Dodgers pull off historic comeback and go back to the World Series

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Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

Everything about Sunday night should make the Dodgers feel good. And it was this 4-3 win over the Atlanta Braves in Game 7 of the National League Championship series that truly ended up defining the Dodgers’ historically phenomenal season. Now after staying alive and battling for a World Series berth, the Dodgers are hungry to take on a familiar challenge.

They’re going back to the World Series, and hope to end a long-running title drought dating back to 1988, the year Kirk Gibson, yes, hit the improbable walk-off homer that every Dodger fan still enjoys, dwells on and clings on to after all these years. The questions we’ve been asking for a long time now…. Is this the Dodgers’ year to finally win the whole thing? Will they finally exorcise their postseason demons to bring home the Commissioner’s trophy? Will they live up to their promise, or fall short of serious ambitions to finish the job?

This is a team that somehow overcame a 3-1 deficit to defeat the Atlanta Braves. This is a team that somehow found a way to force Game 7, making Dodger fans feel a sense of optimism. It took a great deal of remarkable resilience, a lot of faith and unwavering persistence to get back in this series and wind up in the World Series. Backs against the wall, the Dodgers amazingly staved off elimination for three straight days by taking one game at a time to keep their postseason hopes alive and well.

This night was a vivid reminder of the Dodgers’ depth, deepness and otherworldly talent. With a little bit more momentum and a little bit more experience, too, the Dodgers were able to outlast the Braves in a seven-game series. Having already been there before, these guys handled the pressure with ease while facing elimination and took it and ran with it. It was a dramatic and fascinating game and another example of just how evenly matched these two clubs were.

The Dodgers are obviously very, very good at baseball, particularly on offense, as the mighty bats produced just enough runs to edge the Braves. There would be plenty of drama and fireworks in this game. The versatile Kike Hernandez did the team a huge favor by drilling a pinch-hit, game-tying home run that sent the Dodgers’ dugout into a frenzy.

It was another season-defining, memorable, breathtaking moment for Cody Bellinger. With the game tied in the bottom of the seventh, Bellinger clobbered a mammoth shot to break a 3–3 tie. It was also a frightening scene for the reigning National League MVP when he dislocated his shoulder while celebrating the home run.

This is a man who needed to regain his All-Star form whether that was altering his batting stance or staying more patient at the plate. Bellinger wasn’t chasing bad pitches that were out of the strike zone in an effort to produce. Bellinger wasn’t trying too hard to hit a homer, and was just hoping for the right swing, the right pitch to put the ball in play. Anyone who knows him realizes he can sometimes be overaggressive and not discover his discipline of swinging the bat.

The good news for the Dodgers is that he’s heating up, exuding confidence in knowing he can provide his share of offensive heroics. That means the Dodgers’ clubhouse is brimming with excitement and anticipation. That means the players on this team are ready to combat against years of nagging disappointments and defeats. Perhaps, if he rediscovers the sort of production he saw during last season, he can make the Dodgers’ lineup far more menacing.

In none of the Dodgers’ 12 postseason games had Mookie Betts hit a home run. Interestingly enough, he’s batting .269 overall with four runs scored, a double, an RBI and a stolen base. But by and large, the Dodgers needed the glove of a five-time Gold Glove winner who showed off his freakish athleticism on the outfield wall.

Arguably the biggest play of the night came in the fifth. The Braves were up 3-2, and Freddie Freeman lofted a deep fly ball to the warning track. There to make the second out was Betts. He kept his eye on the ball, silhouetted against the right-field wall and perfectly timed his leap with his outstretched glove to rob Freeman of a homer.

Betts’ sensational grab kept his team in the game and might have saved the Dodgers’ hope at a championship. He can still dazzle with his defensive plays out in right, he’s still as impactful as ever, after creating his own highlight reels. No matter how you slice it, Betts was a very sound investment for a team looking to finally get over the hump.

The Dodgers made their bet on him last spring, acquiring the star outfielder in a trade from Boston and signing him to a long-term extension, and they have made the most of his elite talent. He’s only been a Dodger for such a short time, and already the team is getting what it paid for after it didn’t hesitate to spend an insane amount of money on one guy.

The continued brilliance of left-hander Julio Urias went a long, long way for the Dodgers, especially in Game 7. What better way to put his stamp on the NLCS than by pitching the Dodgers into the World Series? This was no doubt a masterful outing in long relief from the 24-year-old pitching prodigy who emerged and evolved in his own right as a workhorse over time. He had electric stuff, tossing three perfect innings to shut it down.

The postseason once again looked bleak when the Dodgers opened the series against the Braves. Their lineup was quiet. Their capable arms weren’t efficient. Getting here wasn’t easy. But now only four wins away from winning that elusive title, the Dodgers remain heavy favorites to put past October failures to rest and reach the ultimate pinnacle of baseball. And again, this series is to see exactly what the Dodgers can do brilliantly against a title-hungry, tight-knit Rays club.

The Dodgers do a better job than many teams of hitting home runs, often in the regular season as if it were a choice, and they had once again proved as dominant as ever in the NL West. After four games with the upstart Braves, the Dodgers started to play like the best team in baseball, as advertised. They are aware of the consequences that could come if they don’t heal souls and subdue years of pain and put an end to the depths of misery.

A team that wasn’t ready to play ball at all suddenly came alive when its season was nearly a wrap. A team whose season was mired in deep, dark clouds of  troubles was salvageable. It was a guessing game as to whether the Dodgers could reverse its fortunes and recover quickly after being pushed to the brink of elimination. Being able to win games in so many ways is an advantage for the Dodgers as they’re hoping for the continuation of what transpired in Game 7.

The Dodgers, meanwhile, know they have a daunting task ahead of them with Tampa. And don’t let the Rays fool you. This is the team’s third trip to the World Series in the last four years, and perhaps the third time will be a smashing success. The job is not quite yet done, and it’s up to these guys to get it done.

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