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Baseball Fun Is When Fortunes Change

Chris Taylor #3 of the Los Angeles Dodgers celebrates his walk off two-run home run in the ninth inning to defeat the St. Louis Cardinals 3 to 1 during the National League Wild Card Game at Dodger Stadium on October 06, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.
Photo: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

“It’s baseball fun??” tweeted Juan Soto, in disbelief or unsure, after the NL wild card game he’d just watched at Dodger Stadium. It was. It was baseball fun. Especially so if you’d had good seats to see your friends and former teammates Trea Turner and Max Scherzer, but also if you’re just into this kind of thing: a nice slow burn, tied 1-1, thanks to good-enough pitching, from the bottom of the fourth through two outs in the bottom of ninth, when Chris Taylor hit a two-run walk-off sigh-of-relief home run into left field to set up a Dodgers-Giants NLDS, an early postseason collision of the two best teams in baseball. 

The baseball might have been more fun, or more funny, anyway, in its choice of hero. Albert Pujols led off for the Dodgers in the ninth, but a million sports columnists slunk back in their seats when he simply lined out to center with a 106.6-mph missile. Cody Bellinger, who I guess is just the worst player in baseball now, couldn't win the game himself, but he did keep it alive by drawing a two-out lefty-lefty walk. "I just wanted to continue to pass the baton with two outs," he said afterward. Then he changed it by stealing second on Yadier Molina, to make things a little bit simpler for Taylor.

In the sense of narrative fulfillment, the utilityman's heroics made for a decent compromise. Taylor battled through a neck injury and fell out of the lineup in the second half of the season; in his 58 at-bats since the beginning of September, he had just seven hits and 23 strikeouts. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts described those struggles as a kind of payment for the reward to follow. "I think, to put it simply, the game honors you," he said.

The game did not bestow much honor on what had been the hottest team in baseball for roughly the same period Taylor was going through it. The honor was all used up! "One swing of the bat dictated the night," Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said, but really, a lot of them did. Cardinals hitters, even blessed with a shaky Scherzer, were 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position. (Tommy Edman scored the only run on a wild pitch in the first.) A few weeks ago, it dawned on me that I was growing quite fond of the Cardinals—the first baseball team I ever truly hated—for their Gold Glove–filled roster. Then, last night, they made rooting for them as excruciating as possible, and I hate them, once again.

Juan Soto, if you care to know, was delighted by the way things ended.

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