Game 7 of the National League Championship did not disappoint for Dodgers fans. Enrique Hernandez and Cody Bellinger both homered as Los Angeles came from behind in the series to beat the Atlanta Braves, 4-3, advancing to the World Series for the third time in four years.
"This is what you dream about as a little kid," Hernandez said after the game. "You always dream about Game 7 with the chance to go to the World Series. We were able to take it one game at a time, one inning at a time, and we were able to pull it off. I'm sad that it didn't happen at Dodger Stadium."
The two teams faced off Sunday night in front of a small number of fans in Arlington, Texas, due to coronavirus restrictions.
Despite the limited attendance, it was a series full of excitement. The battle of National League heavyweights went the distance as both teams took turns throwing knockout punches at each other throughout the series with devastating effect.
The Dodgers, who matched an LCS record with 16 homers, overcame a 3-1 series deficit by winning three consecutive games when facing elimination for only the second time in their storied history.
On Sunday, Bellinger delivered the final blow to cement an LA victory.
The reigning NL MVP had been having a difficult postseason. As he stepped into the batter's box with two outs in the bottom of the seventh, he was batting .167 with nine strikeouts in the series.
With one swing he changed all that.
Bellinger became just the third player in LCS history to hit a go-ahead homer in the 7th inning or later when he sent a 94 MPH sinker into the seats in right field to bring the Dodgers one step closer to history.
"I blacked out," Bellinger told Arash Madani of SportsNet Canad of the game-winning homer. "I remember hitting it, and a little later I saw my teammates coming out of the dugout and that's all I remember."
For the second time in three games, the Dodgers sent Texas native Dustin May to the mound for the start. This time, everyone knew he would not be there for very long.
In the shortest Game 7 start since 1996, May was wild to begin the game. May threw eight straight balls that led to back-to-back walks before he threw his first strike. That's when Marcell Ozuna struck with an RBI single for the first run of the game.
With a new pitcher on the mound in the second, Dansby Swanson greeted Tony Gonsolin with a solo shot to left field to give the Braves an early 2-0 lead.
Atlanta rookie Ian Anderson started for the Braves with their season on his shoulders. He had not allowed a run the entire postseason and he mowed down the Dodgers lineup in the first two innings on Sunday.
But something happened the second time through the order. The Dodgers' hitters finally started seeing Anderson better. The more familiar they were, the more comfortable they became, and that all came to a fever pitch in the third inning.
Justin Turner worked an eight-pitch walk, Max Muncy doubled down the right field line, and Will Smith brought them both home with a two-out, two-run single to center that tied the game at two.
"They put tough at-bats against me and they really earned it. I don't think we handed it to them by any means," said Anderson. "I wish I could have been out there a little longer and given the team a little bit more. At the end of the day, I felt like I left everything out there."
Atlanta would answer back minutes later. After back-to-back walks by Gonsolin to start the fourth, Austin Riley singled home a run and the Braves were back on top, 3-2.
For the third straight day, the Dodgers were facing elimination. And for the third straight game their season dangled on the defensive prowess of right fielder Mookie Betts.
It's those singular moments throughout a seven-game series that one can point to as being a play that completely shifts momentum to one side or the other.
In Game 5, it was Betts' shoestring catch that led to Ozuna's baserunning blunder. In Game 6, it was Betts' leaping catch at the wall. In Game 7, he did it again, robbing Freddie Freeman of a homer that kept the lead at one-run in the top of the fifth.
"Today's catch was probably my favorite of all three because it would have been an actual home run," Betts said of the robbery. "This was the first time we had our backs against the wall this season. We fought back. Shows you the type of guys we have."
That's not to say the Braves didn't have another base-running blunder that helped the Dodgers.
With runners on second and third and no outs, Nick Markakis hit a ground ball to third base and the Dodgers threw home to get Swanson in a rundown. Turner made a leaping tag and immediately threw back to Seager at third who tagged Riley for a double play.
"We made some mistakes and shot ourselves in the foot a couple times and it really hurt," said Braves' manager Brian Snitker. "In games like these runs are so hard to come by that you really have to play flawless baseball."
Known for his NLCS heroics, Hernandez once again played a pivotal role in sending the Dodgers back to the Fall Classic. Hernandez cracked a 97 MPH fastball off the upper-deck in left field to tie the game. It was the second pinch-hit homer in a Game 7 in MLB history, and the first since Troy O'Leary in 2003.
"I knew my chance of coming in the game would be against one of their three lefties. Once Minter came in the game, I was ready to go. I faced him twice before, so I was trying to go back into my memory and remember those at-bats," Hernandez said. "I was able to stay inside the zone and do whatever it took to keep the at-bat going. He made one mistake and I was lucky enough to hit it over the fence."
Bellinger's go-ahaed blast in the bottom of the seventh gave the Dodgers their first lead of the game.
It also made sure the Dodgers would become the second team in MLB history to comeback from a multi-run deficit in multiple elimination games since the Boston Red Sox in their comeback from down 0-3 in 2004.
"We never give up. This team never quits," said shortstop Corey Seager, who was named the NLCS MVP. "We got down 3-1 and we still expected to win. We grinded through that series, and it was a lot of fun to be on top of that one."
It was the 16th consecutive playoff appearance in which Atlanta did not win a World Series, the most for any team.
But these Braves have won three consecutive NL East titles and have a bunch of young players surrounding NL MVP candidate Freddie Freeman, who had never been to the NLCS in his previous 10 seasons in Atlanta.
"We came up short, but everybody on this team can lay their head on their pillow tonight and know they gave it absolutely everything they had left in the tank," Freeman said following the loss. "This is the start of something special for a long time. It hurts right now. It really does."
The Dodgers are once again going for their first World Series title since 1988. They lost Game 7 at home three years ago to to the Houston Astros, and then lost in five games to the Boston Red Sox in 2018 when Mookie Betts was the AL MVP and playing against Los Angeles.
Tampa Bay’s win in Game 7 of the ALCS late Saturday night wiped out the chance for an October rematch with the Astros, whose 2017 World Series victory over the Dodgers has been heavily tarnished by the revelations of Houston’s sign-stealing tactics that season.
The Dodgers will take on the Rays in Game 1 of the World Series Tuesday night at 8:09 p.m. ET.