In Game 3 of the National League Championship Series on Wednesday, the Los Angeles Dodgers delivered a haymaker to Atlanta with an 11-run first inning. The result was a 15-3 drubbing that trimmed Atlanta's series lead to 2-1 and placed the momentum squarely on L.A.'s side.
In Game 4 on Thursday, with the Texas winds whipping through Globe Life Field, Atlanta counterpunched in a big way.
The NL East champs sent 22-year-old Bryse Wilson to the hill to face Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw. In his storied career, Kershaw has won nearly half as many Cy Young Awards (three) as Wilson had made big league starts (seven).
Yet Wilson outdueled Kershaw and gave the battered Atlanta pitching staff the boost it badly needed. And his offense backed him up with a six-run sixth inning en route to a 10-2 statement win and a commanding 3-1 series edge.
It's tempting to pin this one on Kershaw, who has wilted before under the bright October lights. But this loss falls on manager Dave Roberts, who stuck with his left-hander too long, and a Dodgers offense that simply didn't do enough.
Notable Players of the Game
SP Bryse Wilson: 6 IP, 1 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 5 K. Wison made six appearances and two starts in the regular season and hadn't appeared in a game since Sept. 27. Atlanta would probably have been happy with a few serviceable innings after Wednesday's debacle. Instead, he delivered an outstanding outing opposite one of the best pitchers of all time.
DH Marcell Ozuna: 4-for-5, 3 R, 4 RBI, 2 HR. Atlanta tallied 14 hits with Ozuna leading the way. The regular-season NL home run and RBI leader cleared the fence twice and drove in four, ensuring that Atlanta did more than enough scoring to back up Wilson and its resurgent pitching staff.
For Los Angeles:
SP Clayton Kershaw: 5 IP, 7 H, 4 ER, 1 BB, 4 SO. This is a game Kershaw will want to forget. Returning from back spasms, he took the loss and couldn't escape the sixth. But this defeat shouldn't be pinned primarily on him, as we'll delve into shortly.
RF Mookie Betts: 0-for-4, 1 SO. Betts wasn't the only Dodgers hitter who failed to deliver Thursday, but we'll use Los Angeles' leader and MVP candidate as an ignoble example of the club's overall inability to chase Wilson early and build on Wednesday's blowout win.
Where the NLCS Stands
-Atlanta leads 3-1, with the series set to continue Friday from Globe Life Field at 9:08 p.m. ET.
-The Dodgers will turn to hard-throwing rookie Dustin May to keep their season alive. Atlanta hasn't confirmed who will start Game 5, but manager Brian Snitker said it won't be ace Max Fried, who started Game 1 and would be going on short rest. Instead, the club may opt to go with an opener and hope the bullpen can finish the job.
-Games 6 and 7, if necessary, would be played Saturday and Sunday.
Why This was Less About Kershaw and More about Roberts and the Dodgers Offense
Kershaw's periodic playoff hiccups have been well-documented. He's enjoyed some notable high moments, too, but he carried a 4.23 postseason ERA into Thursday's start compared to a career regular-season mark of 2.43.
Kershaw was scratched from a scheduled Game 3 start because of back spasms and carried questions about his health and durability out to the mound Thursday.
He held Atlanta to one run on a Marcell Ozuna homer through five frames before things unraveled in the sixth. Yet Kershaw wasn't as bad as his final line suggested.
A couple of the hits he allowed in the sixth were grounders that snuck through the infield, and the team's relievers, including Brusdar Graterol, couldn't stop the bleeding.
More than anything, though, Roberts was the one who should have pulled Kershaw earlier, before the inning got out of hand.
Yes, Kershaw is his ace. But coming off an injury issue and facing a potent lineup, he'd given the Dodgers all he could.
Instead of making the tough but correct move, Roberts left Kershaw out to dangle. It was the latest in a string of questionable pitching-change decisions Los Angeles' skipper has made in the team's past three October runs, dating back to 2017.
Expect calls for Roberts' ouster to grow louder after Thursday, especially if the Dodgers don't come back in the NLCS and once again fall short of their first title since 1988. You can only go so many seasons featuring one of the game's gaudiest payrolls and most stacked rosters with zero rings to show for it and keep your job.
The other culprits were the Dodgers hitters, who mustered just one run on a solo homer by Edwin Rios against Wilson and then squandered a bases-loaded opportunity in the top of the seventh that could have shifted the momentum.
Betts and Corey Seager, L.A.'s table-setters and offensive cornerstones all season, went a combined 0-for-8. Betts is now just 2-for-14 in the series.
We know the Dodgers can rake. They led baseball in runs and home runs during the regular season. In the biggest game of the year so far, though, they mostly came up empty.
Give credit to Wilson, who rose to the occasion and pitched the game of his life for an Atlanta team that desperately needed a quality start. And tip your cap to Ozuna, Ronald Acuna Jr., Freddie Freeman and the rest of the team's explosive lineup.
Just don't lay this one at Kershaw's feet. His manager and his offense let him down.
And now, after an ugly loss on a blustery night in Arlington, the Dodgers are one defeat shy of getting blown off the postseason stage.
All statistics current as of Thursday and courtesy of MLB.com.