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Column: A furious first inning sets tone for Dodgers’ victory and the rest of the NLCS

Dodgers third baseman Edwin Rios homers.
Dodgers third baseman Edwin Rios homers in the first inning in Game 3 of the NLCS at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas on Wednesday.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

It started with hustle, Mookie Betts jumping on the first pitch and flying down the line to beat out a grounder.

It continued with heat, Corey Seager hacking at the next pitch and drilling a double to left to score a sprinting Betts.

It flowed with homers, Joc Pederson going deep, Edwin Ríos going deeper one pitch later, balls soaring into the Texas sky, Dodgers pounding on the dugout rail.

It continued with high jinks, Justin Turner kicking at a pitch in the dirt and being awarded first base.

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It ended in heaven, Max Muncy launching a ball into the right-center field seats and pointing to the clouds with a grand slam that completed the grandest of openings.

Did you watch it? Could you believe it? The onslaught was stunning. The timing was looney-tunes.

Dodgers' historic first inning if Game 3 of the NLCS against the Atlanta Braves on Oct. 14, 2020.
(Allison Hong / Los Angeles Times)

Eleven runs before the Atlanta Braves had even batted.

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Thirty-two minutes before the Atlanta Braves could get three outs.

Game over almost literally before it started. Series turned on its head in one half-inning. Dodgers finally acting like the doggone Dodgers.

‘We know who we are over here,” said Muncy. “We’re a really good team.”

In the wake of their 15-3 victory over the Braves in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, on Wednesday, the Dodgers looked good enough to create a mathematical conundrum.

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Can you be trailing two games to one yet actually be leading? Can you clinch a series with a single victory? Can you sweep without sweeping? The answers are as emphatic as a Dodgers offense that set a major-league postseason record with 11 runs in one inning and franchise postseason records with 15 runs and five homers.

Yes, yes and yes.

The Dodgers tore up the MLB record book with their 11-run first inning and 15-0 start in Game 3 of the NLCS against the Atlanta Braves.

As crazy as it sounds, Wednesday’s bullying by the blue of a shaken Braves team may have read like an opening jab, but it felt like a knockout punch.

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Just look what comes next. How are the Braves going to survive what comes next?

In Game 4 Thursday night, the Dodgers will start future Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw while the Braves will counter with… Bryse Wilson? He’s probably a nice enough kid, but the 22-year-old has pitched in 15 big-league games in three seasons with a career ERA of 5.91.

In Game 5 Friday, the Dodgers can run out Dustin May, who had a 2.57 ERA this season in a mostly starting role while the Braves will counter with … who do they have? Maybe a bullpen game led by aging Josh Tomlin?

This movie has been shown before, on a constantly running reel since the start of the postseason. The Milwaukee Brewers didn’t have the pitching and the Dodgers swept. The San Diego Padres didn’t have the pitching and ditto.

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The Dodgers may have lost the first two games of this series, but it’s possible they don’t lose again.

Considering they scored 10 runs in that first with two out — the most amazing statistic in an inning full of them — anything is possible.

“For it to play out like that, you just feel the energy,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts.

Photos from Game 3 of the National League Championship Series between the Dodgers and Atlanta Braves at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.

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The first inning actually began at the end of Tuesday’s 8-7 loss. That’s when the Dodgers, after scoring one run in the previous 15 innings, scored seven times in the final three innings.

“We kind of built off last night,” said Seager. “It was nice to see it kind of translate into today’s game.”

The translations quickly appeared in a first inning made possible with the unlikely trio of technology, trickery and hustle.

Betts brought the energy immediately, as usual, swinging at Kyle Wright’s first pitch and hitting a scalding shot down the third-base line that Johan Camargo niftily nabbed and threw to a stretching Freddie Freeman for what was initially called an out. But the Dodgers challenged the call and replay showed he was safe by a split second. Traditionalists take note. Ten years ago the right call would not have been made. Change is good.

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“Everybody got pretty fired up over Chop,” said Pederson of the Dodgers’ video coordinator Chad Chop. “It was good. It got us going. From there you saw what happened.”

Betts scored about a split second later on Seager’s first-pitch double, but two groundouts later Seager was still on base when Will Smith hit a two-strike liner to center field. Here came more of that hustle, with Smith chugging into second base an instant before the throw, keeping the inning alive.

Later in the inning, with the Dodgers leading 7-0, it was time for the trickery. With runners on first and second, Grant Dayton bounced a pitch to Turner that skidded past catcher Travis d’Arnaud. But replay showed that Turner subtly kicked the ball. Instead of the plunking being negated because Turner didn’t try to avoid it — the pitch would have simply been ruled a ball — Turner was given first base.

Six pitches later, Muncy completed the pummeling with a grand slam in a stadium just 30 minutes from where he attended high school in Keller, Texas.

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“It’s pretty cool,” he said. “There’s not too many things that are cooler than that.”

The entire night was pretty cool, as the only time the October-leery Dodgers fans possibly winced was while watching Julio Urías throw 101 pitches in five innings.

By allowing their gifted left-hander to work that long — he allowed just one run on three hits — the Dodgers essentially eliminated him from a Game 7 start because he’s never started on three days’ rest.

“I think getting some other guys not pitching was important as well,” said Roberts of sticking with Urías to save bullpen. “I don’t think right now we’re worried about Game 7.”

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On this night, the hugging, bouncing, chest-thumping Dodgers didn’t seem to worry about anything.

In one stunning blitz, they had given the Atlanta Braves 11 reasons to worry about everything.

Plaschke reported from Los Angeles.


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