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Column: Leadoff hit for Mookie Betts sets table in Dodgers’ historic rout

Dodgers' Mookie Betts beats the throw to Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman.
Dodgers right fielder Mookie Betts beats the throw to Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman for a leadoff single in Game 3 of the NLCS at Globe Life Field.
(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

Mookie Betts could have described his team’s lack of production as some kind of cosmic accident. Many people around baseball do this. They bemoan the existence of variance and luck. They justify their failures by championing their processes.

That’s not what Betts does.

He’s a leader.

So, when asked about the Dodgers’ offensive problems in the first two games of this National League Championship Series, he pointed the finger at himself.

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“It’s my job,” he said of jump-starting the Dodgers lineup.

When asked about his responsibility moving forward, he embraced his role.

“I lead off and I have to take ownership in that,” he said.

With a 15-3 victory over the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday, the Dodgers reduced their deficit in the best-of-seven series to two games to one.

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As Betts said it would, it started with him. He translated his words into action.

Betts set off a record-setting 11-run first inning for the Dodgers not with a home run or a line drive into one of the gaps, but with a sequence that embodied the personality traits that have made him their most admired player.

On the first pitch of the game, Betts slapped a grounder to third baseman Johan Camargo. Betts charged out of the batter’s box and down the line, only to be narrowly called out at first base. The play was classic Mookie Betts, the former MVP with a guaranteed $365-million contract running as if his place on the roster depended on it.

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The Dodgers asked for the play to be reviewed.

They had challenged a call the previous day and lost. When this particular ruling was overturned, outfielder Joc Pederson said, “for some reason, that just lit a match under everyone.”

The small triumph produced a monstrous inning.

Corey Seager followed with a double to left field, which provided sufficient time for the swift-footed Betts to plate the Dodgers’ first run.

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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.

Betts batted again in the first inning, but against a different pitcher.

In place of starter Kyle Wright on the mound was left-hander Grant Dayton. With the Dodgers already ahead by six runs, Betts worked a five-pitch walk.

He scored three batters later on a grand slam by Max Muncy.

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The Dodgers finished the inning with more runs than any team had ever scored in a single postseason inning.

In retrospect, the fusillade appears as if it were inevitable. Wright, 25, entered this postseason with only 19 major league appearances to his name.

But the Inning for the Ages nearly didn’t happen.

Outside of the first time Betts touched home plate, all of the runs were scored with two outs.

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In other words, Betts’ all-out sprint down the first-base line was the difference between an 11-run inning and a scoreless one.

With the Dodgers leading by 14 runs, Betts was replaced by utility man Kiké Hernandez in the bottom of the fourth inning. His influence extended beyond the 3½ innings he played, however.

“It’s big out of him, for a guy that has the accolades and the amount of success that he has, to admit things start with him,” Muncy said. “That’s why we brought him over here … for him to get us going. He was able to do that today. I think that showed character of him, that he’s willing to shoulder that responsibility. That’s something that he’s done all year long that has shown us who we need to be. Him doing that has made all of us better.”

When Betts spoke before Game 3, he said he also had to improve defensively, as he acknowledged that he misplayed a ball that resulted in a ground-rule double for Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson.

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This is how leaders speak. This is how they behave.

And when they do, others follow, especially when they’re the best players on their teams.

Kenley Jansen, the greatest closer in Dodgers history, is called upon to pitch the sixth inning in a 15-3 NLCS Game 3 victory over the Atlanta Braves.

“It’s obviously going to take all of us, not just me, I understand that,” Betts said. “But I also do need to do my job which is get on base and score some runs.”

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Betts was one for seven in the first two games of the series. He rejected the theory that the Braves were attacking him differently than the Milwaukee Brewers and San Diego Padres did in the two previous rounds of the playoffs.

“It’s definitely my fault for not being disciplined,” he said.

By demanding more of himself, Betts has inspired the other Dodgers to do the same.

They want to shoulder responsibility the way he does. They want to be accountable the way he is. They want to finish the season as he once did, as a World Series champion.

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Hernández reported from Los Angeles.


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