LOS ANGELES — Facing a second elimination game in less than a week, the Los Angeles Dodgers kept the same calm and cool approach.
It was their 52,935 fans who went bonkers, celebrating a 7-2 victory over the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday night to force a decisive Game 5 in their NL Division Series.
Mookie Betts homered and drove in three runs, and Will Smith also went deep to keep the season alive for the defending World Series champions. The Dodgers beat St. Louis in the NL wild-card game last Wednesday.
“Everybody was kind of chill, relaxed and wanted to play,” Betts said. “It’s not like we’re all of a sudden going to start hitting it harder or throwing it further or throwing it faster or whatever. It’s the same game we have been playing. It’s just a win-or-go-home situation.”
Next, the 106-win Dodgers head back to San Francisco to play the 107-win Giants one more time Thursday night, with the winner advancing to face Atlanta in the NL Championship Series. The Braves eliminated Milwaukee earlier Tuesday.
“They know us, we know them really well,” Smith said. “It’s going to come down to who wants it a little more.”
San Francisco won the NL West by one game over the Dodgers in an historic race that went down to the final day of the regular season. Now, these storied rivals are set for a winner-take-all showdown.
“This is what baseball wants,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “We’re going to be the only show in town. If you have a pulse or you’re a sports fan, you better be watching Dodgers-Giants.”
The Dodgers managed just five hits during a 1-0 loss in Game 3 — the second time they were shut out in this series — to reach the brink of elimination. Los Angeles had that many by the second inning Tuesday and pounded out 12 in all to back a brief but effective outing from Buehler on three days’ rest.
“Tonight’s a great example of kind of 26 guys coming together and figuring out a way to survive,” Buehler said.
Buehler went to Roberts as early as the Dodgers’ 9-2 victory in Game 2 and said he wanted the ball in Game 4 to start on short rest for the first time in his career. The right-hander allowed one run and three hits in 4 1/3 innings. He struck out four and walked two on 71 pitches.
“I actually felt great,” Buehler said. “Probably the best I have in the second half of the year. We’ll see how I feel tomorrow, but for tonight I felt pretty good.”
After giving up a leadoff single to Evan Longoria and walking pinch-hitter Steven Duggar, Buehler exited to a standing ovation from blue towel-waving fans.
The Dodgers chased starter Anthony DeSclafani in the second. He gave up two runs and five hits and struck out two.
The Giants ran through six pitchers by the fifth, leaving them with just three relievers. By the seventh, only backup catcher Curt Casali was available off the bench and he pinch-hit in the eighth.
The Giants have been outscored 16-9 in the series. They had seven hits Tuesday.
“This time of year you’re going to face great pitching night-in and night-out,” All-Star catcher Buster Posey said. “You’re hoping that when you do get some traffic out there, you can get a big hit because sometimes those opportunities are limited. Hopefully that’s something we will be able to do on Thursday.”
The biting, steady wind that prevailed throughout Game 3 was gone, leaving just a slight breeze to ruffle the center-field flags.
Smith hit a two-run homer to center in the eighth, extending the lead to 7-2.
Betts homered in the fourth, and his bases-loaded sacrifice fly scored Cody Bellinger in the fifth for a 5-1 lead.
“I told him after the homer that’s the best swing he’s taken all year,” Roberts said.
The Giants’ runs came in the top of the fifth on Darin Ruf’s RBI groundout off winner Joe Kelly, and Kris Bryant’s RBI groundout in the eighth. Posey, a career .257 hitter in the postseason, went 0 for 4.
Buehler was safe at first leading off the fourth when his shot went off reliever Jarlin Garcia’s leg for an error. Betts followed with a two-run homer to the right-field pavilion, extending the lead to 4-0.
The Dodgers got on the board in the first with NL batting champion Trea Turner’s RBI double to right-center that rolled to the wall, scoring Corey Seager, who singled.
Chris Taylor’s sacrifice fly made it 2-0 in the second.
San Francisco had runners at the corners in the second on consecutive one-out singles by Bryant and LaMonte Wade Jr. But Buehler got out of the jam, retiring Longoria on a swinging strike and Mike Yastrzemski on a liner to second.
Last postseason, the Dodgers went 3-0 in elimination games, rallying from a 3-1 deficit to beat Atlanta in the NLCS.
BRAVES 5, BREWERS 4
ATLANTA — Freddie Freeman and the Atlanta Braves will get another chance to finish the job they came agonizingly close to achieving a year ago.
It doesn’t matter at all that they had fewer wins than any other playoff team.
Freeman hit an improbable, tiebreaking homer off Milwaukee closer Josh Hader with two outs in the eighth inning and the Braves advanced to the NL Championship Series for the second year in a row, finishing off the Brewers 5-4 on Tuesday night.
The Braves won the best-of-five Division Series three games to one, advancing to face either the 107-win San Francisco Giants or the 106-win Los Angeles Dodgers with a trip to the World Series on the line.
“I’ve had a lot of cool moments in my career,” Freeman said. ‘I think that’s gonna top ‘em all. Hopefully it’s not the last one and I’ve got a couple more in these playoffs.”
The game was tied at 4 when the Brewers brought on Hader to make sure it stayed that way. The hard-throwing lefty struck out Eddie Rosario and Dansby Swanson, but he couldn’t get past the 2020 NL MVP.
Freeman caught up with an 84-mph slider, launching a 428-foot drive into the seats in left-center — only the fourth homer all season off Hader, and first since July 28.
Freeman became the first left-hander to homer off Hader since Jason Heyward in 2020.
“The first two guys went down, so I just tried to get a pitch up and he hung a slider and I put a good swing on it,” Freeman said. “There was no rhyme or reason to it.”
Freeman celebrated wildly on his way around the bases, and popped back out of the dugout for a curtain call as the crowd of 40,195 roared. He became the first player in franchise history to hit a go-ahead home run in the eighth inning or later in a series-clinching win, ESPN Stats &Info said.
“When Freddie hit that ball, I mean, I lost my poise. Everybody in the dugout was going crazy,” teammate Ozzie Albies said.
Will Smith pitched a scoreless ninth for his third straight save in the series, getting Christian Yelich to look at strike three with a runner on first for the final out. Tyler Matzek claimed the win with a perfect eighth.
“Freddie! Freddie! Freddie!” the crowd chanted as the Braves celebrated in the center of the field.
Despite having fewer wins (88) than any other playoff team — and even two teams that didn’t make the postseason — the NL East champion Braves are headed back to the NLCS for the second season in a row.
A year ago, manager Brian Snitker’s team had a 3-1 series lead, only to lose three straight games to the eventual World Series champion Dodgers.
Atlanta hasn’t been to the World Series since 1999, and hasn’t won it all since 1995.
But this team, which floundered under .500 until Aug. 6, overcame so much adversity to clinch its fourth straight division title in the final week.
A season-ending injury to star Ronald Acuña Jr. and legal issues that sidelined Marcell Ozuna forced the Braves to acquire a whole new outfield before the trade deadline.
It paid off.
“We’ve been feeling really good about ourselves in the second half, playing really good baseball,” Freeman said. ”We carried it over to the postseason.”
After the Braves and the Brewers combined for just nine runs through the first 30 innings of the series, the offenses suddenly came to life in the fourth.
The NL Central champ Brewers touched home for the first time since Game 1, getting RBI singles from Omar Narváez and Lorenzo Cain to snap a 22-inning scoreless streak. Narváez’s hit also broke an 0-for-20 performance by 95-win Milwaukee with runners in scoring position in the series.
But the Braves bounced back in the bottom half, even though Milwaukee may have caught a huge break on a deflected foul popup that was ruled a catch even through it appeared to hit the dirt. Pinch-hitter Eddie Rosario came through with a two-out, two-run single to center.
Milwaukee surged ahead again in the fifth, this time on Rowdy Tellez’s second two-run homer of the series. His first, way back in the seventh inning of Game 1, had produced the Brewers’ only runs of the series until Tuesday. This second one off Huascar Ynoa was a massive shot, plopping into the fountain beyond the center-field wall.
Back came the Braves, who put up another two-spot in their half. Joc Pederson drove in one with a forceout and Travis d’Arnaud delivered a two-out single to right to bring home another.
Pitching on three days’ rest, Charlie Morton lasted just 3 1/3 innings for the Braves. He surrendered four hits and was charged with Milwaukee’s first two runs.
The Brewers decided not to use ace Corbin Burnes, who had gotten the win over Morton in Game 1. He was all set to go in Game 5 in Milwaukee.
Unfortunately for the Brewers, they don’t play again until 2022.
“We’re all really disappointed,” manager Craig Counsell said. “In the end, we had big goals. We didn’t quite get there. But we did win 95 games. It’s a special group. They did accomplish some special things.”
Milwaukee starter Eric Lauer made his first appearance of the series, but didn’t get much farther than Morton. He went 3 2/3 innings, also charged with two runs on four hits.
ASTROS 10, WHITE SOX 1
CHICAGO — It was Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman once again.
The Houston Astros are going to the AL Championship Series for the fifth straight year. Their October-tested stars led the way.
Altuve hit a three-run homer and scored four times, and Houston eliminated the Chicago White Sox with a 10-1 victory in Game 4 of their AL Division Series on Tuesday.
“We don’t get tired of this moment,” Correa said. “They’re special, and we perform our best when October comes.”
Correa and Bregman each hit a two-run double as the Astros bounced back from Sunday night’s 12-6 loss with their usual relentless brand of baseball. Michael Brantley had three hits and two RBIs.
Next up for Altuve and company is Game 1 of the ALCS against former Astros bench coach Alex Cora and the Boston Red Sox on Friday in Houston. The Red Sox eliminated Tampa Bay with a 6-5 victory in Game 4 on Monday night.
“We’re playing another good team,” Altuve said.
It’s Houston’s second ALCS under 72-year-old manager Dusty Baker, whose club got the best of 77-year-old Chicago skipper Tony La Russa. Baker replaced A.J. Hinch, who was fired in the fallout from the Astros’ 2017 sign-stealing scandal that also resulted in a one-year ban for Cora.
A testy La Russa argued with umpire Tom Hallion after he felt Houston reliever Kendall Graveman hit reigning AL MVP José Abreu intentionally with two out in the eighth. Abreu was plunked 22 times during the regular season.
“There is a character choice there that they should answer for,” La Russa said. “Stupid, too.
“I’ll be interested to see if they admit it. If they don’t admit it, then they’re very dishonest.”
Baker, who has sparred with La Russa in the past, said his team did not throw at Abreu intentionally.
“There was no reason for us to hit Abreu,” Baker said. “He hadn’t done anything to us.”
Gavin Sheets connected for Chicago, becoming the third rookie in franchise history to homer in a postseason game. But Carlos Rodón was knocked out in the third inning of his first start since Sept. 29, and the AL Central champions left eight runners on base.
The White Sox also lost in the first round of the 2020 playoffs, dropping two of three in Oakland. Before this year, the franchise had never made consecutive postseason appearances.
“It was a fun ride. Ended a little short,” Rodón said.
The Astros are looking for the franchise’s second championship after winning it all in 2017, a title that still evokes a strong reaction around the game after the team was punished for using electronics to steal signs.
The crowd at Guaranteed Rate Field chanted “Cheater! Cheater!” at times during the two games in Chicago, and White Sox reliever Ryan Tepera implied late Sunday night that Houston may have been stealing signs in Games 1 and 2.
But the Astros, used to dealing with boos since fans returned to the stands this season, brushed it all off.
“We’ve been constantly bombarded by negatives, especially on the road,” Baker said. “But these guys, they come to play and they love each other.”
Correa put Houston ahead to stay with his two-out double in the third, pulling Rodón’s high 0-2 fastball into left. The Astros loaded the bases on two walks and a fastball that hit Altuve, drawing a round of cheers from the crowd of 40,170.
Correa pointed to his left wrist and then pounded his chest and yelled “It’s my time!” as he stood on second after the big hit in his 67th career postseason game.
“You know what time it is, baby. It’s October,” Correa said after the victory. “So yeah, I was happy with that.”
That was it for Rodón, who was limited down the stretch because of shoulder soreness and fatigue. Running his fastball into the upper 90s again after another extended break, the left-hander was charged with two runs and three hits in his first career playoff start.
“He gave us everything he had,” La Russa said.
Houston added three more in the fourth for a 5-1 lead. Kyle Tucker singled and swiped second and third — the latter without a throw — before coming home on Martín Maldonado’s first hit of the series.
Bregman drove in Maldonado and Altuve with his two-out double on a 3-0 pitch from Garrett Crochet. The left-handed reliever then struck out the lefty-batting Yordan Alvarez, ending the inning.
The big hits by Correa and Bregman supplied more than enough offense for Lance McCullers Jr., who departed with right forearm tightness after four effective innings. Yimi García got three outs for the win.
McCullers also pitched 6 2/3 scoreless innings in Houston’s 6-1 victory in Game 1 on Thursday. If he can’t go in the ALCS, it would be a big blow for the Astros.
“I don’t think it has anything to do with my ligament,” he said. “We’ll have to just wait and see how I feel tomorrow and if we’re going to get any imaging done, things like that.”
Altuve punctuated Houston’s big day with his 19th career postseason homer, a three-run shot off All-Star closer Liam Hendriks in the ninth.
“We’ve been here five times,” Altuve said. “And we just try to pass it on to the guys who are getting here for the first time.”
Sheets’ drive in the second bounced off the top of the wall and over. Astros center fielder Jake Meyers crashed into the wall trying to make a leaping grab, and then departed with left shoulder discomfort.
The White Sox lost their center fielder when Luis Robert left with right leg tightness before the Astros batted in the seventh.