His fist was raised high in the air in triumph. The ball hadn’t even landed yet, but it was as if Walker Buehler already knew what was about to happen.
Over 300 feet away Mookie Betts was hastily backpedaling before leaping up at the last second. His eyes closed as he crashed into the wall. He had just made the biggest catch of the game, and with it swung the balance of the National League Championship Series back towards the Boys in Blue.
“”I’m glad we had a special right fielder out there in Mookie Betts,” said Buehler.
Facing elimination for the past two nights, the Dodgers have fought like it was life-or-death, preventing an Atlanta celebration on back-to-back days.
Speaking of back-to-back, that’s exactly how the Dodgers took control of Game 6 of the NLCS, riding a three-run first inning to a 3-1 victory over the Atlanta Braves at Globe Life Field that evened the series at 3-3.
Corey Seager and Justin Turner kicked the game off with back-to-back blasts off Atlanta ace Max Fried. Surprisingly, it was not the first time Fried had surrendered consecutive homers this season. After not allowing a single home run in 2020, Fried served up back-to-back homers in the first inning against the Miami Marlins in his final start of the regular season.
The Dodgers hit an MLB-best 118 homers this season, and tied the NLCS record with 14 after Seager and Turner’s solo shots.
“He kept us off balance with that pitch [curveball] last time so we thought he would throw it early and we wanted to jump on it,” said Seager of how he and Turner were able to get to Fried. “Luckily, he left a couple up and we were able to put good swings on it.”
It’s only fitting that this historic series now heads to a winner-take-all Game 7, especially after all the records that have been broken between the two teams so far.
After a record-breaking first inning in Game 3 of the series, and a handful of more records in Friday’s 7-3 win, Seager now holds the record for the most homers by a single player in NLCS history with five.
Not since George Springer in the 2017 World Series against the Dodgers, has a player had five homers in any postseason series.
Overall, Seager has six homers and 15 RBI this postseason, the most by a Dodgers player in a single postseason in franchise history.
Cody Bellinger answered the bell a few batters later with an RBI single that gave the Dodgers a 3-0 lead that they would never relinquish.
“What a great ball game,” said a smiling Justin Turner after the victory. “Buehler was electric. Seager was Seager again. We ended up getting 3 in the first and that was all Walker needed, and then the bullpen did its job.”
Fried, to his credit, settled down and was fantastic the remainder of the way. After the first, Fried threw six shutout innings, finishing with three runs on eight hits with four walks and five strikeouts in 6.2 innings.
“He regrouped and that was big. He gave us a chance,” said Braves’ manager Brian Snitker. “He held the game there for six innings and gave us a chance to come back and we just couldn’t get the big hit.”
As he did in Game 1, Buehler darted and danced his way out of damage all game long. He loaded the bases with no outs in the first inning, but barreled down and struck out back-to-back batters before escaping unscathed.
“I’ve never felt that calm in a baseball game in my entire career,” said Buehler about the bases loaded with no outs jam. “[Austin] Barnes steered me through it. That’s really all there is to it. I made the pitches and got out of it.”
Whether the credit should go to his catcher or Buehler himself, he ultimately did what he always does in big games: dominate.
Buehler struck out six over six shutout innings and became just the fourth pitcher since the turn of the millennium to have at least three postseason starts with six or more scoreless innings. In just his third season, he has already tied Clayton Kershaw for the most in Dodgers franchise history.
“That failure doesn’t really scare me anymore and there’s a different feeling when you’re not scared of that failure anymore,” Buehler said of pitching in elimination games.
With the pressure mounting and the joints aching, the weary and weathered Dodgers’ bullpen bended, but did not break.
Blake Treinen allowed a leadoff triple to Nick Markakis in the seventh, and the Braves scratched their first run across after an RBI double by Ronald Acuña Jr. two batters later.
Pedro Baez pitched for the second consecutive game and wielded a scoreless eighth.
The ninth belonged to beleaguered closer Kenley Jansen—just as it has been for the last decade before he lost velocity and location on his cutter in recent weeks. But Jansen has returned to form in the last two games, and he closed down the ninth for his 18th career postseason save.
“This has been a tough challenging year for him from different perspectives,” said Dodgers’ manager Dave Roberts. “But to continue to stay ready when called upon, I couldn’t be more happy for him.”
The best-of-seven series has now come down to a battle of attrition. What will the physical toll on everyone become after seven grueling games over seven straight days?
Nobody knows for sure, but one thing is for certain. The Dodgers are now in the driver’s seat.