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Charlie Culberson learns of grandmother’s death, then delivers in big way to Dodgers’ win

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The day dawned bright, and mournful.

Charlie Culberson is the kind of player October loves, the guy obscured by the stars for six months before he takes a sudden star turn on the postseason stage.

Culberson is an understudy to Corey Seager. On Friday night, Culberson took the phone call that let him know the star could not take the stage, that he would play shortstop Saturday. On Saturday morning, he took another phone call, one that had been some time in coming but one that he dreaded hearing nonetheless.

His grandmother had passed. His wife’s grandmother, actually. But Culberson’s grandparents had died so long ago that he proudly called his wife’s grandmother his own.

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Joan Harwood was 83. Culberson will always remember and respect how Dave Roberts, the Dodgers’ manager, had allowed him to fly to Georgia last Sunday. The Dodgers were off that day, and Culberson got to see his grandmother one last time, to gather with her and his wife and his children all in the same room.

“I was there for an hour,” Culberson said.

Culberson did not play in the division series, although he traveled with the team to stay sharp, or at least as sharp as he could. He had not played in two weeks. He had not started in three weeks. His emotions were a jumble of butterflies and tears, but he was one of the shining lights in the Dodgers’ 5-2 victory over the Chicago Cubs in the opener of the National League Championship Series.

The Cubs had taken a 2-0 lead, but Culberson hit the sacrifice fly that tied the score in the fifth inning. In the seventh inning, he doubled, the first postseason hit in the career of a player drafted in the first round 10 years ago.

Culberson later scored the Dodgers’ final run, on what was not the most critical but what was definitely the most controversial play of the night. As he rounded third and headed home on a single by Justin Turner, Culberson slid, trying to get his left hand on home plate while avoiding the tag of catcher Willson Contreras.

Culberson never did get his hand on the plate, since Contreras was blocking it, and Culberson was called out. But a replay review ruled that Contreras was not in possession of the ball and was not reacting to the flight of the throw home while blocking the plate.

“If it’s not a rule, that’s a great play by him,” Culberson said.

The rule is informally known as the Posey Rule, intended to limit collisions at home plate and named after the San Francisco Giants’ star who suffered a broken leg in a collision with Scott Cousins of the Florida Marlins. The injury ended Posey’s season.

Neither Contreras nor Cubs manager Joe Maddon spoke highly of the call, or the rule.

“I think we should go to Walmart, get some toys and ... play,” Contreras said.

Maddon, who told a Chicago radio station in June that he did not believe the rule would exist had that injury happened to “a third-string catcher for the Atlanta Braves” rather than Posey, said Contreras followed the flight of the ball and could have done “nothing else” on the play.

Maddon was ejected. “I have to stick up for my boys,” he said. “I’ve got to stick up for everybody that plays this game.”

Said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts: “I looked at it just like everyone looked at it and, as the rule states, he was in violation.”

The debate hit home for Culberson, who came up with Posey in the Giants’ minor league system. The alternative to the rule, Culberson said, would be to let him run over the catcher in trying to dislodge the ball, with all the injury risk that entails for both parties.

“It’s a run,” Culberson said. “Our lives, and our health, is a little more important.”

Life meant just a little more to Culberson on Saturday. He called the day “bittersweet” and said he had dedicated the game, and the rest of the postseason, to the woman he had fondly called his grandmother.

“I play for my family,” he said. “I played for her today. Choked up a few times today thinking about it.”

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

Follow Bill Shaikin on Twitter @BillShaikin


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