Chris Taylor’s Three-Homer Day Keeps Dodgers Alive

LOS ANGELES — Chris Taylor exemplifies what Los Angeles does so well. For mega-rich franchises like the Dodgers, it’s easy to throw millions at a Mookie Betts or a Clayton Kershaw. But to steal a hidden gem like Chris Taylor outright?

Facing elimination in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, it was Taylor whose mighty swings launched the Dodgers and this series back to Atlanta for the weekend. His three home runs and six RBI marked an 11-2 mauling.

Taylor was an odd infielder for the Seattle utility company, which the Dodgers acquired in June 2016 through an under-reported transaction, sending Zach Lee, a potential pitcher, to the Mariners. Now 31, Taylor has evolved into a priceless piece of the Los Angeles winning puzzle.

He hit a two-run homer in the second, hit an RBI single in the third, added a two-run homer in the fifth, then hit a solo homer in the seventh, drawing a curtain from 51,363 fans in the Dodger Stage. Taylor became just the 11th player in MLB history to hit three home runs in a postseason game and the first player to do so in an elimination game.

When the crowd chanted for him in the eighth, he struck.

“I pulled for that fourth,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “He didn’t walk.”

In Thursday’s lineup at third base, Taylor switched for another player that the Dodgers had scooped from the scrap heap. Unlisted by the Mets after the 2013 season, Justin Turner signed with the Dodgers in 2014 and unexpectedly rose to become an All-Star and the spiritual leader of his team. But when Turner left Game 4 with a severely strained hamstring that will end his season, Taylor, who has already started this postseason in left and midfield after being the Dodgers primary second baseman last year, was the best option. to replace him at third.

Nine innings later, Taylor had his name etched alongside Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson, Albert Pujols, George Brett and six others who hit three home runs in a postseason game.

“It’s cool,” Taylor said. “I hadn’t really thought about that. It’s definitely a surreal feeling for me. I never thought I’d hit three home runs in a game, let alone a post-season game. And it’s still not really getting through.”

Pujols called Taylor the club’s “secret weapon.” Most of it is because Taylor is overshadowed by other bigger stars like Betts, Cody Bellinger, Trea Turner, Max Scherzer, Walker Buehler and others. Part of it is because Taylor’s public personality is soft and chill.

“He’s very gentle and doesn’t get excited easily,” said outfielder AJ Pollock, who hit two home runs and had four RBI, giving him and Taylor a combined 10 out of 11 on the team. “The only thing that turns him on that I’ve seen is that he likes to have a beer. That gets him excited, a beer with the boys. And then he likes to watch surfing.

“Maybe today’s three home runs got his adrenaline pumping, but probably not. Most likely just the beer and watching surfing.”

The Dodgers rode Taylor’s wave and a great bullpen game—seven pitchers combined to hold Atlanta to two runs while striking out nine and no one ran away—to win their seventh straight elimination game dating back to last year’s NLCS when they came alive after chasing Atlanta, three games to one.

Last year’s comeback gives Atlanta something to think about for a few days. Could a similar one happen again? The Dodgers drafted Max Scherzer for Game 6 and Walker Buehler for Game 7, if needed. They still have a shot at becoming the first team since the Yankees (1998-2000) to win consecutive World Series.

Whatever happens, chances are Taylor is in the middle of it. His two-run homerun in the home of the ninth pushed the Dodgers to a wildcard win over St. Louis. His baserunning gaffe in Game 1 of the NLCS opened the door for Atlanta to steal a win. He then hit a double-run double in Game 2 in what appeared to be a redemption game before Atlanta won again in the bottom of the ninth.

Then came his fireworks display in Game 5.

“You have to take the lows with the highs and everything is reinforced in the postseason,” said Taylor, who is now hitting .529 (9 for 17) with a total of 20 bases in this NLCS. “And it’s a game of failures. You’re going to make mistakes. And then there are moments like tonight where that makes it worthwhile and so you just lay your head down and keep moving forward.

Taylor may be gentle, but he has certainly developed many admirers over the years in his own clubhouse.

“I remember in ’17 I had a man in love with him from afar,” said Blake Treinen, who split that season between Oakland and Washington. “He plays so hard and he doesn’t really promote himself. I like that quality of his.”

“He’s a clutch hitter,” Pujols said in Spanish. “He’s the person you want on the record to get a hit. He showed it not only during the season, but also here in the post-season. It was a spectacular night that was needed to bring the energy to the fans and push this series to six games.”

James Wagner reporting contributed.

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