Dodgers vs. Braves score: Cody Bellinger, Mookie Betts lead dramatic comeback in NLCS Game 3

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The Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday were within five outs of going down 0-3 to the Braves in the best-of-seven NLCS, but first Cody Bellinger came through in the eighth inning with a clutch game-tying home run off Atlanta reliever Luke Jackson. One out later, Mookie Betts doubled home Chris Taylor to give the Dodgers a 6-5 lead that would stand as the final score of Game 3 (box score). The Braves' series lead is down to 2-1 heading to Wednesday's Game 4.

Bellinger's series-altering three-run homer came on a 96-mph fastball that was well above the zone. Rather than take the pitch for ball two, Bellinger clubbed it 399 feet to right center, and in doing so he erased a 5-2 deficit with one swing and kept alive the Dodgers' bid to repeat as World Series champions.

The Dodgers barged to a first-inning lead thanks to a two-run Corey Seager home run off Braves starter Charlie Morton. That 2-0 lead held until the fourth inning when the Braves put four runs on the board at the expense of L.A. starter Walker Buehler. Buehler had been pitching well until a misplay by Gavin Lux in center field and then what appeared to be a missed strike-three call preceded his unraveling. The Braves added a fifth run in the fifth inning when Adam Duvall singled home Ozzie Albies. 

All of that, though, served as prelude to Bellinger's heroics. Kenley Jansen worked the ninth to protect the one-run lead and pick up his first save of the 2021 postseason.

For the Braves, Freddie Freeman broke out of his NLCS slump with three singles. With the series now 2-1 still in favor of the Braves, Game 4 will be back at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday. 

Now for some takeaways from a memorable Game 3.

The Dodgers wasted an early opportunity

Charlie Morton
ATL • SP • 50
NLCS Game 3 vs. Dodgers
IP5
H3
R2
ER2
BB6
K5
HR1
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For the Dodgers, the theme of the series had been wasted opportunities. They went 2 for 18 with runners in scoring position in Games 1 and 2, and in the first inning of Game 3, they had a chance to put a dent in the scoreboard and take a commanding lead. Mookie Betts walked to start the game, then Corey Seager launched a two-run homer for a 2-0 lead:

The Betts walk was one of four -- four! -- in the inning for Charlie Morton. He's only the sixth pitcher to walk four batters in the first inning of a postseason game, joining Brent Suter (2020 Wild Card Series Game 1), Patrick Corbin (2019 NLDS Game 1), Jarrod Washburn (2002 World Series Game 5), Todd Stottlemyre (1992 World Series Games 4), and Bob Welch (1985 NLCS Game 3).

Alas, the three walks to load the bases -- Morton also uncorked a wild pitch in the inning -- did not result in any additional runs for Los Angeles. Chris Taylor ended the inning with a soft line drive to shortstop, stranding three runners. The Dodgers settled for just the Seager two-run homer, and after that inning, Charlie Morton settled down a bit:


Batters facedHitsWalksRunsStrikeoutsPitches

1st inning

8

1

4

2

1

34

Rest of game

15

2

2

0

4

62

The six walks are two more than Morton had ever issued in a postseason start and they tie his career regular season high, set in June 2018 with the Astros against the Rangers. He teetered on the brink of disaster in that first inning -- the Braves had Jesse Chavez warming up at one point -- but the Dodgers were unable to come through with the kill shot in that frame.

Los Angeles melted down in the fourth

Walker Buehler
LAD • SP • 21
NLCS Game 3 vs. Braves
IP3 2/3
H7
R4
ER4
BB3
K3
HR0
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The four runs are charged to Walker Buehler, but make no mistake, it was a team meltdown for the Dodgers in the fourth inning. Still nursing the 2-0 lead built on Seager's homer, Buehler allowed a leadoff single to Freddie Freeman, retired Ozzie Albies on a fly out, then all hell broke lose. First, infielder-turned-outfield Gavin Lux played Austin Riley's loud fly ball into a two-base error:

The official scorer ruled that a double but come on. It hit Lux right in the glove! I know it was hard hit and I know it was sunny and I know Lux is inexperienced in center field (Game 3 was this 10th career start in center), but a major-league center fielder has to make that catch. Lux did not, giving the Braves runners on second and third with one out. Things unraveled from there.

Home plate umpire Jerry Meals did Buehler no favors following the Lux misplay. Meals called a tight zone all game for both teams, but it sure looked like Buehler had Joc Pederson struck out on an 0-2 pitch for the second out of the inning. Instead, Pederson got the call, the at-bat continued, then Joc singled in a run. Here's the pitch location (pitch No. 3):

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Walker Buehler didn't get the 0-2 call on Joc Pederson in the fourth inning. Baseball Savant

From there, the inning really snowballed on Buehler and the Dodgers. Adam Duvall tied the game with a broken-bat jam shot single to left field, Buehler walked Travis d'Arnaud on four pitches to load the bases with one out, Seager allowed a run to score when he failed to cleanly field Dansby Swanson's grounder, then Buehler walked Eddie Rosario with the bases loaded. Total meltdown.

The Dodgers entered the fourth inning with a 69.4 percent chance to win the game. Following Lux's misplay, it was down to 63.4 percent, and by the end of the inning, it was down to 29.8 percent. Had Lux made the catch, the win probability would've been 79.5 percent. Just a brutal and seemingly costly turn of events for Lux and the Dodgers.

The Rosario walk was Buehler's second career bases-loaded walk -- he walked Braves pitcher (!) Sean Newcomb with the bases loaded in Game 3 of the 2018 NLDS -- and the Braves had more hits with runners in scoring position in the inning (three) than the Dodgers did in the entire series up to that point (two). That stat sums up the NLCS to that point pretty well.

Los Angeles, it should be noted, had three two-run leads in Games 2 and 3. They had a two-run lead in the first and seventh innings in Game 2, and a two-run lead in the first inning in Game 3. The Braves rallied to erase all three leads within three innings. 

The Dodgers woke up

Cody Bellinger
LAD • CF • 35
2021 regular season
BA0.165
R39
HR10
RBI36
SB3
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As lifeless as the offense looked through two games and seven innings, the Dodgers can put a crooked number on the board at any moment, and their offense woke out in the seventh inning of Game 3. Will Smith and AJ Pollock punched singles against Luke Jackson, then one-time NL MVP Cody Bellinger launched a game-tying three-run home run. To the action footage:

Not a bad pitch! Luke Jackson threw it right where d'Arnaud wanted it, and it had good velocity at 95.6 mph. Swing at an elevated heater like that and you're likely to pop it up or just miss, not crush a homer halfway up the bleachers. Jackson executed his pitch, but you can do everything right in this game and still get beat, and that's what happened.

Bellinger hit .150 with a .326 slugging percentage against fastballs during the regular season, and he hit just one homer against a fastball at 95-plus. October is the time for redemption though, and Bellinger is now 7 for 24 (.292) in the postseason. He had the series-winning hit against the Giants in the NLDS, and now what might prove to be a season-saving homer in the NLCS.

Taylor followed Bellinger's home run with a single and a stolen base, then Betts gave the Dodgers the lead with a line drive double to right field. I'm sure the Braves considering intentionally walking Mookie with two outs and first base open, but Seager is no slouch on deck. They pitched to Mookie and he responded with one of the biggest hits of his team's season.

Game 3 is only the third time in nine postseason games the Dodgers scored more than four runs. They went 2 for 19 with runners in scoring position in the first two games plus seven innings of the series, then went 3 for 6 in those spots in the seventh inning alone. Things in this game can change in a hurry and they did for the Dodgers (and Braves) that inning.

Kenley Jansen struck out the side in the ninth inning to close out the Game 3 win. He has faced 17 batters in the postseason and struck out 12. Kenley is in Terminator mode right now. According to MLB.com's Sarah Langs, the Dodgers had been 0-83 when trailing a postseason game by at least three runs in the eighth inning or later prior to Game 3. Now they're 1-83 in such games.

Freeman snapped out of his slump

Freddie Freeman
LAD • 1B • 5
2021 regular season
BA0.300
R120
HR31
RBI83
SB8
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Freddie Freeman, the reigning NL MVP, had two of the worst games of his career in Games 1 of the 2 of the NLCS. He went 0 for 8 with seven strikeouts in the two games -- the seven strikeouts came in seven consecutive at-bats -- and that was after his series-winning home run against the Brewers in Game 4 of the NLDS. Freeman looked lost in Games 1 and 2.

That was never going to last, of course. Freeman is way too good of a hitter, and he went 3 for 4 with a walk and three opposite-field singles in Game 3. The Dodgers pitched him mostly inside in Games 1 and 2, but for some reason they went away, and Freeman just reached out and poked a few singles the other way. His Game 3 spray chart:

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Freddie Freeman wore out the opposite field in Game 3. Baseball Savant

Freeman hit .376 with a .536 slugging percentage when he hit the ball the other way this season, both among the highest marks in baseball. He's one of the best all-fields hitters in the game and he got back to going the other way in Game 2. Simplified approach and a great pure hitter figuring things out on the fly to snap a two-game mini-slump.

It's a minor miracle the Braves were able to build a 2-0 series lead without Freeman contributing -- Games 1 and 2 were extremely close walk-off wins, remember -- but now his bat seems to have woken up. That's very good news for Atlanta moving forward.

Seager tied a Dodgers record

Corey Seager
TEX • SS • 5
2021 regular season
BA0.306
R54
HR16
RBI57
SB1
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With his first-inning home run, Seager tied teammate Justin Turner for the most postseason home runs in Dodgers history. The list of course skews recent given all the extra rounds and games they play nowadays, but it is an impressive list nonetheless:

  1. Corey Seager: 13 homers in 58 games
  2. Justin Turner: 13 homers in 80 games
  3. Duke Snider: 11 homers in 36 games
  4. Steve Garvey: 10 homers in 45 games
  5. Joc Pederson: 9 homers in 64 games

Tuesday's home run was Seager's seventh career postseason home run against the Braves. Only five players have hit more homers against a single team in the postseason: Duke Snider against the Yankees (10); Reggie Jackson (nine), Mickey Mantle (nine), and Yogi Berra (eight) against the Dodgers; and Nelson Cruz against the Tigers (eight).

Going into Game 3, Seager owned a .293/.383/.636 batting line in 26 games spanning the 2020-21 postseason. He was both the NLCS and World Series MVP last year, and the postseason bona fides will help Seager land a monster free agent contract this offseason.

Stolen bases are cool again

Mookie Betts
LAD • RF • 50
2021 regular season
BA0.264
R93
HR23
RBI58
SB10
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Ready for a mind-blowing stat? Runners are 31 for 33 stealing bases this postseason. 31 for 33! And one of the two caught stealings came when Manuel Margot overslid second base and was tagged out. He made it in safely, but slid too far. The postseason has been a track meet.

In Game 3, Betts stole second base in second inning, his third steal of the NLCS and fifth of the postseason. It was his 13th career postseason stolen base without getting caught, the most in baseball history.

The Dodgers as a team are 13 for 13 stealing bases this postseason -- no other team has more than seven steals this October -- and they're the first team with multiple stolen bases in four straight postseason games since the 1995 Mariners. Betts personally stole only 10 bases during the regular season. He has five in nine postseason games.

The Braves are still in control

Game 3 was ugly loss, undoubtedly, but the Braves still have a 2-1 series lead. Historically, teams with a 2-1 lead in a best-of-seven have gone on to win the series 70 percent of the time. The odds are still in Atlanta's favor, though the Dodgers have some life now, and the next two games will be played in Dodger Stadium. The Braves have lost 11 of their last 12 games in Chavez Ravine.

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