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Mookie Betts gets a chance to live out his childhood dream scenario in NLCS Game 7

Dodgers right fielder Mookie Betts gestures to the dugout after hitting a second-inning single.
Dodgers right fielder Mookie Betts gestures to the dugout after hitting a second-inning single in Game 6 of the NLCS.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Mookie Betts won a World Series with the Boston Red Sox in 2018 and has played in 32 playoff games during his seven-year career, but the right fielder will play in his first winner-take-all Game 7 on Sunday night when the Dodgers play the Atlanta Braves in the National League Championship Series finale at Globe Life Field.

“When I was a kid, you do think 3-2 [count], bottom of the ninth, Game 7,” Betts said in a pregame video call Sunday, when asked if he had played out such scenarios as a child. “But when you’re in the yard, you get retries. This time, you don’t get a retry. It’s one game, and you have to put everything on the line.”

The Dodgers pushed the series to its limit by storming back from a three-games-to-one deficit, beating the Braves 7-3 in Game 5 on Friday night and 3-1 in Game 6 on Saturday to even the series. The winner of Sunday night’s game will play the Tampa Bay Rays in the World Series beginning Tuesday night.

“I think we’re just a resilient group,” Betts said. “We’ve been pitching well, swinging the bat better, playing good defense. It’s gonna take that to get us to a World Series, and we have to do it one more time today.”

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Dodgers reliever Kenley Jansen is showcasing the effectiveness he had as an All-Star closer in back-to-back appearances in the NLCS against the Atlanta Braves.

Betts made a difference with his glove in the last two victories, racing in to make a shoestring catch of Dansby Swanson’s third-inning flare with runners on second and third to start an inning-ending double play in Game 5, and making a leaping catch at the top of the wall to rob Marcell Ozuna of extra bases to end the fifth inning in Game 6.

Which play was more difficult, coming in on a ball or going back and leaping at the wall?

“I think coming in is, uh … I don’t even know the answer,” Betts said. “I would say going back is probably more difficult, just because of all the timing, then jumping … staying healthy, too, because I’ve been around that wall and gotten hurt a couple of times. So I was able to come down, and everything was fine.”

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Betts is batting .227 (five for 22) with one RBI and four runs in the series but has made a significant impact on defense and on the basepaths.

“In that spot right there, I feel like I did something good for the team,” Betts said of Saturday’s leaping catch. “Even though I hadn’t done too much with the bat, to be able to affect a game with my glove. … I’m definitely going to take every advantage I can.”

Betts, who signed a 12-year, $365-million deal with the Dodgers after being traded from Boston last winter, continues to draw inspiration from former Lakers star Kobe Bryant, who died along with his daughter and seven others in a helicopter crash last January.

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When Betts was struggling in 2019, he sent Bryant a text message asking how him how he prepared for each day mentally, and Bryant’s response helped change Betts’ mindset.

“I think it’s kind of second nature,” Betts said Sunday, when asked if he was drawing upon the “Mamba mentality” that Bryant was famous for. “I think the way he viewed a lot of things is kind of how I do.

“Like, he always said the job’s not finished, and it’s not. It’s Game 7 today, and we have to go out there with that killer instinct and win one more game to get to the World Series.”


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