When is hitting a home run easier than laying down a sacrifice bunt?
When you're Juan Uribe, and you want to give the Dodgers a late lead.
After being unable to lay down a bunt twice in the eighth inning with Yasiel Puig on second, Uribe absolutely unloaded on a two-run bomb to left. The result was a 4-3 lead, and after Kenley Jansen struck out the side in the ninth, the Dodgers are back in the NLCS for the first time since 2009.
There were plenty of storylines coming into Monday night's Game 4 in LA, with the Braves looking to get the series even and back home for the deciding game. The biggest one came hours before the first pitch, as Clayton Kershaw was named the starter on three days' rest over Ricky Nolasco.
It was a bit of a gamble considering Kershaw's never done this before, but by the end of the night, it was a non-issue. In fact, Kershaw was fantastic in pitching six strong innings without giving up an earned run. Notice I said EARNED run, because his defense definitely let him down.
The start of the game was all about the suddenly hot Carl Crawford, who homered leading off for the quick 1-0 lead. Not satisfied with just one, he connected on another in the third to go up 2-0, as he was about the only thing going right with the bats.
All of the momentum was clearly with the Dodgers after Crawford's second shot, but it was all handed right back to the Braves with a very sloppy fourth. Freddy Freeman singled leading off. Even Gattis then grounded a sharp one to Adrian Gonzalez at first, who inexplicably rushed his throw to second with no one covering yet for the error. Gonzalez also had an error on the first hitter of the game when he bobbled Jayson Heyward's easy grounder.
A wild pitch by Kershaw sent runners to scoring position, but Brian McCann struck out on a very questionable called strike three. Chris Johnson came through with an RBI single to make it 2-1. Andrelton Simmons then grounded one to Uribe at third, who threw to Mark Ellis at second for an out, who then threw wide to first to allow the run to score. Ugh. It wasn't an error officially, but it should've been as the game was tied 2-2.
For the next few innings, the Dodgers reverted back to their non-clutch ways, as they left runners all over the place. A.J. Ellis had a chance against a tiring Freddy Garcia in the sixth with two on and two out, but he grounded out.
With Kershaw done after six, Ronald Belisario entered. That would be a bad sign of things to come, as even though Simmons grounded back to him right away, Elliot Johnson tripled next. Jose Constanza pinch-hit and gave the Braves a 3-2 lead with an RBI single, and the Dodgers were looking like they'd have to pack their bags with Craig Kimbrel lurking.
Luis Avilan got through the seventh despite a two-out double to Mark Ellis. The question then became if Kimbrel would work two innings or not.
Fortunately for the Dodgers, he didn't, and never appeared at all. Fredi Gonzalez went with David Carpenter instead, the same guy who gave up Hanley Ramirez's two-run homer in Game 2 that nearly cost them the game. Right away, Puig doubled to right on some great hustle to get to second.
So would Gonzalez go with his big dog now? Nope. In stayed Carpenter, and Uribe unsuccessfully tried to lay down two bunts. After that idea was thrown out the window, Uribe connected on a horrible 0-2 slider that stayed up in the zone, and a 383 foot homer to left put the Dodgers back up 4-3.
There would be no ninth inning comeback for the Braves, as Jansen struck out the side, getting Justin Upton swinging to the game and start the celebration.
What a game of ups-and-downs this turned out to be. First the two solo shots by Crawford, who carried this team to an early lead as they tried to close it out. Then the defensive mistakes, which took away a win from an awesome start by Kershaw. Then the Braves getting the lead, then giving it right back on Uribe's homer. I'm glad Jansen wasn't interested in giving it away again.
The offense only scored via the longball, and we can all be thankful for that. But, they also left eight men and were 1-for-9 with RISP. The one hit? Uribe's homer in the eighth. Talk about good timing.
Kershaw did all he could, and even he seemed to agree that taking him out after six innings and 91 pitches was the right move. He can now get his proper rest before starting Game 2 on Saturday either home against the Pirates or on the road against the Cardinals. Stay tuned to see how that one plays out.
The middle relief, again, left something to be desired. Right now Mattingly's biggest question is whom to use to get the ball to Jansen in the ninth. Brian Wilson has the eight locked down, so more specifically, who will bridge the gap to him. Belisario was terrible, and Chris Withrow wasn't any better in Game 2. Paco Rodriguez looks like he has no arm left. Maybe we'll see more J.P. Howell, who has three scoreless appearances with three strikeouts. He's looking good.
For now, the Dodgers will kick back and enjoy Game 5 between the Pirates and Cardinals. Zack Greinke will get the call in Game 1, followed by Kershaw, with either Ricky Nolasco or Hyun-Jin Ryu to follow.
Dodger fans can celebrate their victory, and the fact that they don't have to play the Phillies in the NLCS again!