The Los Angeles Dodgers got a walk-off home run from Chris Taylor with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning and defeated the St. Louis Cardinals by a score of 3-1 on Wednesday night in the National League Wild Card Game (box score).
The Dodgers will now advance to face the San Francisco Giants in the best-of-five National League Division Series, while the Cardinals see their 2021 season draw to a close. The Dodgers-Giants NLDS will mark the first time that the two arch rivals have met in the postseason.
Dodgers starter Max Scherzer, lacking his usual command, fell behind early 1-0. In the fourth, however, Justin Turner hit a solo home run off an Adam Wainwright curveball to tie the score at 1-1. The score held — despite a lot of traffic on the bases for St. Louis throughout the night — until Taylor’s clutch blast off Alex Reyes in the ninth. Playing a key supporting role in the win was the Dodger bullpen. Five L.A. relievers — Joe Kelly, Brusdar Graterol, Blake Treinen, Corey Knebel, and Kenley Jansen — held the Cardinals scoreless for 4 2/3 innings.
Enjoying a small taste of redemption after a deeply disappointing regular season was outfielder Cody Bellinger, who had a hit, two walks, and two stolen bases off Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina. The second of Bellinger’s walks brought Taylor to the plate with two outs in the ninth. As for Turner, he now has 13 postseason home runs, which is a Dodgers record and a record for third basemen. He entered Wednesday with a career slash line of .295/.392/.507 in 72 postseason games, all with the Dodgers.
On the St. Louis side, Wainwright allowed only one run in 5 1/3 innings of work, striking out five and walking two. Tommy Edman became the first player in MLB history to have three or more hits and two or more steals in an elimination game, and he also made some sparkling plays at second base.
Now for three takeaways from this one.
1. Taylor’s homer an instant classic
With that ninth-inning game-ender, Taylor became the first player to hit a walk-off home run in elimination game since Edwin Encarnacion of the Blue Jays in the 2016 AL Wild Card Game. He becomes the first National Leaguer to hit a walk-off homer in a winner-take-all postseason game since Bill Mazeroski of the Pirates in the 1960 World Series.
Need more? All right. Taylor, who entered the game after the sixth inning as part of a double switch, joins Aaron Boone of the 2003 Yankees as the only players to hit a walk-off homer in a winner-take-all postseason game after not starting the game. Overall, Taylor’s was just the fifth walk-off homer in a winner-take-all playoff game in all of MLB history. Most fittingly, he’s the first Dodger to do it.
Given all that, Taylor’s clutch blast merits a second look from a second perspective:
2. Cardinals had chances
While Reyes will be the focus for allowing the Taylor home run on a slider that caught too much of the plate, St. Louis had plenty of chances to tilt the game in their favor before it ever got to that point. In all, the Cardinals left 24 runners on base and went 0 for 11 with runners in scoring position. The Cardinals’ No. 3 and No. 4 hitters — Tyler O’Neill and Nolan Arenado — accounted for 11 of those 24 runners. St. Louis had the go-ahead run on base in each of the last five innings and on offense had no three-up-three-down innings all night. That, more than even the Reyes slider, is what cost the Cardinals the game.
A look at the back-and-forth win expectancy chart, which tracks each team’s chances of winning the game throughout the game, shows you that the Cardinals had things in their favor at any number of points:
However, the timely hit eluded the Cardinals until it didn’t elude Taylor and the Dodgers.
3. Repeat bid alive
The Dodgers won the World Series in the abbreviated 2020 season, and their win in the perilous knockout game on Wednesday night means their bid to repeat as champions is still alive and well. No team has repeated as World Series champs since the Yankees won it all in 1999 and 2000. No National League squadron has repeated since the Reds in 1975 and 1976. The Dodgers have won seven World Series but none of them in consecutive years.
It bears repeating that it’s the blood-rival Giants who next stand in their way. Their 213 combined wins during the regular season is a record for two postseason opponents. It’s also the first time that two teams to win 105 or more games have met in the playoffs. .