Eddie Rosario capped a remarkable NL Championship Series with a three-run homer, sending Atlanta to the World Series for the first time since 1999 with a 4-2 victory over the defending champion Los Angeles Dodgers on Saturday night.
Game 1 is Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park in Houston.
Atlanta will be going for their first Series title since 1995, when they beat Cleveland with a team that included Hall of Famers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Chipper Jones — a no-nonsense group that became better known for numerous postseason flops during a momentous run of 14 straight division titles.
This flashy team is led by a far more unlikely hero.
Rosario, acquired in a flurry of deals just before the July 30 trade deadline that rebuilt Atlanta’s depleted outfield, set an Atlanta franchise record and became only the fifth player in baseball history to record 14 hits in a postseason series. He was an easy choice as MVP of the series.
“Since I was a little kid, I’ve dreamed of this moment,” Rosario said through an interpreter. “Look at me now.”
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Will Smith worked a 1-2-3 ninth for his fourth save of the postseason after a brilliant relief stint by winner Tyler Matzek, who escaped a huge jam in the seventh by striking out the side. The left-hander has 11 strikeouts with runners in scoring position in the seventh inning or later this postseason.
“I was out of baseball in 2017,” Matzek said. “Now I’m in the World Series.”
Atlanta endured a 22-year gap between appearances on baseball’s biggest stage.
They can’t wait to get to Houston.
Spurred on by chants of “Eddie! Eddie! Eddie” from the raucous sellout crowd of more than 43,000, Rosario finished 14 of 25 (.560) against the Dodgers, with three homers and nine RBIs.
His final hit was certainly the biggest of the 30-year-old Puerto Rican’s career.
With the score tied at 1 in the bottom of the fourth, Rosario came up after pinch-hitter Ehire Adrianza extended the inning with a two-out double into the right-field corner. Slow-running catcher Travis d’Arnaud was held at third by coach Ron Washington, surely aware of who was up next.
Rosario got into an extended duel with Walker Buehler, who stepped up to start on three days’ rest after ace Max Scherzer wasn’t able to go because of a tired arm.
Rosario swung and missed the first two pitches. Then he fouled one off. Then he took a ball. Then he fouled off two more pitches.
Finally, he got one he liked from the Dodgers’ 16-game winner — a cutter that Rosario turned into a 105 mph rocket down the right-field line, higher and higher, straight as an arrow until it landed well back into the seats below the Chop House restaurant.
Rosario knew it was gone, dancing down the line after delivering a 361-foot finishing shot to a highly paid team that won 106 games during the regular season — 18 more than the NL East-winning Atlanta — but came up short in its bid to become baseball’s first repeat champion since the 2000 New York Yankees won their third straight title.
Atlanta on a mission
Atlanta will be looking to bury their city’s reputation for playoff misery. From four World Series losses in the 1990s to the NFL Falcons blowing a 28-3 lead in the 2017 Super Bowl, Atlanta again finds itself on cusp of an extremely rare feat.
The `95 Atlanta team remain the city’s lone team in the four major sports — baseball, football, basketball and hockey — to capture a title. Freeman said after a Game 5 loss that the city’s history would remain an issue “until we kill that narrative.”
They’re four wins from doing just that.
A.J. Minter struck out four in two innings of work. Luke Jackson failed to get an out in the seventh, giving up AJ Pollock’s run-scoring double, but Matzek stranded runners at second and third with three straight strikeouts — the last of them by Mookie Betts on three pitches.
Matzek returned to the mound for a perfect eighth before handing off to Smith.
Atlanta jumped ahead with back-to-back, two-out doubles off Buehler in the first — the second of them by Austin Riley, whose shot down the left-field line one-hopped into the Dodgers bullpen.
Buehler, who had been projected to go in Game 7 if the series went that far, was bumped up to start for Scherzer on just three days’ rest.
Scherzer, the Dodgers insisted, would be ready to go Sunday night.
Now, he’s got all winter to rest up.