Column: A little Mookie Magic helps the Dodgers slam the door on Giants
He couldn’t reach the ball, the flare by Brandon Crawford dropping at his feet in right field.
But the play wasn’t over.
Mookie Betts caught the ball on the first bounce, spun counterclockwise and fired a strike to third baseman Justin Turner, who applied a tag on the torso of a sliding Wilmer Flores.
There it was, the first Mookie Moment of these playoffs.
“An unbelievable throw,” Dodgers first baseman Cody Bellinger said.
Cody Bellinger seemed like the last player in the Dodgers’ lineup to spark a scoring surge until he did just that in NLDS Game 2 against the Giants.
The Dodgers will resume their National League Division Series against the San Francisco Giants on Monday night at Dodger Stadium, the best-of-five series tied at one game apiece after their 9-2 victory in Game 2 at Oracle Park.
As lopsided as the final score was Saturday night, the Giants were within striking distance in the bottom of the sixth inning — until Betts ended their threat with his thunderbolt from right field.
“The Giants, they take the momentum and it sort of builds,” manager Dave Roberts said. “So when you can kind of take the wind out of their sail on a big play like that, it just kind of resets things.”
Plays like that change series. Plays like that win championships.
Offense is critical. The Dodgers won Saturday because they were able to string together hits, something they couldn’t do in their series-opening loss the previous night.
What their World Series run last year demonstrated, however, was the importance of plays like the one Betts made. His throw elicited memories of the game-altering defensive plays he made last year against the Atlanta Braves in the NL Championship Series.
There was the shoestring catch Betts made on a sinking line drive by Dansby Swanson in Game 5 with the Dodgers down, three games to one. Marcell Ozuna of the Braves bolted home without tagging up properly to beat Betts’ throw, resulting in a double play
Dave Roberts’ bold decisions with the Dodgers’ starting lineup for Game 2 proved critical in helping the team secure a series-tying win over the Giants.
There was also the leaping catch Betts made at the wall to steal an extra-base hit from Ozuna in Game 6.
“It’s something he does,” Dodgers pitcher Julio Urías said in Spanish. “We know everything he can do. He makes different plays every time.”
Urías is especially familiar.
He was on the mound in Pittsburgh in mid-June when Ka’ai Tom lined a ball into right field. Betts made a catch similar to the one he made against Swanson. As he did Saturday night, he pirouetted and fired a throw, only this time to the plate, where he nailed Erik Gonzalez.
“He does that all, since like spring training,” AJ Pollock said. “The ball has so much carry to it, like, he’s just so accurate. I mean, it’s nuts.”
Betts’ latest throw came right after the Dodgers scored four runs in the top of the sixth inning to take a 6-1 lead. Urías was removed for a pinch hitter, prompting Roberts to call on Joe Kelly to pitch the bottom of the inning.
Kelly started by retiring Kris Bryant but walked pinch-hitter LaMonte Wade Jr. Kelly then gave up a single to Buster Posey.
Dodgers pitcher Julio Urías, outfielder Mookie Betts and manager Dave Roberts discuss what they did to win Game 2 of the NLDS against the Giants.
Next, Flores hit a sharp grounder heading into center field, only to be stopped by diving Trea Turner, who flipped the ball to Corey Seager for a force out at second base.
There were two out with runners on the corners when Crawford singled to right. Wade scored easily, but Flores made the mistake of testing Betts’ arm and tried to advance from first to third.
“That’s just a feel play,” Roberts said. “That’s a breaking ball, full swing. As an outfielder, you see the whole swing, so you have to hesitate, and he might have broken back and didn’t get the best read. But to kind of regroup, still finish a play and keep his head up, that was a big play because that was Joe’s last hitter. So, to be able to start that [seventh] inning fresh with a new reliever, that was big.”
The plays by Betts and Trea Turner might have saved the Dodgers a run, maybe more. Still up 6-2, the Dodgers remained safely ahead. They moved the game out of the Giants’ reach by scoring three runs in the eighth inning.
Flores acknowledged he made a mistake.
“I just thought the ball was more in the corner,” Flores said.
Betts showed up to the postgame news conference in a cap and hooded sweatshirt. His sweatpants’ left pocket was turned inside-out. His shoelaces were untied.
He was equally casual when revisiting his catch.
All the chatter about the Dodgers’ inability to make adjustments at the plate and deliver in the clutch disappeared during Saturday’s win.
“Once I threw it, I pretty much knew he was out at that point with what I got on the throw,” Betts said.
Why the spin before the throw?
“Sometimes you just do things that you don’t know why, or just kind of do it, and that was just one of those things,” Betts said. “I kind of peeked and saw him going to third and, I don’t know, just whatever. It all kind of happened so fast.”
Asked how it felt to make a play like that, Betts replied, “I don’t get too excited unless …”
“No, that’s a lie,” he said. “I do kind of get excited. But for that one, I didn’t get super excited. It was just big, big to stop their momentum. At the time, it was just more like a breath of fresh air or a sigh of relief just to get out of that inning there because they were building some momentum.”
This wasn’t the time to be excited, not at this stage of the postseason. If the Dodgers are to repeat as World Series champions, there will have to be other Mookie Moments, more Mookie Magic.
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