ATLANTA (AP) – Eddie Rosario covered a remarkable NL Championship Series with a three-run homer and sent the Atlanta Braves to the World Series for the first time since 1999 with a 4-2 victory over defending champion Los Angeles Dodgers Saturday night.
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The Braves won the best-of-seven series four games to two, displacing the demons from last year’s NLCS — as Atlanta spilled 2-0 and 3-1 lead against the Dodgers — and went on to face AL champion Astros.
Game 1 is Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park in Houston.
The Braves will go after their first league title since 1995, when they beat Cleveland with a team that included Hall of Famers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Jon Smoltz and Chipper Jones — a no-nonsense group that became better known for numerous post-season flops. during a significant race of 14 equal division titles.
This flashy team is led by a far more unlikely hero.
Rosario, bought in a series of trades just before the July 30 trade deadline that rebuilt the Braves’ exhausted outfield, set an Atlanta franchise record and became only the fifth player in baseball history to record 14 hits in a postseason series.
Will Smith worked a 1-2-3 ninth for his fourth save of the postseason after a brilliant relief from winner Tyler Matzek, who escaped a giant stop in the seventh by hitting the side. The left-hander has 11 strikeouts with runners in scoring position in the seventh inning or later this postseason.
Induced by chants of “Eddie! Eddie! Eddie ”from the fiercely sold out crowd of more than 43,000, Rosario finished 14th out of 25 (.560) against the Dodgers with three homers and nine RBIs.
His last hit was certainly the greatest in the 30-year-old Puerto Rican career.
With the score at 1 at the bottom of the fourth, Rosario came up after pinch hitter Ehire Adrianza extended the inning with a two-out double in the right field corner. Slow running catcher Travis d’Arnaud was held in third place by coach Ron Washington, certainly aware of who was going up next time.
Rosario got into an extended duel with Walker Buehler, who rose to the start on three days of rest after ace Max Scherzer was unable to walk due to a tired arm.
Rosario swung and missed the first two places. Then he forged one. Then he took a ball. Then he failed two more lanes.
Finally, he got one he liked from the Dodgers’ 16-game winner-a cutter, which Rosario turned into a 105 mph rocket down the right field line, higher and higher, just like an arrow, until it landed well back in the seats below the restaurant. Chop House.
Rosario knew it was gone, dancing along the line after delivering a 361-foot closing shot to a high-paying team that won 106 games during the regular season — 18 more than the NL East-winning Braves — but fell short in its bid to become baseball’s first repeat champion since 2000 of the New York Yankees won their third title in a row.
The Braves will seek to bury their city’s reputation for playoff misery. From four World Series losses in the 1990s to the NFL Falcons blowing with a 28-3 lead in the 2017 Super Bowl, Atlanta is once again on an extremely rare feat.
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These ’95 Braves remain the city’s lone team in the four major sports – baseball, football, basketball and hockey – to capture a title. Freddie Freeman said after a Game 5 loss that the city’s history would remain a problem “until we kill that narrative.”
They have four wins by doing just that.
After starter Ian Anderson allowed Cody Bellinger’s run-scoring single in the fourth on his penultimate hitter for the night, the well-rested Atlanta bullpen took over.
AJ Minter hit four in two innings of work. Luke Jackson failed to get one out in the seventh and gave up AJ Pollock’s run-scoring double, but Matzek stranded runners on second and third with three straight strikeouts – the last of them by Mookie Betts on three lanes.
Matzek returned to the mound for a 1-2-3 eighth before passing to Smith.
The Braves jumped ahead with back-to-back, two-out doubles from Buehler in the first-second of them by Austin Riley, whose shot down the left field line one-jumped into the Dodgers bullpen.
With their pitching staff in disarray, the Dodgers spread plans to start Scherzer. His right hand had complained of a dead arm after Game 2 and he was still struggling to jump back after a workout on Friday.
Buehler, who had been expected to go into Game 7 if the series went that far, was pushed up to start for Scherzer on only three days’ rest.
Scherzer, the Dodgers insisted, would be ready to take Sunday night.
Now he has the whole winter to rest.
The Dodgers brought an extra pitcher to Atlanta after LHP Justin Bruihl felt something in his arm as he warmed up for Game 5. But Bruihl remained on the roster after assuring manager Dave Roberts that he felt good enough to take an inning in game 6. When it turned out, he was not needed.
Dodgers: After a steak of seven straight wins in elimination games was snatched, they are not playing another game that counts until the season opener in 2022 against the Colorado Rockies. It’s coming on March 31st at Dodger Stadium.
Braves: Charlie Morton is ready to go against his former team in the opening of the World Series. He memorably came out of the bullpen in Game 7 of the 2017 Series to put up four innings with two-hit ball and closed out the lone title in Astros history with a 5-1 win over the Dodgers.
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