves turned things around in a hurry, and now are one win from ending a two-decade World Series drought.
Ozuna homered twice, rookie right-hander Bryse Wilson made his postseason debut by outpitching a three-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw and the Braves bounced back from a lopsided loss with a rout of their own, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 10-2 on Thursday night.
“Feels good, feels really good,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “Still have a lot of work to do, you know how quick things can turn. I was really proud of the guys, how they bounced back.”
The Braves took a 3-1 lead in the NL Championship Series, a night after a 15-3 loss. Atlanta will try to reach its first World Series since 1999 when it plays Game 5 Friday night.
Atlanta became the first team in MLB history to have back-to-back games in a single postseason where they lost by at least eight runs and then won by at least eight runs, according to STATS.
Dustin May, the 23-year-old Texan who has thrown 4 2-3 scoreless innings in three appearances this postseason, will start for the Dodgers with them facing potential elimination. Atlanta will likely go with a bullpen day.
Ozuna had four hits and drove in four runs. It was 1-all in the sixth when the Braves scored six times, with MVP candidate Freddie Freeman hitting a tiebreaking double and Ozuna following with an RBI double that chased Kershaw.
A night after the Dodgers had a record 11-run first, they managed only one hit — a solo homer by Edwin Ríos — over six innings against the 22-year-old Wilson.
“He was in complete control. … He had a really good look about him. He had good tempo, and the stuff was live,” Snitker said. “It was huge, a huge effort by him.”
Ronald Acuña Jr. led off the decisive six-run sixth with an infield single on a play that ended with him, Kershaw and second baseman Kiké Hernández all on the ground. They all took tumbles because of their effort, and weren’t knocked down by the sometimes bothersome breezy conditions in the new Texas ballpark with the roof open.
Kershaw fell down after coming off the mound while reaching up to try to field the high chopper. Hernández went to the ground after grabbing the ball and making a sidearm throw then went wide while Acuña tumbled after passing the base and landed awkwardly on his left wrist that was irritated twice during the regular season. Acuña went to second base because of the errant throw after being tended to for several moments.
After trying glasses in the field and getting eyedrops early in the game, Freeman apparently had no problems seeing when he doubled home Acuña for a 2-1 lead before Ozuna followed with another double. Reliever Brusdar Graterol got the first out before giving up three consecutive hits, including Dansby Swanson’s two-run double and Austin Riley’s RBI single. Rookie Cristian Pache capped the inning with an RBI single that made it 7-1.
“They’re similar to us as far as they build on momentum really well,” Kershaw said. “It just seems like they have that domino effect when one thing gets going. They just continue to build on that. And they’ve got great hitters, too.”
Freeman and Ozuna each added RBI singles in the eighth.
“We have fun today,” Ozuna said. “Yesterday, before we start, we were on a little streak. Today, we come in with the same energy and give our best.”
Atlanta had gotten even 1-1 in the fourth when Ozuna turned an 86 mph slider from Kershaw into a 109 mph rocket that went 422 feet to left for his second postseason homer. Ozuna went even deeper in the seventh, a 434-foot shot to straightaway center.
Wilson became the third-youngest pitcher to allow one or no hits over at least six innings in a postseason game. He struck out five and walked one, starting with a 1-2-3 first on 10 pitches.
“Once I got out there and threw the first pitch I felt calm, cool and collected,” Wilson said. “We were able to stick to the game plan and that helped a bunch to execute pitches.”
Kershaw, scratched from his scheduled start in Game 2 two days earlier because of back spams, struck out four, walked one and allowed four runs on seven hits in five-plus innings. He is now 11-12 with 4.31 ERA in postseason, as opposed to his 175-76 record and 2.43 ERA in the regular season during his 13 years in the big leagues.
Ríos, batting seventh and the fourth left-hander in a row in the Dodgers starting lineup against Wilson, homered to right leading off the third.
After being left off the NL Division Series roster because of a groin injury, and not playing in the NLCS opener, Ríos homered when starting the last two games. He had one of the Dodgers’ postseason record five on Wednesday night.
“It’s tough. We’ve got three left,” Ríos said. “We’ve just got to win ’em.”
Major League Baseball said it wanted to keep the roof open at $1.2 billion Globe Life Field — barring rain — when the agreement was reached for the new home of the Texas Rangers to host three rounds of the playoffs in the pandemic-shortened season. Fox reported during the telecast that Roberts told umpire Cory Blaser between innings that Kershaw and first baseman Max Muncy were having trouble seeing. The reported wind speed at the start of the game was 6 to 15 mph.
TOP OF THE ORDER
Acuña, Freeman and Ozuna — batting 1-2-3 for the Braves — were a combined 8 for 14, driving in six runs and scoring six.
“Coming off the game we had last night, we might have thought we needed an offensive day and those guys took care of business,” Snitker said.
GIVING ’EM UP
Kershaw has now allowed 27 postseason homers, second most in history behind Andy Pettitte (31).