One Will Smith outdid another Will Smith to keep the season alive for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
A common name, a special result for the Dodgers catcher.
Smith hit a go-ahead, three-run homer off the Atlanta Braves reliever with the same name, Corey Seager homered twice and the Dodgers avoided elimination with a 7-3 win in Game 5 of the NL Championship Series on Friday night.
“I’ll always bet on our Will Smith,” Dodges manager Dave Roberts said.
Smith connected in the sixth against – of all people – Will Smith, the fourth of six Braves pitchers in their bullpen night that started with a couple of postseason firsts by AJ Minter.
“For him to come through for us in that spot. I’m happy to see him expressing himself,” Dodgers right fielder Mookie Betts said of his teammate who rarely shows emotion but was clearly pumped up by his big blast.
Betts got that decisive sixth started with an infield single, and the first-year Dodger and former AL MVP had a running, shoestring catch in right field that turned into an inning-ending double play. His snag took an Atlanta run off the board after a replay challenge right before Seager’s first homer.
“You’re talking about momentum shifts, that’s the play of the year,” Roberts said. “I just thought there was no way he was going to make that play.”
Game 6 is Saturday afternoon, with a pitching rematch from the series opener: lefty Max Fried for the Braves and right-hander Walker Buehler for the Dodgers. Both gave up one run in Game 1, which Atlanta won 5-1 after a four-run ninth. Atlanta is looking to get into the World Series for the first time since 1999.
“I knew it was going to be a really hard series, regardless of what situation you’re in,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “I feel good tomorrow with Max on the mound. I feel really good with him going out there. Hopefully we can score a few runs and support him and wrap this thing up.”
Blake Treinen, the third of seven Dodgers pitchers and the Game 1 loser in relief, pitched two perfect innings for the win. Inconsistent closer Kenley Jansen struck out the side in a non-save situation to end it, which Roberts called a highlight for him.
Betts had a stolen base after his sixth-starting single before Justin Turner’s one-out hard grounder that got Betts caught in a rundown. The Braves then brought in their lefty named Will Smith to face left-handed batter Max Muncy, who drew a walk before the Dodgers’ catcher named Will Smith hit a full-count pitch 404 feet to left-center for a 4-2 lead.
“It got the team going. that energy bounces off of each other,” Smith said.
It was the first time since at least 1961 that a batter homered off a pitcher with the same name in the regular season or postseason, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
The Dodgers extended their lead in the seventh when Chris Taylor hit a two-out double and scored on a single by Betts before Seager hit a ball into LA’s bullpen in right-center.
Seager’s four homers and 10 RBIs have already tied NLCS records, with at least one more game for the Dodgers to play – two if they want a chance to get to the World Series for the third time in four years. The four homers are already a record for a shortstop in any postseason series.
“Just kind of putting good swings on pitches and everything is kind of clicking,” Seager said.
Taylor turned an ankle in left field during the eighth inning but remained in the game. Manager Dave Roberts said Taylor would get treatment and testing prior to Game 6.
Minter struck out seven of the 10 batters he faced as the first pitcher in MLB history whose first start came in a postseason game. The fourth-year big leaguer became the first pitcher– starter or reliever – with seven strikeouts in three innings or fewer in a postseason game. He had already matched his career high before striking out the side – all on called third strikes – in the third before leaving with a 2-0 lead.
After Marcell Ozuna and Travis d’Arnaud had consecutive singles to start the third for Atlanta, there was one out when Dansby Swanson hit a sinking liner to right. Betts made a running catch, with his glove skimming the ground before his throw home was late. But the Dodgers challenged that Ozuna that left third base early – and it became the Braves third out instead of their third run.
“We were able to get a stop,” Betts said. “Yesterday we couldn’t stop the bleeding. Today, we were able to get a stop right there and put some pressure on them.”
Umpires and the off-site replay crew needed nearly two minutes to make their ruling, but Dodgers fielders – and even Braves runners – had already left the field after watching the play on the big video board.
“It’s not always on the offensive side that you get the spark,” Seager said. “A big play in a big moment you get some energy.”
Right after that, Seager’s leadoff homer to straightaway center in the fourth cut the Dodgers deficit to 2-1.
Rookie center fielder Cristian Pache made a leaping try at the wall, but the ball went just behind his extended glove. But Pache did time things up in the eighth, robbing Muncy of a homer with a nearly identical play.
The Braves scored in both innings off LA starter Dustin May. Freddie Freeman doubled, went to third and scored on d’Arnaud’s sacrifice fly in the first, and Pache had an RBI single in the second. D’Arnaud added an RBI groundout in the eighth.
Houston Astros 7, Tampa Bay Rays 4
George Springer and José Altuve keyed a four-run rally in the fifth inning, Framber Valdéz pitched six brilliant innings and the Houston Astros beat the Tampa Bay Rays for the third straight game, 7-4 Friday to force a deciding Game 7 of the AL Championship Series.
Houston chased starter Blake Snell in the fifth before Springer hit a go-ahead, two-run single and scored on Altuve’s double. Carlos Correa, who hit a walkoff home run in Thursday night’s 4-3 win, added an RBI single.
The Astros are one win away from their third World Series in four seasons and joining the 2004 Boston Red Sox as the only teams to rally from a 3-0 deficit to win a seven-game series. The Red Sox stunned the New York Yankees to win the ALCS before winning their first World Series in 86 seasons.
Otherwise, big league clubs leading 3-0 in a best-of-seven postseason series are 37-1.
Houston are also is trying to become the first team to win a pennant with a losing regular season record (29-31). The Astros have been criticized for their role in a cheating scandal en route to the 2017 title that was uncovered last offseason.
Manuel Margot homered twice and drove in three runs for the Rays, who after blowing the 3-0 series lead remain one win away from the second World Series in franchise history and moved within one loss from joining the 2004 Yankees in ignominy.
Game 7 on Saturday night will feature the pitchers who started and finished Houston’s Game 7 win against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2017 World Series. Right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. will go for the Astros while 36-year-old Charlie Morton is expected to start for the Rays. In the decisive Game 7 in 2017, McCullers started and went 2 1/3 scoreless innings while Morton pitched the final four innings for the victory. Morton signed with Tampa Bay prior to the 2019 season.
It’s also a rematch of Game 2 of this series, won 4-2 by Morton and the Rays.
Valdéz (3-1), who lost the opener of this series 2-1 to Snell (2-2), held the Astros to one run and three hits while striking out nine and walking three in his third career postseason start. He allowed Willy Adames RBI double to left in the second.
Astros closer Ryan Pressly pitched for the third straight day and got three outs for his second save to go with a win in Game 5. He allowed Yoshitomo Tsutsugo’s one-out single, then induced Mike Brosseau’s game-ending double-play grounder, a call upheld in a video review. Pressly threw nine pitches, all for strikes, raising his three-day total to 39.
The Astros’ 71-year-old skipper, Dusty Baker, who led NL teams for the first 22 seasons of his 23-year managerial career, used some old-school baseball to outfox his younger counterpart, 42-year-old Kevin Cash, to overturn a 1-0 deficit in the fifth. The rally had only one hard-hit ball. The Astros had been frustrated in the first three games when they scalded balls right to fielders.
Snell walked Yuli Gurriel opening the fifth and allowed a single to Aledmys Díaz on his 82nd pitch. Cash, whose team was built around analytics, pulled Snell before he could face the No. 9 batter, catcher Martín Maldonado, and leadoff hitter Springer, who had struck out twice.
Maldonado laid down a sacrifice bunt against Diego Castillo and Springer punched a two-run single to center through a hole in Tampa Bay’s drawn-in infield that was also in a shift. Altuve followed with a double into the left-field corner that brought in Springer, who might have been out if Brandon Lowe had hit the cutoff man.
After Michael Brantley walked, Correa singled to left to bring in Altuve.
Snell allowed two runs and three hits in four-plus innings, struck out four and walked four.
Baker, hired after AJ Hinch was fired following the revelation of the sign-stealing scandal, is the first manager to take five different teams to the playoffs. He has yet to win a World Series as a manager. His San Francisco Giants reached the 2002 Fall Classic before losing in seven games to the Angels. As a player, he helped the Los Angeles Dodgers win the World Series in 1981 against the New York Yankees.
Houston’s Kyle Tucker homered off rookie Shane McClanahan leading off the sixth. In the seventh, Michael Brantley hit an RBI single and Tucker a sacrifice fly.
Margot homered off Andre Scrubb leading off the Rays’ seventh and hit a two-run shot off Cristian Javier with two outs in the eighth.