The Morning Column: October 21, 2021

All the hope and optimism born out of the Dodgers' dramatic comeback win Tuesday was dashed with an embarrassing 9-2 loss Wednesday but is the Dodgers' season over? No. I'm not buying it. Not yet.

Chris Taylor, Mookie Betts and AJ Pollock of the Los Angeles Dodgers speak during the seventh inning of Game Four of the National League Championship Series against the Atlanta Braves at Dodger Stadium on October 20, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

I know what you’re thinking. You’re probably right.

The Dodgers’ season is over.

All the hope and optimism born out of their dramatic comeback win Tuesday was dashed with an embarrassing 9-2 loss Wednesday in a game that was over before most fans made it to their seats.

The Dodgers are now down 3-1 in the NLCS and must play a do-or-die, win-or-go-home, elimination game against the Atlanta Braves on Thursday. Atlanta will be starting Max Fried while the Dodgers hopes of continuing their season will ride on a bullpen game.

Logic and reason say this series is over but I’m not buying it.

Perhaps I’m too blinded by history and this team’s penchant for comebacks to see or think straight but I’ve seen this movie before. Sure, some of the cast and setting may be a little different but there’s no way this thrilling season ends with a whimper and a gentlemen’s sweep at home.

Last year, the Braves beat the Dodgers in the first two games of the NLCS. The Dodgers won Game 3 but the Braves came back and won Game 4 with a dominant 10-2 win to take a 3-1 series lead. Everyone figured the Dodgers’ season was over and it certainly looked cooked when the Dodgers fell behind 2-0 in the second inning of Game 5 and trailed in the sixth inning but everything turned when Will Smith hit a three-run homer. The Dodgers won the game, their season was extended, they grinded out two more wins and advanced to the World Series. Sound familiar through four games?

Everyone will say this year is different and, well, of course it is. Every year is different. Last year, they played the entire NLCS at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. That’s true but the Dodgers would rather play an elimination game in front of 50,000 Dodgers fans at Dodger Stadium as opposed to 10,000 socially distanced fans in Texas.

“OK,” the skeptics will say, “If the Dodgers somehow find a way to win Thursday to extend their season, they would have to travel to Atlanta and win two straight games.”

Yes, that’s true but I can’t help but think of Kevin Millar, Dodger manager Dave Roberts’ teammate on the 2004 Boston Red Sox, when he was talking to Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy after falling behind 3-0 to the New York Yankees in the ALCS.

“Don’t let us win today,” Millar said. “We got [Pedro Martinez] tomorrow and [Curt Schilling] in Game 6 and Game 7 anything can happen. We can have you out there. I’ll put you at second base. You know, Game 7 anything can happen.”     

As bad as it seems right now, things aren’t as dire for the Dodgers. If they can find a way to win Thursday, they would have to win two games in Atlanta to advance to the World Series for the second straight season and fourth time in the past five years but would have a fully rested Max Scherzer in Game 6 and Walker Buehler in Game 7.

The Dodgers are 6-0 in their last six elimination games dating back to last year’s NLCS. That includes this season’s walk-off home run win against the St. Louis Cardinals in the Wild Card Game and beating the San Francisco Giants in back-to-back games after trailing 2-1 in the NLDS. And while Tuesday’s comeback win wasn’t an elimination game, the Dodgers treated it as such when they were down 5-2 in the bottom of the eighth inning; staring at a 3-0 series hole. No team wants to be down 3-1 or 2-1 in a series, facing elimination. It’s far more fun reveling in a blowout or a sweep but the Dodgers seem to thrive in these moments.

“You never want to have your back against the wall,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “That’s not how you draw it out but we have a very resilient team, a very tough team and it’s not going to get much tougher than facing Max Fried in an elimination game. But we’ve done it before. We’ve got to win tomorrow, and I really believe we’re equipped to win tomorrow’s ballgame.”

Sure, the setting is different and some of the players are different but the heart and the resilience is the same. Last year’s squad had Clayton Kershaw, Justin Turner and Max Muncy, who are all injured and out. This year’s team has Max Scherzer, Trea Turner and Albert Pujols. Maybe one, two or all three will help the Dodgers win three games in a row against Atlanta like they did last year and advance to the World Series. It won’t be easy but they’ve done it before and they can do it again.

“No one needs to really tell anyone that we can do it,” said Dodgers outfielder AJ Pollock. “We’ve done it. We’ve been here. Obviously, we’ve got to grind tomorrow. We win tomorrow, we’re not in a bad spot. It’s going to be a big day tomorrow. We’ve got to regroup. We’ve got to get after it. Anything can happen.”