For a guy who dislikes drama, Chris Taylor sure provided plenty of it.
Taylor hit three homers and drove in six runs, joining the likes of Reggie Jackson and Babe Ruth in October baseball lore, as the Los Angeles Dodgers broke loose at the plate to beat Atlanta 11-2 on Thursday, cutting the Braves’ lead to 3-2 in the best-of-seven NL Championship Series.
“It’s cool. It’s definitely a surreal feeling for me,” Taylor said. “I never thought I was going to hit three homers in a game, let alone a postseason game, and it just still hasn’t really sunk in.”
AJ Pollock had two home runs and four RBIs for the defending champion Dodgers, who have won seven straight postseason elimination games dating to last season. They also trailed 0-2 and 1-3 against Atlanta in the NLCS last year before rallying to win three straight at a neutral site in Texas.
“We needed to make a statement,” the mild-mannered Taylor said. “They put it on us yesterday. We had to respond.”
Game 6 is Saturday in Atlanta, where the Braves get two more chances to clinch their first trip to the World Series since 1999.
“I guess when our backs are against the wall we play our best and fight, but that’s just not an ideal spot to be in,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.
After mustering only four hits during a 9-2 loss in Game 4 that pushed them to the brink of elimination, the desperate Dodgers rapped out eight hits by the third inning off Max Fried. They finished with 17, a club record for a postseason game, and also equaled a postseason franchise mark with five home runs.
The Dodgers got to Fried with four consecutive hits in the second. Pollock hit a tying homer and Taylor drove the first pitch he saw to left field, putting Los Angeles in front for good, 3-2.
Starting in place of injured Justin Turner at third base, Taylor became the second Dodgers player with a three-homer game in the playoffs. Kiké Hernández also did it in Game 5 of the 2017 NLCS against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field as Los Angeles won its first pennant in 29 years.
Taylor had an RBI single in the third to make it 4-2. He went deep in the fifth, sending an 0-2 pitch from Chris Martin to center field and extending the lead to 6-2.
Taylor homered again in the seventh, taking Dylan Lee out to left-center before taking a curtain call in the dugout.
“I never look cool doing anything,” Taylor said.
The versatile veteran had an opportunity to match the major league mark of four home runs in a game, but struck out swinging to end the eighth.
“I was trying not to think about it,” Taylor said. “Usually I’m just trying to hit line drives.”
Taylor also hit a game-winning homer in the bottom of the ninth inning against St. Louis in the NL wild-card game for the 106-win Dodgers.
“He’s just super calm and he’s so consistent for us,” Pollock said. “Maybe the three home runs might have spiked his adrenaline, but probably not.”
Albert Pujols wasn’t just hugging, he was hitting, too.
The 41-year-old slugger got on base three times, including a walk, and scored twice on Taylor’s homers. He got two singles for his third and fourth hits of the postseason in his second start. He had two hits in the NL Division Series against San Francisco.
Pujols has taken to greeting his much younger teammates with bear hugs in the dugout after home runs, and they kept him busy.
The three-time MVP is among the 11 players with a three-homer game in the postseason. Ruth accomplished the feat twice in the World Series.
“Watching Chris doing that, it was pretty special,” Pujols said. “I was actually rooting for four, but he ended up striking out. But he did a heck of a job out there.”
Los Angeles got a clutch performance from its bullpen, too, after opener Joe Kelly allowed a two-run homer to Freddie Freeman in the first and soon exited after 28 pitches with tightness in his right biceps that will sideline him for the rest of the postseason.
Phillips struck out three in 1 1/3 innings and was credited with the win.
Atlanta’s Eddie Rosario, who homered twice in his second four-hit game of the NLCS in Game 4, went 2 for 4 with a strikeout.
Pitching in his hometown, Fried gave up five runs and eight hits in 4 2/3 innings. The left-hander struck out three and walked two.
“I wasn’t executing on the corners like I normally do and when you leave the balls over the middle, normally damage happens,” Fried said.
In the feast-or-famine nature of the Dodgers’ offense, Cody Bellinger went 3 for 4 with a strikeout and NL batting champion Trea Turner was 3 for 4 with an RBI single in a four-run eighth capped by Pollock’s three-run homer. But Mookie Betts and Corey Seager were a combined 2 for 10.
“We’re up 3-2 and we’re going home,” Freeman said. “That’s a great position to be in. We’re going to be just fine.”
Taylor set a Dodgers postseason record with 13 total bases, most by any major leaguer in an elimination game. He became the first player to hit three homers in a postseason game for a team facing elimination.
Braves: OF Jorge Soler was activated after being out following his positive COVID-19 test. He struck out swinging as a pinch-hitter in the eighth.
Dodgers: Justin Turner was replaced on the NLCS roster by INF Andy Burns after straining his left hamstring while running to first in the seventh inning Wednesday. To make room on the 40-man roster, RHP Edwin Uceta was designated for assignment.
RHP Ian Anderson goes for the Braves in Game 6. RHP Max Scherzer starts for the Dodgers.