He’s the kind of player whom other players tell stories about.
Years from now, when teammates and coaches share the lessons they learned by watching Mookie Betts play, they will recount the Dodgers’ 7-3 victory over the Atlanta Braves on Friday night in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series.
About how Betts changed the game with his glove.
About how he influenced a series in which he was batting only .222.
About how he was worth $365 million because he cared about the less glamorous parts of the game.
Never has Betts slumped in a Dodgers uniform the way he has in this series. Never has he looked more important to the team.
“He’s the straw that stirs us,” manager Dave Roberts said.
With the win in Game 5, the Dodgers dodged elimination and reduced their deficit in the best-of-seven series to three games to two.
A defensive play by Betts inspired the comeback victory.
In the third inning, the Dodgers were behind 2-0. With starter Dustin May pitching only two innings, Joe Kelly was on the mound. The Braves were on the verge of extending their lead, as they had runners on second and third with one out.
That was when the Braves’ Dansby Swanson hit a sinking line drive to shallow right field.
Betts charged the ball, but Roberts didn’t think he would reach it.
Betts not only made the catch, but he also did so without diving.
“A lot of it is instinctual,” Betts said. “I just knew I needed to stay on my feet in order to get it, throw and have a chance at him at home.”
Marcell Ozuna narrowly beat Betts’ throw to the plate, but the Dodgers asked the umpires to review the play to determine whether he properly tagged up.
Double play. Inning over.
“It’s not always on the offensive side that you get that spark,” Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager said. “A big play like that in a big moment, that changes everything for you. You go into the dugout with some energy.”
Seager directed that emotional force into his next at-bat, as he led off the fourth inning with a home run to center field.
In a span of two at-bats, the Dodgers went from potentially being down by three to reducing the Braves’ lead to 2-1. Betts’ catch represented a two-run swing.
If Betts hadn’t caught the ball before it dropped, it wouldn’t have mattered that Ozuna hopped off third base early. If Betts had dived when making the grab, Ozuna might not have prematurely rushed home.
“We’ve had a lot of great plays this year, but if you’re talking about momentum shifts, that’s the play of the year for me,” Roberts said.
The inning in which the Dodgers claimed the lead also started with Betts. Similar to how he started a historic 11-run first inning in Game 3, Betts opened this offensive surge with an infield hit. In this instance, he beat a throw by third baseman Austin Riley.
With one out and Justin Turner in the batter’s box, Betts stole second base. The extra base was critical.
Later in his at-bat, Turner hit a grounder up the middle, which resulted in Betts being caught in a rundown between second and third base. However, Betts didn’t allow the Braves to tag him out until Turner reached second base.
Braves manager Brian Snitker replaced right-hander Shane Greene with left-hander Will Smith. With two outs, Smith walked the left-handed-hitting Max Muncy. Next up was the Dodgers’ own Will Smith.
The matchup of Will Smiths was won by the Dodgers catcher, who blasted a three-run homer to left. The Dodgers now led 4-2.
In retrospect, the difference between the Dodgers trailing by three and leading by two was Betts making a catch, remaining upright and making a throw on the run, Betts legging out an infield single, stealing a base and extending a rundown.
He went on to drive in the first of three insurance runs the Dodgers scored in the seventh inning.
Turner said that after the Dodgers’ loss in Game 4, many players exchanged text messages late into the night. This wasn’t a rah-rah speech from Tom Lasorda, but it had a similar effect.
“The one thing we talked about is this is an opportunity to do something special,” Turner said. “So everyone's embracing the challenge and ready to go.”
Except they weren’t.
Reliever A.J. Minter started for the Braves and the Dodgers made him look like Sandy Koufax. Minter pitched three shutout innings and struck out seven of the 10 batters he faced.
Then, Betts gave the Dodgers some stories to tell, showing again how a small play by him could lead to something big for the team.
Hernández reported from Los Angeles.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.