By Nathan Keil | Sports Editor
Justin Turner stepped back into the batter’s box. The Dodgers’ third baseman touches the bill of his batting helmet and looks out as Cubs’ pitcher John Lackey gathers the sign from catcher Wilson Contreras.
He waits for Lackey’s 1-0 pitch.
Turner finds himself in the position every baseball player dreams of growing up: tie game, two on two out and a chance to lift your team to victory. This is Turner’s reality.
Fifty-five thousand people stand on their feet at Dodger Stadium, anxiously anticipating what was still to come.
Lackey fires a fastball, knee high middle of the plate. Turner swings and almost instantly, Dodger Stadium knows and it erupts into a frenzy as Turner’s home run sails over the center field wall, giving Los Angeles a 4-1 walk-off win over the Cubs Sunday night. This gives the Dodgers a 2-0 lead in the best of seven National League Championship Series.
On the anniversary of Kirk Gibson’s 1988 walk-off home run against the Oakland Athletics in the World Series, Turner entered Dodgers’ postseason lore forever.
“Well, I hit a ball pretty good to center earlier in the game, and (Cubs center fielder Albert) Almora’s an unbelievable center fielder. He’s been taking hits away from us every time we play him,” Turner told Carey Osborne for the Dodgers’ Insider blog. “So I was just watching him hoping he wasn’t going to catch it. When it did end up going over the fence, obviously I was fairly excited.”
This is the magic of baseball in October. The heroes of a successful 162-game stint are replaced with the legends of postseason baseball.
This is what the Dodgers are trying to achieve, and they are so close to finally putting behind their past NLCS demons to bed for good.
But the Dodgers seem forgotten in the push for the playoffs. Still finishing with baseball’s best record at 104-58, many experts had Arizona beating them in the division series.
But the Dodgers swept Arizona after the Diamondbacks took the season series 11-8.
The Cubs survived a thrilling five-game series with Washington and they’re the defending the World Series Champions, but the Dodgers hold a 3-1 lead heading into game five.
Somehow the team that went 52-9 in a 61-game span over the summer was forgotten as people latched on to the Dodgers’ team that hit a 1-16 patch in August. Which Los Angeles team would show up for the playoffs?
Arizona and I believe Chicago is getting the Dodgers’ team that was by far the best team in baseball for the majority of 2017. Despite losing reigning 2016 Rookie of the Year and two time All-Star shortstop Corey Seager to a back injury, the Dodgers have answered every call and they have done it with the same balance and skill they used to win 104 games during the regular season.
Turner played the role of hero on Sunday. In game one, it was eccentric outfielder Yasiel Puig whose two hits, including a home run, helped Los Angeles erase a 2-0 deficit and turn it into a 5-2 win.
On Tuesday at Wrigley Field, it was Yu Darvish, the pitcher the Dodgers got from the Texas Rangers at the deadline to help solidify the postseason rotation, who helped lead the charge. After giving up a home run to Cubs’ outfielder Schwarber in the first, Darvish pitched 6 1/3 shutdown innings, striking out seven and even drawing a bases loaded walk to help the Dodgers win 6-1.
It has been a collective effort. At times, it’s soon to be National League Rookie of the Year first baseman Cody Bellinger using his bat for power and using his glove to take away hits. Twelfth year veteran outfielder and fan favorite Andre Ethier has contributed with a game-tying home run in game three. Everybody has a role, whether platooning based on if a righty or lefty is on the hill, or coming out of the bullpen to pitch to one left-handed batter. Each Dodger knows their role, they have completely bought into it and that type of mindset is dangerous to opponents in October.
Perhaps LA’s deadliest weapon is its bullpen. Long-term relievers in Kenta Maeda and Brandon Morrow. Left-handed specialists in Tony Watson and Tony Cingrini. It all comes to a head in closer Kenley Jansen, who is the best closer since the Yankees’ Mariano Rivera. Jansen, who was 41 of 41 in save chances during the regular season, collected saves in game two and game three against Arizona. He then got the save in game one, the win in game two and closed the door on a potential Cubs’ rally in game three. Jansen’s presence is electric on the mound and he has often been the difference in closing out tight games for the Dodgers.
The Dodgers are so close. One more win is all it takes. This team has the echoes of the 1988 World Championship team, but no one can finish the job but them. It won’t be easy, the Cubs are too talented to roll over without a fight. So carpe diem Dodgers. 2017 is your time. Los Angeles deserves it. Dodger fans deserve it. But you deserve it too. Go and finish the job.