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TopicTough break for Will Smith

  • Tue 1st Dec 2020 - 6:55am

    Will Smith -- the one with Dodger blue on his jersey -- shrugged off the absurdity of it all. “It's a common enough name,” Smith said late Friday night after hitting a go-ahead three-run homer off the Braves' Will Smith in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series. Smith had faced the other Smith before. He had gone to high school with a guy named Will Smith. He didn't see what all the fuss was about. That fuss may have initially been about a common name, but it quickly became about an uncommon occurrence. The first batter-pitcher matchup between players with the same name in postseason history ended when the Dodgers' Smith homered, leading Los Angeles to a 7-3 win over the Braves and cutting Atlanta's NLCS lead to 3-2. The Dodgers will have a chance to even the series in Game 6 on Saturday. “I'll always bet on our Will Smith,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. Will Smith vs. Will Smith? Twitter had jokes Roberts has little reason not to, considering Smith's status as one of the top young catchers in baseball. In his second season, Smith hit .289 with eight homers and a .980 OPS in 37 games, establishing himself as the Dodgers' starting backstop. But that other Smith has been a standout reliever for nearly a decade, joining the Braves as a free agent last winter. He and Smith had squared off once before on Sept. 6, 2019, when the reliever Smith was with the Giants. The veteran left-hander notched a strikeout for the final out of a San Francisco victory, then predicted afterward that the rivalry was not complete. “I'm sure we'll cross paths throughout our career a couple more times Andre Ethier Jersey,” the elder Smith said. “We'll see who wins the Will Smith battle at the end.” On Friday, the victor was the younger Smith, who came to the plate after the Braves' Smith walked Max Muncy with two outs in the sixth inning. That created a right-on-left matchup of Smith vs. Smith, and a competitive one at that. Falling behind in the count, 0-2, the Dodgers' catcher took two fastballs and a slider inside to run the count full. The Braves' Smith went inside yet again with a fastball, but he left it out over the plate, allowing his namesake rival to swat it a Statcast-projected 404 feet over the left-field fence. “He's a good hitter -- he's considered one of the best in the world, just like everybody in the lineup is,” Atlanta's Smith said. “He put together a really good AB, took some really tough pitches and then put a good swing on a pitch inside and got the head to it and clipped me. Oh well.” Known for his reserved demeanor, the Dodgers' Smith grew unusually animated as he rounded the bases, screaming “Let's go!” while touching third. The Braves' Smith fixed his eyes on the ground, sighing deeply before returning to the pitching rubber. “I was pumped up,” said the former. “It got the team going. You look over to the dugout, they're all fired up. That energy bounces off of each other, so I was letting the emotion go and just enjoying the moment.” Given Major League Baseball's three-batter minimum rule for relievers -- and the fact that the Dodgers' Smith regularly hits between lefties Muncy and Cody Bellinger -- it's possible the two Smiths could see each other again this weekend. The Braves' Smith has allowed runs in consecutive games Chris Taylor Jersey, but he remains an integral part of Atlanta's bullpen. As for the younger Smith, he became the first player to homer off a pitcher with the same name since at least 1961. Most players to share names did not share eras, though some -- Chris Young and Chris Young, or multiple Luis Garcias, to give two modern examples -- have. Still, none of them have accomplished something quite like what the Dodgers' Smith did in Game 5. “He's been huge for us all year,” Los Angeles outfielder Mookie Betts said. “For him to come through in that spot, I'm happy to see him expressing himself.”Everyone sat at home patiently waiting, hoping to see what they all dreamed of seeing when they first heard the Braves would be playing the Dodgers in the NLCS. It almost happened in Game 1 and then again in Game 4. The baseball gods were teasing us. How could they be so cruel? And then, finally, in Game 5, with everything on the line, there it was: Braves reliever Will Smith against Dodgers catcher Will Smith. Little did they know, that this Will Smith vs. Will Smith matchup would end up being perhaps the biggest matchup in the series. Will Smith worked the count to 3-2 against Will Smith and then Will Smith crushed a three-run home run off Will Smith. Tough break for Will Smith, huge hit for Will Smith. Like, "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It"-level hit. "Men In Black" plus "Independence Day" with some "I Am Legend" and "Miami" thrown in. I could go on forever like this Clayton Kershaw Jersey, but it would get really pathetic and sad. Instead, listen to these people joke about it on Twitter. They're better than I am. The Dodgers have been here eight consecutive Octobers and we're not talking about the postseason, but the brink of elimination from it. After the Dodgers boasted that a late rally in losing Game 2 carried over to a Game 3 breakout win, it was the Braves who carried over a late rally from Game 3 into a 10-2 blowout win in Thursday's Game 4 of the National League Championship Series at Globe Life Field. Walker Buehler and his blisters were in the bullpen (but not used) for Game 4 and rookie Dustin May will start Game 5 on Friday, the first of three consecutive games the Dodgers must win, with no days off, to advance to the World Series. Otherwise, they go home. Entering 2020, teams taking a 3-1 lead in any best-of-seven postseason series had gone on to win that series 74 of 87 times (85%). The last team to successfully rally from a 3-1 deficit was the 2016 Cubs, in the World Series against the Indians. Buoyed by the way they wiped out the Braves pitching staff in Game 3, the Dodgers showed up for Game 4 confident in the pitching (mis)match-up: future Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw against rookie Bryse Wilson, who took Cole Hamels' spot and was pitching on 18 days' rest. Kershaw was pitching with two extra days of rest after being scratched from Game 2 with a minor back spasm. Out of nowhere, Wilson came up with a clutch Corey Seager Jersey, breakthrough performance on a national stage. Kershaw lost another postseason game, his manager defending the three-time Cy Young winner from the haunting narrative that he can't pitch big games -- when the manager wasn't defending himself for leaving Kershaw in too long. “He gave us a chance to win the baseball game,” Roberts said of Kershaw. “We couldn't put any runs up. That narrative couldn't be further from the truth.” Roberts explained that because Kershaw pitched a 1-2-3 fifth inning (facing the bottom of the order) with a strikeout, he “had no reason” to waver with Kershaw facing the top of the order in the sixth. Ronald Acu?a Jr. opened the sixth with a chop single over the mound that second baseman Kiké Hernández threw into the dugout. Freddie Freeman hit a sharp grounder past first baseman Max Muncy that went for a double because right fielder Mookie Betts was stationed in right-center Fernando Valenzuela Jersey. Kershaw was still on the mound when Marcell Ozuna -- who homered in the fourth inning off Kershaw and again in the seventh off Dylan Floro -- doubled to center. “They were just finding holes. It's just kind of baseball and we couldn't find a way to limit damage,” said Roberts. “A 3-2 breaking ball to Ozuna, it wasn't hit very hard, it just found the right spot in the outfield and turned into a double. Good piece of hitting. I felt really good with Clayton at that point in time.” Of course, Kershaw had more than enough help in losing this game. The offense that ran up 15 runs on 16 hits in Game 3 vanished at the sight of rookie Wilson. It looked more like the same offense that had been quieted earlier in the series by rookies Ian Anderson and Huascar Ynoa. The Dodgers totaled only three hits and left the bases loaded the first inning Wilson was out of the game. Kershaw was charged with four runs in five-plus innings, his offense giving him no margin for error. Of the five Dodgers who homered in Game 3, one of them, Edwin Ríos, homered again and had a sacrifice fly in Game 4. The other four -- Corey Seager, Muncy, Cody Bellinger and Joc Pederson -- went 0-for-11 with three walks. Mookie Betts went hitless and is 2-for-14 with three walks in the series. Then there's the Dodgers' bullpen, which had been the best in the National League during the regular season. But it gave up more runs (six) in three innings than Kershaw (four) did in five-plus as the Braves went all Dodgers on the Dodgers, patiently passing the baton for a six-run, seven-hit sixth inning. “We just couldn't limit the damage,” Roberts said. The prime violator was rookie Brusdar Graterol, who followed Kershaw and allowed four hard-hit balls and one inherited run to score plus was charged with three more. Floro allowed Ozuna's second home run, and two runs scored after Jake McGee took over following an error by Matt Beaty at first base. “I think you've got to give credit at times to hitters,” Roberts said. “We get two strikes, they fight and put the ball in play. You do that, you might find some hits out there. When we get ahead [in the count], we're not finishing with the strikeout.” Kershaw compared the Braves' lineup to the Dodgers'. “They're similar to us as far as they build on momentum really well,” Kershaw said. “It just seems like they have that domino effect when one thing gets going, and they've got great hitters, too. They're a good team. We've just got to come back and win tomorrow.”

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