Battle-tested Dodgers show once again that experience matters in October
It’s an immeasurable quality, the kind even the most thorough, well-funded research and development departments still can’t quantify, so Andrew Friedman wasn’t sure if the team he constructed would ride its experience to a win Thursday night.
The Dodgers’ president of baseball operations suspected the team he constructed possessed the mettle to outlast the San Francisco Giants in Game 5 of the National League Division Series. He said he sensed the team’s battle-tested nature, derived from nine straight postseason trips and three World Series appearances in four years, as the two 109-win rivals locked horns.
He just wondered if it would shine through enough in the later innings with their World Series dreams on the line inside a tense Oracle Park.
“It’s a hard thing to isolate,” Friedman said after the Dodgers’ 2-1 win. “But I felt it and thought about it and I think saw it.”
Maybe advancing to the National League Championship for the fifth time in six years to face the Atlanta Braves simply came down to Giants rookie closer Camilo Doval making mistakes in the ninth inning. Maybe plunking Justin Turner with a 100-mph fastball and giving up a two-strike single to Gavin Lux was just about execution in a vacuum.
In perhaps the greatest chapter in the history of the Dodgers-Giants rivalry, the Dodgers prevail, winning an intense five-game playoff series.
Maybe hanging a 1-2 slider to Cody Bellinger, who struggled all season to catch up to elite fastballs, was just poor pitch selection. Maybe Doval, who hadn’t allowed a run in his last 17 appearances, was due for a bad night, if you believe events sort out that way.
Maybe first-base umpire Gabe Morales’ wrong call on Wilmer Flores’ checked swing for the game’s final out prevented the Giants from mustering another dose of sorcery in a magical season. That we’ll never know.
But, in the end, the Dodgers, eight days after walking off the St. Louis Cardinals in the wild card game, again bolstered the theory that experience matters in October. They showed again that there is something to knowing how to suppress nerves to perform in the biggest games.
“Our guys do have a lot of experience going through this,” Friedman said, “and I think that helps, for sure.”
Bellinger might be the best example. Two years after winning NL MVP, Bellinger batted .165 with a .542 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 95 games. Both ranked second from the bottom among players with at least 350 plate appearances. It was the worst offensive season for a former MVP in major league history.
And yet there he was in the ninth Thursday, after recording his first multi-hit game in nearly two months in Game 4, delivering the most important hit of the Dodgers’ season: a go-ahead single to score Justin Turner from second base.
“I saw this coming a mile away,” Dodgers pitcher Max Scherzer said. “I wanted this so bad for him.”
Bellinger is a repeat clutch hit deliverer. In Game 2, his two-run double blew the Dodgers’ win open. Last year, he clubbed the go-ahead home run in Game 7 of the NLCS against the Braves. Two years earlier, his home run in the second inning of Game 7 of the 2018 NLCS against the Brewers was the difference.
The three go-ahead hits in winner-take-all games are the tied for the most all-time with Manny Ramírez and Gene Tenace.
He isn’t the only one on the Dodgers’ roster excelling on the grandest stage.
Determined Max Scherzer finishes off an unusual game plan that delays Julio Urías’ start in instant-classic series for the Dodgers in the NLDS.
Chris Taylor won the wild card game with a two-run home run. Mookie Betts, who went 4 for 4 with a steal Thursday, is 13 for 24 in his six elimination games with the Dodgers. The 13 hits are the most in major league history over six elimination games. Corey Seager, the reigning NLCS and World Series MVP, drove in Betts with a double in the sixth inning for the Dodgers’ other run Thursday.
Julio Urías, who logged four innings out of bullpen, has given up one run in his last 17 1/3 postseason innings as a reliever. Scherzer pitched the ninth inning to convert his first save three days after tossing seven innings. To reach Game 5, Walker Buehler threw 4 1/3 innings in Game 4 on short rest for the first time in his career.
“We have been in it a lot,” Turner said. “And even the new guys that we’ve brought in have a lot of playoff experience so I definitely think it helps in those situations.”
As a club, the Dodgers held the Giants, who hit the most home runs in franchise history during the regular season, to 10 runs in five games.
“I’ve talked about it for six years,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “Our expectation every year is to play through October.”
And almost every year, the Dodgers have advanced this far, to the middle of the month as one of the final four clubs remaining. Experience, positive and negative, has accumulated with each autumn. Friedman sensed the intangible surface Thursday night. But that didn’t guarantee anything as the game progressed and the nerves piled up.
“More hoping,” he said. “It’s not great for me.”
Maybe all those previous battles didn’t matter. Maybe the result would’ve been the same if it was this group’s first taste of October. But Friedman thinks there’s something there, something his front office can’t compute that pushed the Dodgers over the edge again, eight wins from another championship.
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