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Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Dodgers Stadium Locked Up Again — Will No. 1 Start Season’s Biggest Back End for Dodgers?

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LOS ANGELES — The Dodgers have shown all season that they’re more than comfortable navigating a tight game, or handling the slow start.

The bottom fell out of the history books as a playoff contest came down to the final inning, and they seized control with a flurry of runs on Friday night.

Corey Seager crushed a two-run homer with one out in the 10th inning against Arizona reliever Brad Boxberger, handing the Dodgers a 8-5 victory and tying the NLCS at two games apiece. The Dodgers will seek to extend their season and give Hyun-Jin Ryu, who pitched one of the best games of his life on Thursday, his first trip to the World Series on Saturday.

The end to an interesting playoff game on Friday night.

Game 5 is Saturday, as Clayton Kershaw makes his postseason debut, beginning at 5:08 p.m. ET. Arizona will counter with Zack Greinke.

Meanwhile, Bryce Harper returned to the lineup for the Nationals, making his regular-season debut in the NLCS, and suddenly it’s all about what he can do and what the Dodgers are going to do to stop him.

“He’s, without a doubt, is the best hitter in the National League,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “Obviously you want to pitch him and do everything you can to get ahead of him. As long as you don’t give him too many hits, everything else will take care of itself.”

Harper hit .500 (2-for-4) in three games in Los Angeles this month, when the Dodgers played three games and swept the Nationals. He drew two walks, including one that helped L.A. keep the series tied at a game apiece.

He was replaced by rookie outfielder Juan Soto in Game 3. While there are never any guarantees when Harper is on the field, Roberts seemed to suggest the matchup with Kershaw is advantageous to the Nats: “It’s very tough to match him up against Greinke and Greinke does have some interesting weapons. But I think the power that they see in Harper is going to be something that he is going to be able to use.”

Harper has 23 homers and 85 RBI in 86 games this season, with 63 strikeouts in the line. He’s taken a hit in the rankings, as in 2018 he ranked No. 4 on the MLB leaderboard for postseason WAR (0.5), with 15 homers and 58 RBI in 70 games.

In 2016 he hit .308 in the postseason, with seven homers and 21 RBI in 16 games.

“He’s very disciplined at the plate,” Arizona manager Torey Lovullo said. “He’s very capable of going the other way. His energy, you can see, what he gets out of the game is extraordinary. He came out of the box talking about having an extra-inning game today, we got it done.”

Lovullo also had positive things to say about Kershaw: “I think he’s done an outstanding job. I think it was a very well-pitched game. He’s arguably the best pitcher in our league and in history. But I think his preparation and concentration level have only gotten better. I think he finds a way to minimize the damage sometimes, and we just need to find a way to get one or two more runs across the plate.”

Saturday’s matchup is a major chess match for Kershaw, the Dodgers, and all of baseball, because it will give Roberts the chance to start the season’s biggest returning star in Game 5, while the Nats go with a hitter with more powers than anyone in the game.

“For sure, they have an impact,” Roberts said. “But I think as a whole our lineup, we also have an impact.”

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