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Their sparkplug third baseman pulled up while running out a ground ball in the seventh inning against Atlanta on Wednesday and grabbed the back of his left leg, the classic sign of a hamstring injury. He walked slowly toward the dugout, clearly in pain, descending the steps with aid from teammate AJ Pollock.
To navigate the final stairs from the dugout to the Dodgers’ clubhouse he needed help from Albert Pujols, who wrapped his muscular left arm under Turner’s left arm while Turner clutched the railing for additional support.
Those moments symbolized who and what the Dodgers are now, one win and three losses into their National League Championship Series against the Braves: They’re depleted, more than a little broken and facing the point of no return after a dispiriting 9-2 loss at Dodger Stadium left them one defeat from the end of their reign as World Series champions. Their season could end Thursday, in Game 5 at Dodger Stadium.
Manager Dave Roberts said early indications were that Turner’s injury is Grade 2 in severity. “I think that will be it for him,” Roberts said. The Dodgers know and share Turner’s pain.
They came into this series without pitcher Clayton Kershaw or first baseman Max Muncy because of injuries. Now, they’re hoping starter Max Scherzer has recovered from the “dead arm” he experienced in their Game 2 loss to the Braves after being used in relief to save Game 5 against the San Francisco Giants in the NL Division Series.
Roberts also insisted that Julio Urías, who was stretched by pitching in relief in Game 2 against Atlanta, showed no signs of fatigue Wednesday in a start that lasted five innings and that the Braves merely “had a very good game plan for him.” If that’s all the problem was, there’s hope. If he truly was fatigued, the Dodgers are done.
Thursday’s game will be a bullpen game for the Dodgers, and while their deep bullpen usually makes it easy for them to win those pieced-together games, it’s fair to wonder how much they have left — and if what they have left is enough to defeat the Braves three times.
A season that was distinguished by 106 regular-season wins, a victory over St. Louis in the wild-card game, two comebacks against the Giants in the NLDS and a stirring rally to win Game 3 against Atlanta rides on how well the Dodgers can pull themselves together physically and emotionally against Braves starter Max Fried.
Unfortunately for the Dodgers, just as they’re falling apart the Braves are coming together. The Braves didn’t let the disappointment of their Game 3 loss carry over into Game 4. This time, when they went up 5-0 and the Dodgers came back to score twice in the fifth, the Braves padded their lead, adding four runs in the ninth to put the game out of reach.
“I feel like we’re a pretty complete team going forward,” said first baseman Freddie Freeman, who contributed a leadoff home run in the third inning and a run-scoring double in the ninth to support Eddie Rosario’s spectacular two home runs and four runs batted in. “I feel really good about our pitching and how our offense has been swinging the bats. ... Things are going well.”
The Dodgers have won six straight elimination games dating to last season. They erased a 3-1 deficit against Atlanta in last year’s NLCS. But this situation feels different, with the absence of Muncy — and now Turner — flattening their offense and their collective spirit.
“Yeah, we feel bad for Justin. JT’s a warrior,” a downcast Pollock said. “Obviously, you could see him walking off the field. ... You never want to see your teammate go down. He’s giving everything he’s got and it’s weird. Injuries, they stink. Both sides.”
Someone’s got to step up, Pollock said. No kidding.
“Fried’s not going to feel sorry for us. He’s going to go for the jugular,” Roberts said. “He’s got great stuff, and we’ve got to compete. Our backs are against the wall and no one’s going to feel sorry. We’ve got to find a way to stress him, get guys on base and push them across. That’s just the bottom line.”
And if they can succeed Thursday, they then must win twice more, at Atlanta on Saturday and Sunday. Have they run out of rallies? Will a team that was constructed at great cost, a team that won 106 games, fall to the Braves, who won 88 games during the regular season? “We’ve been a really good team for a really long time,” Freeman said, crediting Braves General Manager Alex Anthopoulos for rebuilding their outfield this season.
Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said his team isn’t the same as the group that squandered the 3-1 series lead over the Dodgers last season. “We were a really good team. The difference is our starting pitching is more solidified,” he said. “I think we’re a more mature team. I think that bodes well for us.”
Maybe it does. And maybe the Dodgers have one last push left in their tired arms and aching legs. But it’s difficult to look at the image of Turner limping off the field and not see the Dodgers’ playoff chances vanishing with him.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.