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Column: Dodgers go from October madness to magic and punch their World Series ticket

Dodgers players celebrate following their 4-3 win over the Atlanta Braves in Game 7 of the NLCS.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Cody Bellinger swung from the heels and the ball went back, back, back …

Back to the World Series.

Back to where the Dodgers have bedazzled and bewitched, and maybe this time, they won’t break your heart?

Down to their last breath for a third consecutive game, the team known for October madness created October magic when Bellinger’s seventh-inning home run cemented their 4-3 victory over the Atlanta Braves on Sunday night in a deciding Game 7 of the National League Championship Series at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.

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After becoming the first squad in franchise history to overcome a three-games-to-one deficit to win a postseason series, the Dodgers will carry that momentum to the American League’s Tampa Bay Rays in the World Series beginning Tuesday at Globe Life Field.

On the verge of another classic fall, the Dodgers have climbed back into the Fall Classic for the third time in four years as they continue the search for their first title in 32 years.

Not to get ahead of ourselves, but guess what, Los Angeles? In the wake of the Lakers’ recent title, the Dodgers could give you two professional sports championships in barely two weeks. Let’s see them try that in Boston.

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“This year is our year,” said manager Dave Roberts while fighting back tears during the postgame ceremony. “This is our year!”

In a taut winner-take-all game Sunday, they indeed charged into late October like a team that believes. They leaped there with another stunning catch by Mookie Betts. They spun there with startling rookie and relief pitching that allowed the Braves just three hits. They flew there with a game-tying homer by Enrique Hernández in the sixth inning. Then ultimately they soared there after Bellinger stepped to the plate with two out in the seventh.

On a 94-mph sinker from the Braves’ Chris Martin, after fouling off three straight pitches, Bellinger launched the ball deep into the right field seats for a home run to give the Dodgers a lead that three-perfect-inning pitcher Julio Urías made certain they never lost.

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Highlights from the Dodgers’ 4-3 win over the Atlanta Braves in Game 7 of the NLCS on Sunday.

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Upon returning to the dugout after racing around the bases, Bellinger executed a flying forearm bash with Hernández that was so emphatic, he winced and appeared to injure his right shoulder. But he returned to center field and was appropriately there to catch the final out, which he held majestically aloft in his glove while his teammates skipped and hugged onto the field.

They had come back from two giant deficits in the series and two deficits in this game, and they danced across the Texas diamond like a team that can overcome anything.

“We’re resilient … we were grinding,” Bellinger said in the postgame Fox interview. “That was fun right there.”

Except for, you know, the part about nearly breaking his arm. You think they can celebrate a little nicer next time?

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“I hit [Hernández’s] shoulder a little too hard, and my shoulder popped out,” Bellinger said. “So I had to go back into the trainer’s room and they popped it back in so I could go out and play defense. It kind of hurt.”

If Dodgers fans winced when witnessing the incident, well, they know hurt. While the Rays are seeking their first title in the franchise’s 22-year history, the Dodgers are attempting to break more than three decades of a championship drought that has been much more painful.

This time, against Tampa Bay’s low-budget underachievers, one of the richest teams in the game will enter the fray armed with baseball’s best record, its best lineup and its best hopes resting on a giant cliché.

The third time really is a charm, right? Right?

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Photos from Game 7 of the National League Championship Series between the Dodgers at Atlanta Braves at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.

About those other two World Series appearances in the last three years … um, they didn’t go so well.

In 2017, they lost in a seventh and deciding game to a Houston Astros team that was later proved to be cheating. They were illegally stealing the Dodgers’ signs. They knew what pitches were coming and they hammered them. The Dodgers and their fans may never get over it.

The following year, the Dodgers returned to the World Series against the Boston Red Sox and produced the same old October mix of poor hitting, spotty pitching and bad managerial decisions. Plus, the Red Sox were just a ton better, and won the series in five games.

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For the last eight years, the Dodgers have entered the postseason as West Division champions. Seven times, they have failed to bring home a Commissioner’s Trophy that last belonged to Los Angeles in 1988.

Will this October be different? Well, this baseball season has certainly been different.

Mookie Betts leaps at the right field wall, extending his glove above the wall
Dodgers right fielder Mookie Betts robs Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman of a home run in the fifth inning of the Dodgers’ 4-3 win in NLCS Game 7.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The schedule was shortened by two-thirds because of the pandemic. The Dodgers played only 60 games. They played all of those games in front of cardboard customers as the pandemic caused stadiums to be closed to the public. They also played those games without one of their best starting pitchers, as David Price opted out because of the pandemic.

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Some will say the season deserves an asterisk. Are you kidding? If the Dodgers break this drought, it will warrant a gold star.

“I’m just so proud of these guys. It’s been a crazy year — guys away from their families, social injustices — [but] our fans all stuck together, these guys all stuck together,” said Roberts.

They began the year by handing out the most lucrative contract in Dodgers history, signing new right fielder Betts to a 12-year, $365-million extension, their biggest championship commitment yet.

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Betts immediately became the team leader, starring at the plate and in the field as the Dodgers went a league-best 43-17. Betts acknowledged Sunday that he had a little help from the Lakers’ championship inspiration. Yes, the late Kobe Bryant had his fingerprints on this title run, too, as Betts has talked about exchanging texts with Bryant during a tough time last season.

“I think the way he viewed a lot of things is kind of how I do,” said Betts. “Like, he always said the job’s not finished, and it’s not.”

During the summer’s social justice protests, Betts decided that he was going to sit out a game against the San Francisco Giants as a show of support. His teammates decided they would sit with him. The game was postponed and the Dodgers’ bond was forged.

Justin Turner’s diving tag of Dansby Swanson followed by his immediate gunning out of Austin Riley at third annihilated a prime Atlanta scoring chance.

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After sweeping through the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Dodgers were tripped early against the young Braves, losing the first two games before scoring a record 11 runs in the first inning to dominate Game 3 and seemingly take control.

Not so fast. Another Clayton Kershaw October stumble led to a Braves victory in Game 4 and a seemingly insurmountable three-games-to-one lead.

Not so fast again. Buoyed by two miracle catches by Betts — one off his shoestrings, the other against the wall — the Dodgers won Games 5 and 6 to set up the grand finale.

Of course, on Sunday, Betts created one more miracle, robbing Freddie Freeman of a home run by leaping above the right-field wall in the fifth. And he wasn’t even the NLCS MVP, that honor going to Corey Seager and his franchise-record five home runs and 11 RBIs.

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“At the end of the day, we have to keep winning and keep going,” Seager said.

Not far, really. Just four more wins.

Plaschke reported from Los Angeles.


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