The Atlanta Braves closed out the Los Angeles Dodgers on Saturday night with a 4-2 win in Game 6 of the NLCS thanks to another round of heroics from outfielder Eddie Rosario. As a result, the Braves have won the best-of-seven series by a count of four games to two and advanced to the World Series for the first time since 1999. The Braves will face the Houston Astros in the 2021 Fall Classic.
The Braves seized an early lead with a two-out RBI double by Austin Riley to follow up Ozzie Albies' two-out double of his own in the first inning. The Dodgers then tied it in the top of the fourth when the rejuvenated Cody Bellinger notched a two-out, opposite-field single against the infield shift to plate Trea Turner.
In the home half of the fourth, though, the scorching Eddie Rosario hit a two-out, three-run homer off Los Angeles starter Walker Buehler to give Atlanta a 4-1 lead and change the tenor of Game 6. The home run was Rosario's 14th hit of the 2021 NLCS, which ties the all-time record for most hits in a postseason series.
On the pitching side, the Braves' Ian Anderson overcame some early command issues and wound up allowing one run on three hits in four innings of work. He was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the fourth. The Dodgers mounted a serious threat in the seventh, as they pushed across a second run against the struggling Luke Jackson. However, Tyler Matzek came on with runners on second and third and no outs and was able to strike out the side. Matzek also worked a perfect eighth to set up Will Smith, who pitched a clean ninth for the pennant-clinching save.
As for the Dodgers, a season in which they tied the franchise record for wins -- 106 -- ended in disappointing fashion. The elimination of the 2020 World Series winners means that we still haven't had a repeat champion in MLB since the 1999-2000 Yankees. No National League team has repeated as World Series champions since the 1975-76 Reds.
Now for some takeaways from a memorable Game 6.
Rosario, unsurprisingly named the NLCS MVP, came through with a two-out, three-run homer that opened up the game for the Braves. Here's the blast:
The moments leading up to the homer were very interesting. The Dodgers had just tied the game in the top of the fourth. There were two outs and it looked like Dodgers starter Walker Buehler was cruising. Then he threw three straight balls to Travis d'Arnaud to walk him after a 1-2 count. With a slow runner on first and two outs, it didn't seem like the optimal time to burn a pinch-hitter and remove the starting pitcher -- who was throwing well -- but Braves manager Brian Snitker pulled the trigger. Ehire Adrianza clubbed a broken-bat, pinch-hit double down the right-field line. D'Arnaud was held at third by normally aggressive third-base coach Ron Washington, likely due to a combination of factors (d'Arnaud isn't fast, Mookie Betts has a hose in right field and Rosario was on deck).
Rosario then fouled off three two-strike pitches to stay alive before the homer. The home run increased the Braves' win probability by 29.7 percent. Not too shabby for one swing in the fourth inning, no?
For more on Rosario, we've got you covered.
Dodgers weren't right vs. Braves' lefties
One of the big storylines coming into the game was that the Braves most important bullpen arms didn't pitch in Game 5, meaning with that and the off day on Friday, they all had two full days of rest. This was one of the big reasons Snitker was able to be aggressive in the above discussion to pinch hit for Anderson in the bottom of the fourth.
Lefty A.J. Minter dominated in his two innings, striking out four and retiring all four batters he faced.
Right-hander Luke Jackson came in and made things a lot more interesting in the seventh, though. Jackson gave up a double and a walk before A.J. Pollock hit an RBI double down the left-field line. It was 4-2 and the Dodgers had runners on second and third with no outs. Snitker then summoned lefty Tyler Matzek. He struck out Albert Pujols, Steven Souza and Mookie Betts in order to get out of the jam.
There aren't enough superlatives in the world with which to credit Matzek for that bail-out job. Off-the-charts amazing.
Matzek also worked a 1-2-3 eighth inning. This was just about the maximum amount of production a team could get out of a short reliever in a game of this magnitude.
Then came lefty closer Will Smith in the ninth. He was amped along with the electric crowd in Truist Park. He struck out two before coaxing a grounder to shortstop Dansby Swanson -- with a very nice play -- to clinch the pennant.
Anderson's most important inning
Anderson started the game for the Braves and it had to be a bit worrisome early for Braves fans. He had a 6.58 ERA in the first inning during the regular season and coughed up a two-run homer to Corey Seager in his Game 2 start in this series.
This time around, Anderson was nails. He got a routine fly out from Mookie Betts, a weak groundout from Corey Seager and struck Trea Turner out. Anderson was excellent through three innings. He did get touched up a bit in the fourth, but still got Pollock to pop out with two runners on to end the threat.
We won't be calling any four-inning start dominant, but Anderson absolutely gave the Braves what they needed. He did his job and he did it well.
Buehler falters on short rest
Due to Max Scherzer needing to be scratched from the scheduled start with a "dead arm" situation, Dodgers starter Walker Buehler had to make his second career start on short rest. He got hit hard in the first inning -- a Freddie Freeman double play ball was the hardest hit ball in the inning, Buehler just was fortunate that it was hit right at a defender -- threw really well in the second and third innings and then had the fourth fall apart on him.
The final line: 4 IP, 7 H, 4 ER, 3 BB, 6 K
It wasn't a total disaster, given that he was thrown into the fire on short rest, but he was clearly compromised. When Buehler is totally on top of his game, he doesn't lose d'Arnaud to three straight balls like that, and that's what opened things up for the Rosario homer.
The Fall Classic starts Tuesday
For the losing Dodgers, they will not repeat as champions. They've made the playoffs nine straight years, but the only World Series title came in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. Obviously it counts -- and they had to go through more rounds of playoffs with the expanded field -- but it still feels a bit lacking with being such a great team so many times.
On the Braves' side, they'll party it up into the wee hours of Sunday morning before setting their sights on the Houston Astros. This snaps a string of 12 playoff appearances between World Series trips, tied for the most ever with the 1992-present A's (via Sarah Langs). The Braves deserve so much credit for emerging from the NL field. They hadn't even been over .500 -- not for one day -- in late July when their superstar Ronald Acuña Jr. tore his ACL. They had the fewest wins of any playoff team. They took out a team that won 95 games and then a team that won 106. What an incredible run.
The World Series starts Tuesday night in Houston's Minute Maid Park. Veteran frontline starter Charlie Morton was lined up to take the ball on regular rest in Game 7, so he's the obvious Game 1 starter for the Braves. On the Astros, we'll soon find out if Lance McCullers Jr. can return or not. Otherwise it's probably Framber Valdez, who will have had five full days of rest since his Game 5 gem in Fenway Park.