Justin Turner held the bat high in his left hand and waved it toward the disappearing baseball as if wielding a magic wand.
Once again, he was.
My goodness, the Dodgers’ red-bearded lucky charm has done it again, unleashing an October blast, eliciting gasps, rescuing a team, saving a season.
“That felt good,’’ Turner said later from beneath his shaggy sweat.
That felt good? For all those Dodgers fans resuscitated by another breathtaking J.T. moment, the dramatic star was dealing in rare understatement.
Almost exactly one year after beating the Chicago Cubs in the playoffs with a memorable walk-off blast, Turner did pretty much the same thing at nearly the same time Saturday against the Milwaukee Brewers, his eighth-inning, two-run home run soaring into the second deck in left field at Miller Park to give the Dodgers a comeback 4-3 victory and bring back the most glorious memories.
Another National League Championship Series. Another Game 2. Another deep drive. Another dagger.
“I just figured that out. That’s pretty cool,’’ said teammate Austin Barnes with an amazed grin.
It’s way cool. This home run didn’t give them an insurmountable series lead like last year against the Cubs, it only tied this best-of-seven series at one game apiece, but the entire tone of this shindig has shifted. The Dodgers are three wins from finishing it, and their next three games are at Dodger Stadium beginning late Monday afternoon against a Brewers team whose 12-game winning streak was just snapped.
You do the math.
”Scratch one across on the road and come back to our home park, it’s huge,’’ said Barnes.
Oh, how they scratched. Sometimes it sounded like fingernails on a chalkboard, but how they scratched.
One night after stinking up the joint with four errors and two passed balls in a Game 1 defeat, they came out seemingly dispirited, managing only two hits in nearly six innings against journeyman starter Wade Miley while suffering both pain and embarrassment.
In the first inning, the Brewers’ Lorenzo Cain robbed David Freese of a two-run homer by leaping at the left-center field fence and pulling it out of the sky. That hurt.
Then, with two out in the fourth, on a grounder to deep shortstop, Manny Machado pulled up before reaching first base and was thrown out in such a blatant lack of hustle it was even mentioned on the national TV broadcast. That was humiliating.
Entering the seventh inning, against the celebrated Brewers bullpen, nine outs from a surely insurmountable two-games-to-none deficit, the Dodgers trailed 3-0 and the hostile crowd was roaring with every pitch. The end seemed near.
“It wasn’t easy for sure,’’ said Barnes. “But we grinded.’’
It was through all this grinding that the scratching finally began to sound sweet.
In the seventh, the Dodgers scored two runs in an unlikely rally that included Cody Bellinger’s first hit of the postseason after 15 failures — he punched an RBI single — and a bases-loaded walk by Barnes in his first game of the postseason.
“Speaking for all those other guys in that clubhouse, they just don’t quit, they just don’t give up, that’s our whole season this year, never quit, keep playing all 27 [outs],’’ said reliever Kenley Jansen.
Which brings this story to Turner who, in the eighth inning against reliever Jeremy Jeffress, followed a leadoff grass-hugging chopped single by Chris Taylor with a giant 2-and-0 swing back into history.
As the ball disappeared into a mass of dropped yellow towels by stunned and silent fans, Turner calmly rounded the bases as if he’s been there before — which, of course, he has. Waiting for him was a dugout full of dancing Dodgers, for whom this never gets old.
“As soon as I hit it, it felt good,’’ said Turner. “I knew it was a homer, and it’s cool to run around the bases and see all your teammates going crazy, jumping up and down waiting for you. That’s pretty cool.’’
Remember how last year’s blast drew comparisons to Kirk Gibson? Probably the greatest compliment is that this time, Justin Turner is simply being compared to Justin Turner.
“J.T. is a big-moments guy,’’ said Barnes. “He has a good tempo, good pulse … the way he controls at-bats is next-level stuff.”
You want some other next-level stuff, check out the much-maligned Dodgers bullpen, which held the Brewers hitless in the final 3 2/3 innings, and guess who officially qualified for the win?
Yep, that boo machine known as Pedro Baez, who threw 1 1/3 perfect innings to continue his late-season roll. Turns out, the Dodgers’ relievers have heard all this grand talk about the superiority of the Brewers’ relievers, and feel enough is enough.
So far in this series, the Dodgers’ relievers have allowed two runs in 9 2/3 innings. The Brewers’ relievers have allowed eight runs in 10 1/3 innings.
Against the league’s best seventh-inning-or-later bullpen, the Dodgers racked up seven hits in 13 at-bats during that period Saturday, and are batting .464 during the last three innings in this series. The Brewers, meanwhile, have blown one game late and nearly blew another.
“When you look across the diamond and you see people that are doing the same thing you’re doing, but are getting more notoriety or whatever, people have pride,’’ said manager Dave Roberts. “I know these guys are taking it personal.’’
Jansen, who retired probable National League MVP Christian Yelich on a groundout to end the game, agreed.
“We all take it personal,’’ he said. “Here we are, we’re showing it today … continuing to push.’’
On Saturday they pushed forward memories not only of last year’s triumphs, but something much bigger. Do you know the last time the Dodgers came back from a one-game-to-none deficit to win a series?
It was against the New York Mets, in the NLCS, back in — you guessed it — the Dodgers’ last World Series championship season, in 1988.