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Dodgers have tables turned in stunning NLCS Game 4 blowout loss to the Braves

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The pitching matchup, all eyes and computers agreed, was one of the biggest mismatches possible this deep into October.

On one side, the Dodgers had Clayton Kershaw, a future Hall of Famer, making his 28th postseason start in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series. On the other, Bryse Wilson, a 22-year-old rookie with a career ERA approaching a touchdown, was making his playoff debut for the Atlanta Braves.

The Dodgers’ superior pitching depth was supposed to shine for the second consecutive night. The Braves were supposed to take a few rough hours and move on. Instead, Wilson dominated over six innings, Kershaw’s gas tank emptied in another forgettable postseason performance, and the bullpen combusted in the Dodgers’ 10-2 loss at a windy Globe Life Field on Thursday.

Suddenly, and unexpectedly, the Dodgers, owners of the regular season’s best record, are facing a 3-1 series deficit. They must win three games in three days to keep their World Series hopes alive. Game 5 is scheduled for Friday at 6:08 p.m. PDT.

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Photos from Game 4 of the National League Championship Series between the Dodgers and the Atlanta Braves at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.

“We’ve won three games in a row plenty of times during the regular season,” Dodgers designated hitter Edwin Ríos said. “We can do it again.”

Wilson was the third straight rookie to start for the Braves. They went with him because they didn’t have any other options and were prepared for a bullpen game. Wilson smashed those expectations.

A night after bludgeoning Kyle Wright, another right-handed rookie, and scoring a record 11 runs in the first inning, the Dodgers’ aggressiveness worked against them Thursday. Wilson, relying on a fastball in the mid-90s, threw only 74 pitches. He gave up one hit — a solo home run by Ríos in the third inning — to become the third-youngest pitcher to log at least six innings and yield no more than one hit in a playoff game. Four Braves relievers followed to give up one run over the final three innings.

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“He did a nice job of working outside and inside part of the plate to left-handed and right-handed hitters,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said of Wilson, “and we couldn’t square him up consistently enough.”

Kershaw was originally scheduled to start Game 2 on Tuesday, but he was scratched because of back spasms. Two days later, he kept the Braves off the board until Marcell Ozuna crushed the first of his two home runs in the fourth inning. Atlanta barreled other balls but most found Dodgers fielders. Kershaw’s fortune expired in the sixth.

Ronald Acuña Jr. led off with an infield hit and took second on Kiké Hernández’s throwing error. Freddie Freeman then hit a ground ball through the right side that went to the right-field wall for an RBI double to give Atlanta a 2-1 lead.

Atlanta Braves designated hitter Marcell Ozuna circles the bases after hitting a home run off Clayton Kershaw.
Atlanta Braves designated hitter Marcell Ozuna circles the bases after hitting a home run off Clayton Kershaw in the fourth inning of Game 4 of the NLCS on Thursday.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
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By then, right-hander Brusdar Graterol, one of the Dodgers’ few trusted high-leverage relievers, was warming in the bullpen. Ozuna, a right-handed hitting behemoth, was up next. His previous first two at-bats — a hard-hit ground ball and the home run — suggested he had figured out Kershaw. But Roberts, encouraged by Kershaw’s clean fifth inning and the less-than-hard contact he induced from the first two batters, let Kershaw face Ozuna a third time.

“I felt good with Clayton right there,” Roberts said. “I really did. I didn’t feel need to go to the ’pen right there.”

Moments later, Ozuna clobbered an RBI double for the second of his four hits to prompt Kershaw’s exit.

“I made a few mistakes to him and maybe some other guys did too,” Kershaw said, “and he didn’t miss.”

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Graterol replaced Kershaw and flopped. Ozzie Albies singled. Dansby Swanson whacked a two-run double. Finally, Austin Riley delivered an RBI single to give Atlanta a six-run edge and force Graterol’s exit.

Atlanta Braves designated hitter Marcell Ozuna celebrates as he crosses home plate.
Atlanta Braves designated hitter Marcell Ozuna celebrates as he crosses home plate after hitting a home run in the fourth inning of Game 4 of the NLCS.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Kershaw was ultimately charged with four runs and seven hits with four strikeouts and one walk. Graterol, who hadn’t allowed an inherited runner to score before Thursday, was charged with three runs in one-third of an inning.

“They were just finding holes and we couldn’t find a way to limit damage,” Roberts said.

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The temperature dropped and Globe Life Field became a wind tunnel when the roof was opened 45 minutes before first pitch. Gusts fluctuated between six and 15 mph, blowing in from right field, at first pitch. Uniforms flapped. Hair fluttered. Dirt whipped into players’ eyes.

The decision on the roof’s status falls on Major League Baseball in the postseason. The league decided it would keep the ballpark topless for every playoff game unless rain was in the forecast, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. Coronavirus is a significant reason for the inflexible plan. The league’s health and safety experts recommended keeping the roof open to maximize ventilation and curb potential spread of the airborne virus — especially with nearly 11,000 fans attending the games this series.

The problem was nobody — not even the building’s architects — knew how the ballpark would handle strong wind. The elements were unprecedented for Globe Life Field, a $1.2-billion building that opened this year. This, essentially, was a trial by error.

Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner dives but can't stop a run-scoring double by Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson.
Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner dives but can’t stop a run-scoring double by Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson during the sixth inning of Game 4 of the NLCS on Thursday.
(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)
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“If you have a roof I don’t know why [you wouldn’t] close it,” Kershaw said.

Ríos had no problem with the elements in his first at-bat when he swatted a solo home run to right field — straight through the wind — in the third inning for the game’s first run.

But the wind cost Los Angeles in the fourth inning on Joc Pederson’s 411-foot flyout and again in the seventh inning when it swallowed AJ Pollock’s long fly ball to right field.

Dodgers’ Alex Wood says the Dodgers’ 15-3 victory in Game 3 was a result of the team showing little passion in the first two NLCS games vs. Atlanta.

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The Dodgers threatened for more in the seventh by loading the bases twice but mustered just one more run on Ríos’ sacrifice fly and didn’t score again.

They’ve scored only two runs in 15 innings since a record 15-run outburst in Game 3’s first three innings. Now they’re facing elimination and another long winter without a championship.


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