ATLANTA — During a title drought that began in 1989, Dodgers fans dreamed of the day they’d see their team lift the Commissioner’s Trophy and bring a World Series celebration back to Los Angeles.
During their run to a championship last fall, some of the most memorable moments came before the Fall Classic even began, in a stadium 1,500 miles from Southern California, over the course of a wild mid-October week that will forever live in franchise lore.
It might have only been the National League Championship Series, but the Dodgers’ comeback from a three-games-to-one hole against the Atlanta Braves last year was every bit as dramatic, emotional and important as the World Series that followed.
And ahead of the Dodgers-Braves rematch in this year’s NLCS, which will begin Saturday night at Truist Park, the memories remain fresh.
“It’s probably the most proud I’ve been of a team and an organization and a staff,” manager Dave Roberts said Friday, smiling as he looked back on his team’s rally last season. “To stick together and find a way to win one game each night, to come out the other side.”
Before the opening game of this year’s series, here’s a look back at last year’s meeting, which left one team home in disbelief and sent another toward its first title in a generation.
GAME 1: Braves win 5-1
The neutral-site series in Arlington, Texas, — which was the first time during the pandemic-altered 2020 season that fans were allowed back for major league games — began with a bang, after Braves slugger and soon-to-be most valuable player Freddie Freeman took Dodgers ace Walker Buehler deep on the fifth pitch of the game.
Buehler, however, shut the Braves down from there in a five-inning start. The Dodgers’ lineup, meanwhile, finally broke through on Kiké Hernandez’s solo home run to lead off the fifth.
The score would remain tied at 1-1 until the top of the ninth, when the Braves broke the game open on an Austin Riley solo blast, a Marcell Ozuna RBI single and Ozzie Albies’ two-run homer.
Four of the runs were charged to Blake Treinen, who was pitching the ninth amid Kenley Jansen’s struggles earlier in the postseason, while Albies’ back-breaker came against Jake McGee — bringing the Dodgers’ biggest concern, their bullpen, to the forefront in the first game of the series.
GAME 2: Braves win 8-7
Clayton Kershaw was supposed to start Game 2 but was scratched because of back spasms. Instead, Tony Gonsolin took the mound and struggled in his first outing of the postseason, yielding a two-run homer to Freeman in the fourth and getting charged with three more runs in the fifth.
Behind strong pitching from Ian Anderson and reliever Tyler Matzek, the Braves stretched their lead to 7-0 in the seventh before the Dodgers finally mounted a rally at the plate. A Corey Seager three-run homer in the seventh made it 7-3. Then, trailing 8-3 going into the bottom of the ninth, the Dodgers nearly completed a wild comeback, scoring four runs on a Seager RBI double, Max Muncy’s two-run homer and Cody Bellinger’s RBI triple before Braves closer Mark Melancon finally shut the door.
“This team’s got a lot of fight,” Seager said after the game. “We’ve done it all year.”
Still, the odds were against the Dodgers, who were suddenly trying to become the first team in 16 years to overcome a 2-0 hole in a best-of-seven series.
GAME 3: Dodgers win 15-3
This one was over almost as soon as it began. In the top of the first, the Dodgers exploded for an MLB postseason-record 11-run inning that was fueled by seven hits, including home runs from Joc Pederson, Edwin Ríos and Muncy (a grand slam); three walks, plus a hit by pitch; and 10 tallies that scored with two outs.
After that, starter Julio Urías dealt for five innings, giving up one run. The bullpen surrendered just two over the final four frames. The Dodgers extended their lead to 15-0 before the Braves even got on the board, emphatically cutting the series deficit in half.
“We weren’t worried about anything,” Muncy said postgame. “And tonight, we went out and showed what we can do.”
GAME 4: Braves win 10-2
On a windy night beneath an open roof at Globe Life Field, just miles away from his childhood home in nearby Dallas, Kershaw took the mound for the first time in the NLCS. At first, things went well.
The left-hander was given an early lead thanks to Ríos’ solo home run in the third. And while Ozuna answered with a solo blast of his own in the fourth, Kershaw kept the score tied through five.
Ronald Acuña Jr. led off the inning with an infield single that bounced over Kershaw’s head. In the next at-bat, Freeman stung an RBI double into right field to give the Braves the lead. Kershaw would face only one more batter, surrendering another RBI double to Ozuna before exiting the game and watching four more runs score in the inning against the bullpen.
The Dodgers’ lineup mustered only one more run. And the Braves moved within a game of advancing to the World Series with an eventual 10-2 win.
GAME 5: Dodgers win 7-3
A quirk of the 2020 NLCS: Every game was played consecutively, with no travel days like usual after Games 2 and 5.
That meant neither team’s Game 1 ace was ready to start again by the fifth game, leading both clubs to opt for bullpen games as the Braves tried to put the series away. And early on, Atlanta jumped out in front.
In the first, Braves catcher Travis d’Arnaud opened the scoring with a sacrifice fly against Dodgers opener Dustin May. In the second, Braves center fielder Cristian Pache doubled his team’s lead with an RBI single.
But then, the Braves made a mistake.
With one out and two runners in scoring position in the third, shortstop Dansby Swanson hit a line drive to right. Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts charged and plucked the ball just before it hit the turf, then fired a throw to the plate. It wasn’t in time to get the baserunner, Ozuna, but a subsequent replay review showed Ozuna had left the bag at third too early — ending the inning and keeping the Dodgers within two.
The very next inning, Seager put the Dodgers on the board with a solo blast. Then in the sixth, catcher Will Smith provided the night’s signature moment, crushing a two-out, full-count, go-ahead, three-run homer off Braves reliever Will Smith (the first time a batter and pitcher of the same name went head to head in the postseason), making it 4-2.
“I’ll always bet on our Will Smith,” Roberts said that night.
Betts and Seager iced the 7-3 win an inning later with an RBI single and two-run homer, respectively, and the Dodgers lived to see another day.
GAME 6: Dodgers win 3-1
With renewed life, the Dodgers sent Buehler back to the bump in Game 6 in hopes of pushing the series to a decisive seventh game. And by the end of the first inning, his lineup had already spotted him a three-run lead against Braves starter Max Fried on back-to-back solo blasts by Seager and Justin Turner and an RBI single from Bellinger.
The Braves threatened to erase the deficit in the top of the second, loading the bases with no outs. But then, Buehler cemented his reputation as a big-game pitcher, striking out the next two batters with nine-straight fastballs before escaping the jam on a Pache groundout.
From there, Buehler cruised, completing a scoreless six-inning start that was aided by a leaping catch at the wall by Betts in the fifth. The bullpen held up, too. Treinen gave up a run in the seventh, but Baez and Jansen pitched scoreless frames in the eighth and ninth to force a winner-take-all series finale.
“I’m still sort of recovering from this one, but I’m already thinking about Game 7,” Roberts said in the aftermath. “That’s what you live for.”
GAME 7: Dodgers win 4-3
After battling back from their three-games-to-one deficit, the Dodgers found themselves in a 3-2 hole on the scoreboard early in Game 7.
Going with a bullpen game opened by Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin, the Dodgers gave up runs in the first and second, answered with a two-run single by Smith in the third, but then fell behind again in the fourth on an RBI single by Riley.
The Braves still had runners on second and third with no outs in the fourth after a wild pitch, threatening to potentially blow open the game — and blow up the Dodgers’ season.
Defense, however, saved the day.
First came a defining moment from Turner at third base. After Nick Markakis hit a hard ground ball at him, Turner threw home to get Swanson, the Braves’ lead baserunner, caught in a rundown along the third-base line. When the ball came back to Turner near the bag, he dived Superman-style to tag out Swanson before alertly popping up to a knee and throwing out Riley as he tried to slide into third on the backside play.
There were more heroics in the field the next inning, when Betts robbed a sure home run off Freeman’s bat to keep the Dodgers’ deficit at one.
That set the stage for the Dodgers’ late-game comeback. Hernandez clobbered a game-tying solo home run to left leading off the sixth. Bellinger sent what proved to be the game-winning blast sailing into the right field seats with two outs in the seventh.
And just as he would do in the World Series a week later, Urías finished off the 4-3 NLCS-clinching win with a multi-inning outing out of the bullpen, completing a stunning comeback — both in Game 7 and in the series — that propelled the Dodgers toward their first title in 32 years.
“The World Series was the World Series and you’ve still got to win four games and to not take that lightly at all, but that NLCS and coming back from that 3-1 deficit was everything,” Roberts said this week. “And that Game 7 was just as important, if not bigger, than Game 6 in the World Series.”