Frustrated Dodgers facing elimination in NLCS again after Game 4 loss to Braves

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Julio Urías couldn’t hide his frustration anymore. He couldn’t keep his steely composure together. He couldn’t pretend.

When he watched Gavin Lux, an infielder-turned-outfielder for all of six weeks, fail to catch a ball major league center fielders are expected to catch, the pitcher’s instincts surfaced without a filter in the Dodgers’ 9-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday night. Urías extended his arms to his side, palms up, in confusion, in disgust, in exasperation.

It was the third inning. His fourth pitching appearance in 12 days, a strenuous schedule the Dodgers voluntarily subjected him to, was already a dud. Joc Pederson’s RBI bloop single in front of Lux, who pulled up a stride short, was the icing in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series at Dodger Stadium.

The Braves had clubbed three solo home runs off Urías before Pederson, a former Dodger, reached out and poked a 1-2 pitch to center field. A catch would’ve ended the inning. Instead, the Braves led 4-0 and the Dodgers’ offense, muzzled again, didn’t have a response in a loss that has them on the brink of elimination, facing a 3-1 deficit against Atlanta in the NLCS for the second year in a row.

“You never want to have your back against the wall,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “That’s not how you draw it up. But we have a pretty resilient team, a very tough team. We’ve done it before.”

The Dodgers must win three straight games, repeating last October’s historic NLCS comeback in the Texas bubble, for a chance to win back-to-back titles for the first time in franchise history. They’ll put their six-game winning streak in close-out games on the line in Game 5 with a bullpen game Thursday at Dodger Stadium.

They’ll play that game, and every other one in 2021 if they win Thursday, without Justin Turner. The 36-year-old third baseman, synonymous with the Dodgers’ success since arriving in 2015, will miss the rest of the postseason after suffering a Grade 2 left hamstring strain running out a double-play groundball in the seventh inning.

The Dodgers will replace him on the roster with a position player Thursday. Roberts named Billy McKinney, Zach McKinstry and Andy Burns as candidates.

“We feel bad for Justin,” Dodgers outfielder AJ Pollock said. “J.T. is a warrior.”

Urías took the mound Wednesday three days after being used out of the bullpen in Game 2. He pitched on two days’ rest Sunday night in Atlanta. He was inserted in the eighth inning to protect a two-run lead and watched it evaporate. An inning later, Eddie Rosario’s walk-off single delivered the Braves a win.

Rosario tormented the Dodgers again Wednesday. The Puerto Rican smashed an 0-2 fastball from Urías the other way, over the wall in left field, for a home run to lead off the second inning. Adam Duvall made it back-to-back home runs, slashing a 3-2 fastball for a 2-0 Atlanta lead.

Freddie Freeman clubbed the third home run to lead off the third inning before Rosario unearthed a two-out rally. The left fielder, acquired in July to help replace Ronald Acuña Jr., lined a ball to right field, where Mookie Betts had trouble gathering it. The miscue allowed Rosario to reach third base for a triple. Two batters later, Pederson knocked him in.

“They just outplayed us in all facets,” Roberts said.

Urías worked through five innings but nothing came easy, particularly early. Through three innings, he threw 64 pitches and didn’t record a strikeout despite getting to two strikes on 10 of the 17 hitters he faced. His only clean inning was the fourth. The Braves tacked on their fifth run on a sacrifice fly from Duvall in the fifth inning.

Dodgers starting pitcher Julio Urías reacts after allowing a triple to Atlanta's Eddie Rosario during the third inning.
Dodgers starting pitcher Julio Urías reacts after allowing a triple to Atlanta's Eddie Rosario during the third inning. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Urías yielded five runs and eight hits over five innings. He threw 92 pitches and gave up three home runs for the second time in his career. The first time was in June 2016 in his second major league outing. He was 19.

Urías was the second Dodgers pitcher to start on short rest in three games. In Game 2, Max Scherzer threw 79 pitchers in just 41/3 innings. After the game, Scherzer said he had a “dead arm” and couldn’t keep pitching.

That Urías was put in a similar situation was a stark departure from the Dodgers’ previous handling of the once top prospect. Urías had never logged more than 831/3 innings in a season, playoffs included, with the Dodgers before this year. After Wednesday, he has thrown 2002/3 innings. Urías insisted the workload wasn’t the reason for his struggles Wednesday.

“That’s something you talk about ahead of time,” Urías said in Spanish. “They had asked me and you ultimately make the decisions you want to make. I told them that I feel good and when I feel good, I’m going to give 100% of me, whether that’s in relief or as a starter.”

On the other side, the Braves had scheduled a bullpen game Wednesday from the outset. They trust three pitchers on their roster to assume a conventional starter’s workload. Max Fried pitched six innings in Game 1. Ian Anderson lasted three in Game 2. Charlie Morton absorbed five in Game 3. Fried will start Game 5.

For Game 4, the Braves plotted to have right-hander Husacar Ynoa, who hadn’t pitched in eight days, open with left-hander Drew Smyly looming for multiple innings out of the bullpen. But the plan deteriorated when Ynoa played catch before the game and felt pain in his shoulder.

The Braves scratched him and named Jesse Chavez, another right-hander, their opener. Major League Baseball later allowed Atlanta to replace Ynoa on the roster with left-hander Dylan Lee.

Chavez, 38, was one of five pitchers the Braves used in Game 3. Chavez, another former Dodger, gave up Mookie Betts’ go-ahead RBI double in the eighth inning before retiring two outs. He was better Wednesday, throwing a perfect first inning before Smyly replaced him.

Smyly continued where Chavez left off, retiring the Dodgers in order the next two innings. It took 11 batters for the Dodgers to spoil a perfect game when Corey Seager walked in the fourth. He was left stranded at first base.

The Dodgers awoke from their slumber in the fifth. The awakening began when Turner smacked a single through the right side for the Dodgers’ first hit and his fourth hit in 37 postseason plate appearances. He then went first to third on Cody Bellinger’s first-pitch single the other way to left field.

Bellinger, one of the Dodgers’ heroes in Game 3, chased Smyly with the knock. Braves manager Brian Snitker summoned right-hander Chris Martin to face Chris Taylor. Taylor flied out on the first pitch.

Roberts next sent Pollock to pinch-hit in Urías’ spot. The stakes were heightened after the first pitch when Bellinger stole second base without a throw. It was the Dodgers’ 14th steal this postseason, a franchise record. The Braves’ nonchalance cost them. Two pitches later, Pollock drove a cutter to right-center field for a two-run single.

The Dodgers had a pulse. Dodger Stadium quaked. The vibe was fleeting.

The home team went down in order in the sixth inning before Turner pulled up lame, grabbing his hamstring, halfway down the first-base line in the seventh. He limped off the field and out of the game, supplying another gut punch to a sputtering offense already without All-Star Max Muncy for the postseason.

The injury deflated the building. Soon, the hopes of another late-inning comeback, of another dust of magic after their blitz in Game 3, shattered when Rosario, a double short of a cycle, cracked a three-run home run off Tony Gonsolin.

Rosario strutted around the bases to complete his second four-hit game of the series. The output matched the Dodgers’ hit total as they were held to four or fewer runs for the third time in the series and seventh time in 10 postseason games. It was, Rosario said afterward, his night. For the Dodgers, it was a frustrating one to forget.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.