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Dodgers decisions in fateful fifth inning backfire in NLCS Game 2 loss to Braves

Dodgers starting pitcher Tony Gonsolin leaves the game in the fifth inning.
Dodgers starting pitcher Tony Gonsolin leaves the game in the fifth inning in Game 2 of the NLCS at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, on Tuesday.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The Dodgers trailed by seven runs at one point Tuesday. There is not much sense in scrutinizing the anatomy of a blowout.

But, for the Dodgers, there is something incredibly painful about this one-run defeat, and not just because the Atlanta Braves are halfway to the World Series.

The Dodgers’ 8-7 loss in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series compelled a close examination of the fifth inning. In a game they rallied and ultimately lost by one run, that was an inning in which they gave up four, amid a series of questionable decisions.

Tony Gonsolin, the Dodgers’ starting pitcher, was making his first appearance in 17 days. The Dodgers appeared to react slowly as he lost command.

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He breezed through the first three innings, nine up, nine down, on 28 pitches. He needed 33 pitches to escape the fourth inning, giving up two runs, a walk and two hits — including Freddie Freeman’s home run — to put the Dodgers in a 2-0 hole.

The Dodgers hoped Gonsolin could last one more inning, facing the bottom of the Braves’ lineup.

Austin Riley struck out, but on a full count. Nick Markakis walked on 10 pitches, and the television cameras showed reliever Blake Treinen rushing to get ready. Cristian Pache smashed a full-count fastball into the left-field corner, with Markakis scoring for a 3-0 lead.

Dodger Stadium hosted a watch party for fans to watch the NLCS in the parking lot from their cars, and though only 300 tickets were sold, it was enjoyable.

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Gonsolin said fatigue had not set in, but he had lost sharpness on his slider and splitter.

“I was trying a little bit too hard to make it overly nasty,” he said.

At that point, Gonsolin had made 22 pitches to three batters, with a three-ball count on all of them. The Braves’ lineup flipped to the top. The Dodgers had taken care this season to avoid using Gonsolin on a third trip through the lineup.

With a 2-0 deficit, Roberts said, he might have summoned Treinen. With a 3-0 deficit, he did not.

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“To think about bringing one of your highest-leverage relievers in the fifth inning, in a three-run deficit game, it just doesn’t make sense,” Roberts said.

Neither did asking an erratic Gonsolin to face Ronald Acuna. Gonsolin threw one strike, then four consecutive balls, one of which bounced outside the left-handed batter’s box and another of which sailed beyond the left-handed box. Acuna bats right-handed.

That brought up Freeman, the Braves’ best hitter, with two home runs in his first six at-bats in the series. The situation begged for Adam Kolarek, the Dodgers’ left-handed relief specialist. Although Kolarek had been warming up, the Dodgers turned to right-hander Pedro Baez.

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Had there been two outs instead of one, the Dodgers might have summoned Kolarek, hoped he would retire Freeman to end the inning, then used Baez to start the sixth inning. However, the new three-batter rule would have required Kolarek to face Freeman and the next batter, the right-handed Marcell Ozuna.

“You’re put in a tough spot with that three-batter rule,” Roberts said.

In came Baez, who gave up a single, two walks and a sacrifice fly. By then, the Dodgers trailed 6-0. They ultimately lost by one run, after Kolarek gave up one run in a mop-up inning.

This begs the question of why Kolarek is on the roster in the first place.

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The Dodgers looked brilliant for including him on their roster last October, at least through the first three games of the division series against the Washington Nationals. Kolarek had one purpose: to neutralize the Nationals’ best hitter, Juan Soto, who bats left-handed.

In Game 1, Kolarek struck out Soto. In Game 2, Kolarek got him to ground out. In Game 3, Kolarek struck him out again.

Photos from Game 2 of the National League Championship Series between the Dodgers and Atlanta Braves at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.

Kolarek faced no other batters. However, in the decisive Game 5, the Dodgers bypassed him twice: in the eighth inning for Clayton Kershaw, who gave up a game-tying home run to Soto; and in the 10th for Joe Kelly, who walked Soto ahead of Howie Kendrick’s game-winning grand slam.

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If all the Dodgers really trust Kolarek to do this October is to retire a left-handed batter for the third out of an inning, that is quite a luxury, even on a 15-man pitching staff. And, while Yogi Berra might not have heard the term ‘high leverage,’ he would know how to impart it to the Dodgers right now: It’s getting late early out there.


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