1 inning, 11 runs, 28 more relaxed Dodgers: How a historic inning opened up the NLCS

In the 20 or 30 minutes after the Los Angeles Dodgers put a beating on the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday night, what came next was a laugh or two, as the reality of what had happened had long been worn, celebrated, grieved for, retotaled, whatever normally takes four hours to sort through and bury.

The Dodgers said Clayton Kershaw, scratched from Tuesday night’s start because of back spasms, would start in Thursday’s Game 4. That, of course, was assuming he woke up feeling 32 and not 62, as the Dodgers chart the long game in the best-of-seven National League Championship Series. That wasn’t their intention four days ago, but things change, a couple games go wrong, the ace needs a little down time, and then they arrive at the fourth game in it for at least six if they are to win.

Kershaw’s opponent will be Bryse Wilson, a sturdy 22-year-old right-hander with seven career starts making his postseason debut. The Braves call him Lunch Box sometimes, this having to do with his being about the same size this way as he is that way.

“He’s an awesome kid,” said Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson, who is 26. “I say ‘kid’ like I’m old. But, he’s an awesome kid and I’m excited to see him compete tomorrow as well.”

As for the nickname, Swanson grinned and said, “It’s been Lunch Box. It’s been Ice Box. I feel like we’ve called him Maytag a couple times. Anything and everything that’s kind of that shape, I think is, uh, I would have kind of gone with it.”

Anyway, he’ll pitch to keep the Dodgers from squaring the series, given what came to be in Game 3. The Braves lost that before they’d gotten over to their bat rack.

Los Angeles Dodgers' Max Muncy (13) celebrates his grand slam home run during the first inning in Game 3 of a baseball National League Championship Series against the Atlanta Braves Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

The Dodgers would say that boy-oh-boy they needed a game like that, one that had them on their bat barrels for hours, that plowed through the fringes of the Braves bullpen, that rested their own and drew them back into the NLCS.

In truth, about a third of a night like that would have been plenty.

The rest, everything after an 11-run first inning, a postseason record for any inning, was just a good time. It concluded at 15-3.

Between a sinker to Mookie Betts and a fastball to Will Smith, 43 pitches and 31 minutes, 34 seconds passed. Along with three-quarters of another second.

Also, two replays, two mound visits, many occasions for Braves starter Kyle Wright to tuck that curl behind his right ear, one occasion in which a Dodgers batter — Justin Turner — appeared to intentionally redirect a pitch to the backstop with his right shoe, one pitching change, a Braves outfielder — Austin Riley — head-first skittering to a stop on the warning track, Braves relievers ducking rather than catching a home-run ball, many rehearsed and personalized handshakes, several blown kisses to the family section, TV guys getting giddy, Joc Pederson screaming “All day,” which seemed to accurately predict the time of game, and … 14 batters, seven hits, three walks, a hit batter, three home runs, two doubles, an infield hit, one a grand slam, 45 pitches and 11 runs, 10 of them after two were out.

That was the top of the first inning, give or take a few handshakes, many instances of broken social distancing protocols and a loud “woo” or two. The Dodgers were a team in need of a good, soul-cleansing “woo” or two.

It began with a close play at first base, which wouldn’t seem important in retrospect, but Mookie Betts was called out after he’d put the game’s first pitch in play, the Dodgers challenged and the call was overturned. The men in the dugout enjoyed that very much, because baserunners are good, and Mookie had busted it down the line and, ballplayers being ballplayers, it provided an opportunity to sarcastically applaud the team’s video replay guy. His name is Chad Chop. The night before he was, apparently and enthusiastically, sure about challenging a particular call. Alas, he was wrong, which happens, but judgment is swift in a culture that names other men after appliances.

So, yeah, great, Mookie was safe and had started the biggest inning in October history. There were greater things at stake.

“I think it was more so that we won the challenge,” Pederson said, a grin forming. “Everyone got pretty fired up over Chop, our challenge replay guy. So, that was good. It got us going and then from there you saw what happened.”

Asked the obvious follow-up, Pederson continued with the tale of Chad Chop, igniter of NLCS record-breaking rallies: “I think there was a little bit of a miscommunication yesterday and a couple other ones. But he was out by quite a bit. I think that Freddie Freeman kept his foot on the base. I forget what happened. But, yeah, he was out by a lot and we challenged it. And then today, this one, it was obviously a really, really, really close play and it turned in our favor, and for some reason that just got the whole bench, lit a match under everyone and we were excited and just ran with that momentum.”

Beyond that, the Dodgers generally agreed their offense had found its footing in a four-run ninth inning the night before, that this is who they are, if not in 11- and 15-run chunks, and that the series had returned to a place that felt somewhat more familiar. They hit five home runs. They won behind Julio Urias. They got Kenley Jansen an inning that was clean. Pederson had four hits. They laughed plenty. If they’re not all the way back, they figured, they’re very, very close.

They could have Chop check the replay on that.

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