Taylor hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the Dodgers a 3-1 victory Wednesday night in a scintillating NL wild-card game.
Justin Turner homered early and the 106-win Dodgers advanced to a best-of-five Division Series against the NL West champion Giants, who won 107 games to barely hold off rival Los Angeles for the division title. Game 1 is Friday night in San Francisco.
“That’s gonna be fun. Yeah, two of the best regular-season records of all-time. We’ve been battling all year, so I expect a hard-fought series,” Taylor said.
The Dodgers celebrated on the field before heading into their clubhouse to continue the party. Champagne and beer were poured over the heads of shirtless, goggle-wearing players, thrilled to have stayed alive for a shot at their Bay Area adversary.
“One of the great rivalries in sports,” Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts said. “It’s happening.”
The sellout crowd of 53,193 at Dodger Stadium hung on every pitch as the tension of a tie game built from the fourth inning on. Fans waved blue towels, futilely urging on the few balls launched into the outfield only to see them caught in a winner-take-all matchup between two of the National League’s most storied and successful franchises.
The crowd was on its feet in the ninth, anxiously waiting to see if the defending World Series champions could pull out a must-have win. Cody Bellinger got the Dodgers started when he drew a two-out walk from T.J. McFarland. Alex Reyes entered to face Taylor, and Bellinger stole second.
“That’s huge, knowing I don’t have to do too much,” said Taylor, batting in the No. 9 slot after entering to play left field as part of a double switch in the seventh. “It kind of settled me down a little bit.”
Taylor then sent a 2-1 breaking ball into the left field pavilion, triggering an explosion of cheers and ending an October struggle that lasted 4 hours, 15 minutes.
The versatile veteran struggled in September because of a recurring neck injury, and he came off the bench in the Dodgers’ most important game of the season.
“Honestly, I was just trying to hit a single,” Taylor said after launching the fourth game-ending homer in Dodgers postseason history. “He gave me a good slider to hit and I was able to get it up in the air.”
It was the fifth walk-off home run in a winner-take-all postseason game, after Pittsburgh’s Bill Mazeroski in the 1960 World Series, the Yankees’ Chris Chambliss in the 1976 AL Championship Series and Aaron Boone in the 2003 ALCS, and Toronto’s Edwin Encarnación in the 2016 AL wild-card game.
Taylor also made a nifty defensive play in the eighth, robbing Edmundo Sosa of a hit for the second out.
Tommy Edman dropped a one-out single into right off closer Kenley Jansen in the top of the ninth and stole second. Paul Goldschmidt took a called third strike and Tyler O’Neill went down swinging to end the threat. Edman went 3 for 5 with a run scored.
The Dodgers’ bullpen stymied the St. Louis hitters, allowing just a pair of singles after the fifth inning.
“The whole bullpen stepped up. We’ve been doing it the whole year,” Jansen said. “Off we go up north now.”
Both teams had runners on in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings, but couldn’t push a run across.
“It was a grind all night,” Turner said.
St. Louis finished 0 for 11 with runners in scoring position, stranding 11 overall. The Cardinals went on a club-record 17-game winning streak in September to grab the second NL wild card, only to see their October dreams squelched.
“That’s a clubhouse full of guys that are hurting,” manager Mike Shildt said.
Dueling aces Adam Wainwright of St. Louis and the Dodgers’ Max Scherzer struggled with their control early in just the second winner-take-all game in postseason history with two starting pitchers aged 37-plus. Wainwright is 40; Scherzer is 37.
“They were relentless,” Wainwright said of the Dodgers. “We had our chances to win that game.”
Wainwright and Scherzer issued two walks apiece through the first three innings. Scherzer’s wild pitch led to a run in the first and he plunked Harrison Bader in the fourth.
Turner tied it at 1 in the fourth on a leadoff shot into the Dodgers’ bullpen in left. It was the first homer Wainwright has ever given up on a curveball in the postseason. Turner’s 13 postseason homers are the most in franchise history.
St. Louis led 1-0 when Edman scored on Scherzer’s wild pitch. Edman singled leading off, stole second base and went to third when O’Neill fouled out to right.
Scherzer left with one out in the fifth after giving up a leadoff single to Edman and a walk to Goldschmidt. He paced the dugout with his hands on his hips. Former Cardinal Joe Kelly got out of the jam after Goldschmidt reached third on a wild pitch.
Scherzer allowed one run and three hits, struck out four and walked three against his hometown team.
“We won the game. That’s all that matters,” Scherzer said.
Wainwright permitted one run and four hits in 5 1/3 innings. He struck out five and walked two.
The Dodgers had Wainwright on the ropes in the third, loading the bases with one out. He was within one ball of walking in the tying run before Trea Turner broke his bat grounding into an inning-ending double play on a 3-2 pitch.
In the House
Nationals outfielder Juan Soto sat behind the plate wearing a Trea Turner jersey from his time in Washington. Soto finished second to Turner, his former Nats teammate, for the NL batting title. Turner won his first batting crown with a .328 average.
Soto said he wanted to support his teammates and “see their face when I surprise them.”
It worked. Turner didn’t know Soto was coming.
“When I saw him during the game I was laughing for him to be wearing my jersey,” he said.
Nationals hitting coach Kevin Long was sitting next to Soto wearing Scherzer’s jersey.
Roberts said he and retired Giants manager Bruce Bochy had a bet on the outcome of the NL West. The Giants took the title by a game over the Dodgers, whose eight-year reign ended on the final day of the regular season.
“I lost a dinner and a nice bottle of bordeaux because we didn’t win the division,” Roberts said, adding that Bochy will choose the vintage.
“Knowing him it’s going to be some type of first growth, so it’s not going to be cheap.”
Roberts is a partner in Red Stitch Wine Group, which produced its first vintage in 2007.
Cardinals: Pitchers and catchers report for spring training in mid-February.
Dodgers: Open the best-of-five NLDS against San Francisco on Friday. They went 9-10 against the Giants this season.
By Beth Harris