Plaschke: Chris Taylor revives Dodgers' NLCS lives with a jolt of 'C-T-Three!' power

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Los Angeles, CA - October 21: Los Angeles Dodgers' Chris Taylor looks up after hitting a two-run home run.
Dodgers' Chris Taylor looks up after hitting a two-run home run during the fifth inning in Game 5 of the NLCS against the Atlanta Braves at Dodger Stadium on Thursday. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

The Dodgers were deflated, decimated and desperate for one reason, any reason, to continue clutching to the fraying fringes of a season.

Chris Taylor gave them three.

Second inning, fastball, boom. Fifth inning, sinker, boom. Seventh inning, change-up, boom.

Heard enough? The Atlanta Braves certainly have.

Seen enough? The Dodgers certainly did.

Hold the eulogy. Keep the lights on. Clear your weekend. This National League Championship Series lives.

Trailing three games to one and on the verge of elimination, the Dodgers used a historic three home runs by Taylor on Thursday night at Dodger Stadium to pound out an 11-2 victory and maybe tighten those Braves’ dark blue collars.

“C-T-Three! C-T-Three!” the crowd chanted.

Unsettled, the Braves looked.

“This is why you play the game. ... These are moments we’re going to look back on for the rest of our lives, and it’s pretty cool,” said Taylor afterward.

It’s also pretty legendary, as Taylor became the first player in major league history to hit three home runs in an elimination game, which led to the first curtain call of his career.

It came after his third homer, in the seventh inning, Dodger Stadium shaking until the diminutive, bearded everyman took a baby step out of the dugout and took off his cap and waved. You could barely see him. He was hidden by his more famous teammates. It was absolutely perfect.

“Any time you do something cool, when you do it in Dodger Stadium, it makes it that much sweeter,” Taylor said. “For it to happen for the first time on this stage ... it was a special moment.”

The entire night was special for so many reasons. Struggling AJ Pollock added two home runs. Ancient Albert Pujols threw in two hits. Six Dodgers relievers threw 8 1/3 scoreless innings.

“After a while, it kind of got out of control,” admitted Braves manager Brian Snitker.

Just like this series? Maybe. After Thursday, anything seems possible.

“A win tonight really swings the momentum in our favor,” said Dodgers reliever Evan Phillips.

The Dodgers still trail three games to two and need to sweep both games in Atlanta this weekend to survive this duel and advance to their fourth World Series in five years. The odds are still stacked against them, as only 14 of 89 teams in baseball history have ever overcome the three-games-to-one deficit that faced the Dodgers entering Thursday.

The Dodgers continue to battle injury and exhaustion. It’s still a longshot. But they have won seven elimination games over the last two seasons, and there are three distinct reasons they can pull this off, one for every time Taylor went deep.

First, the Dodgers have overcome that three-games-to-one deficit before, against this same Braves franchise, just last season.

Second, they’ll be pitching their two fully rested aces at Truist Park in Max Scherzer and Walker Buehler.

Finally, well, Chris Taylor!

His heroics appropriately occurred amid the screaming rises and drops of baseball’s eternal roller coaster.

Just last weekend, his base-running gaffe helped doom the Dodgers in an opening-game loss. Yet a couple of weeks ago he hit the dramatic walk-off home run to give the Dodgers a victory in the wild-card game against St. Louis.

He picked a perfect time to keep the thrills going, becoming only the 11th player in baseball history to hit three home runs in a postseason game while finishing with four hits and six runs batted in on a Dodgers team that collected 17 hits one night after managing only four.

“You’ve got to take the lows with the highs. It’s a game of failures. ... Then there’s moments like tonight, where that’s what makes it worth it,” Taylor said. “It’s definitely a surreal feeling for me. ... I never thought I was going to hit three homers in a game, let alone a postseason game.”

The Braves, meanwhile, picked an imperfect time to lay an egg, as they lost this game with their ace Max Fried on the mound and despite having a clear early advantage.

In fact, less than one inning into this slowly chilling evening at Chavez Ravine, the Dodgers found themselves once again staring into the abyss of winter.

They were surrounded by empty seats, Dodger Stadium having failed to fill up for a team that was one loss from extinction. They were shadowed by an ominous scoreboard, the Braves having taken a two-run lead before the Dodgers even had a chance to bat. They were saddled with an injured pitcher, starter Joe Kelly abruptly leaving the game because of a sore arm.

The mood was dour, the noise was muted, and the easy thing would have been for the Dodgers to simply surrender.

But as everyone in baseball knows by now, the defending World Series champions don’t do easy.

“I saw fight,” said manager Dave Roberts. “I saw fight.”

The fight emerged almost immediately, at the start of a second inning that became a statement.

After Pollock hit Fried’s third pitch of the inning into the left-field pavilion for a home run, Pujols lined a single to left, and on the next pitch, Taylor drove a fastball into the left-field bullpen to give the Dodgers a 3-2 lead.

In the next inning they added a run on a Taylor single, and then two innings later, Taylor slammed a two-out Chris Martin sinker to right-center field to give the Dodgers a 6-2 lead.

Finally, facing Dylan Lee with two out in the seventh, he pounded a change-up into the left-field pavilion to complete the tremendous trio.

“I wasn’t thinking too much; I’m in a pretty good spot right now,” Taylor said. “When you’re feeling good, I think it’s more just see the ball, hit the ball.”

The game ended with the usual massive cheers filled with unusual relief.

“Fans, the 2021 season is not finished yet!” Dodger Stadium public address announcer Todd Leitz proclaimed.

As easy as 1-2-3, Chris Taylor made sure of it.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.