A controversial check-swing strike call ended game five Thursday night, but the Dodgers still came away with the 2-1 series-clinching victory in dramatic fashion.
By Benjamin Royer, Valley Life Editor
A cruel twist of fate sent the San Francisco Giants packing in their own ballpark and sent the Los Angeles Dodgers to Atlanta to face the Braves in the NL Championship Series.
Out of the right field bullpen at Oracle Park jogged starting pitcher Max Scherzer as he took the mound for the bottom of the ninth inning on two days rest. It was just hours earlier when Dodgers manager Dave Roberts confirmed that the NL Cy Young Award candidate would be unavailable to pitch Thursday, but just a few innings into the game he walked over to the bullpen ready to go, seemingly convincing his way into the game. Strike one, strike two and strike three - Scherzer sent the Dodgers to the NLCS with the first save in his 15-year professional career. The Dodgers defeated the Giants 2-1 in a tense, brutal and controversial battle between the teams’ rivalry that has spent decades building up to the first-ever playoff series against one another.
“Every game could have went either way, for the most part,” said Roberts in the postgame press conference. “[To] come down to a game five and the ninth inning, you know [it was] just a great series and the energy here was a lot of fun. Just to see our guys step up and win a ballgame obviously was huge.”
The series between the California teams who both eclipsed 100 wins ended in a way that could taint how the history books will look at the clash between the Dodgers and Giants.
With a runner on first, two outs and a 0-2 count at the plate, Giants infielder Wilmer Flores checked his swing on a pitch thrown outside the strike zone from Scherzer. Home plate umpire Doug Eddings did not call a ball or strike on the pitch causing Dodgers catcher Will Smith to signal towards first base umpire Gabe Morales for a call on the play. Morales’ arms motioned a strike as the home crowd groaned in disbelief; Scherzer let out a shriek and Smith ran into his pitcher’s arms as they jumped in jubilation.
On a second glance, there could be a case made that Flores checked his swing by not breaking the plane and therefore not swinging at the pitch. Following the game, broadcasts on TBS and MLB Network talked about the play in length, calling for a change in rules to define what makes a check swing.
Whether the swing would have changed the result of the game, the simple answer is that there is no way to tell. The play was non-reviewable which means that the umpires could not take a second look even if they wanted to.
Either way, game five between the historic rivals provided lots of exciting moments. One was the go-ahead RBI single from Dodgers first baseman Cody Bellinger.
Bellinger, who has had a forgettable season at the plate, delivered when it mattered most Thursday. With two strikes on the count, the former NL Most Valuable Player drove in a run with a line drive base hit into the right-center gap. The hit came against Giants reliever Camilo Doval who had shut down the Dodgers lineup earlier in the series during games one and three.
Relishing the moment, the 26-year-old screamed running to first base while pointing and gesturing towards the dugout to make noise with him.
“You don't think about being that guy,” said Bellinger in the postgame press conference. “Just when the opportunity is there and the moment is there, you just try to stay simple and stay within yourself. You're just extremely blessed to be able to be in the moment and just stay with myself and just try and get the job done.”
Next on the Dodgers’ slate is the Atlanta Braves.
In the 2020 postseason, the Dodgers fell behind 3-1 to the Braves in the NLCS, before coming back to win the series and then the World Series soon thereafter. Atlanta has a shot at revenge in the same round of the playoffs where they were eliminated last year, but will be without star outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr., who tore his ACL in July.
The winner of the NLCS will move on to the World Series to face the victors of the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox series. The teams are currently facing off in the AL Championship Series.
It is to be seen if Scherzer will get the ball for game one of the series as originally planned, but Saturday will at the very least bring another intriguing series of baseball to fans across the world.