LOS ANGELES — Cody Bellinger had goosebumps. It was the eighth inning of a game his Los Angeles Dodgers already led by nine runs, but Chris Taylor was up to bat, sitting on three home runs, and Bellinger could sense a fourth one coming.
“I felt like he was really going to do it,” Bellinger said. “He was seeing the ball well all day.”
Taylor instead struck out and settled for becoming the first player in postseason history to homer three times while his team faced elimination. He drove in six of the Dodgers’ first seven runs, providing a much-needed jolt as they cruised to an 11-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series on Thursday night, cutting their deficit to 3-2 and pushing the series into Atlanta.
“It’s definitely a surreal feeling,” Taylor said. “I never thought I was going to hit three homers in a game, let alone a postseason game.”
The Dodgers were facing the Braves’ best pitcher, Max Fried. The opener for the Dodgers’ bullpen game, Joe Kelly, exited after four batters because of a biceps strain that will end his season. Their starting third baseman, Justin Turner, had already been ruled out. And the first half-inning ended with a two-run deficit.
Taylor helped the Dodgers overcome all of that.
His two-run homer in the bottom of the second gave the Dodgers a 3-2 lead. His single in the fourth made it a two-run game. His two-out, two-run homer off Braves reliever Chris Martin extended the Dodgers’ lead to four. And his solo homer in the seventh prompted his first curtain call. Taylor became the 11th player with a three-homer postseason game, joining names like Reggie Jackson, Babe Ruth, George Brett, Adrian Beltre and Albert Pujols, the man who hit in front of Taylor on Thursday night.
“The highlights are going to be there the rest of his life,” Pujols said. “That’s something you’re going to share forever.”
The Dodgers, who must win back-to-back games in Atlanta this weekend in order to advance to their fourth World Series in five years, have now won seven consecutive elimination games, the third-longest streak in postseason history.
Their latest came courtesy of Evan Phillips, Alex Vesia, Brusdar Graterol, Blake Treinen, Corey Knebel and Kenley Jansen, six relievers who combined for 8⅓ scoreless innings in which they allowed three hits, didn’t issue a walk and struck out nine batters. And it was fueled by Pujols, Taylor, Bellinger and AJ Pollock, who made up the Nos. 5-8 spots in the Dodgers’ lineup and combined for 12 hits, five of which sailed over the fence, an uplifting sign for an offense that has struggled to sustain rallies this postseason.
All told, the Dodgers accumulated 11 hits with two strikes, their largest output since April 2018.
“I saw fight,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “I saw fight.”
Taylor, 31, made his first All-Star team this season but has long been revered by his Dodgers teammates and coaches for his defensive versatility, offensive approach and quiet professionalism. Since the start of the 2017 season, Taylor has appeared in 88% of the Dodgers’ games, has played six positions, has batted .265/.343/.461 and has accumulated 14.1 FanGraphs wins above replacement. But on a star-laden Dodgers team, Taylor usually goes unnoticed.
His personality lends itself to that.
“He’s very soft spoken and doesn’t get easily excited,” said Pollock, who contributed a two-homer game. “The only thing that excites him, I’ve seen, is he likes to have a beer. He gets excited about that, a beer with the boys, and then he loves watching surfing. Maybe the three home runs today might have spiked his adrenaline, but probably not. Most likely just the beer and watching surfing.”
Taylor battled a neck injury down the stretch and struggled his way out of the lineup at the start of October, but he came off the bench to deliver the walk-off home run that eliminated the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Wild Card Game. He made a critical baserunning gaffe in the opening game of the NLCS, but he almost single-handedly kept the Dodgers’ season alive with an epic performance five days later.
“You gotta take the lows with the highs,” Taylor said. “Everything gets amplified in the postseason. And it’s a game of failures. You’re going to make mistakes. And then there’s moments like tonight where that’s what makes it worth it. That’s why you just put your head down and keep moving forward.”