By STEPHEN HAWKINS
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Ozzie Albies homered into the Braves bullpen in the ninth inning for the second straight night, and Mark Melancon once again caught the ball on the fly.
Atlanta had a five-run lead at the time. By the time the reliever was summoned to the mound, the lead was down to two. Melancon held on once again.
Freddie Freeman also homered for the second night in a row, and the streaking Braves beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 8-7 on Tuesday to take a 2-0 lead in the National League Championship Series.
Atlanta became the fourth team in major league history to begin a postseason 7-0 on a night made more remarkable by Melancon’s bullpen grab.
“That’s more home runs than I’ve caught my entire life, let alone one season,” Melancon said. “Hopefully tomorrow night is three in a row.”
Atlanta led 7-0 in the seventh but the lead had dwindled to 8-6 when Melancon replaced Josh Tomlin with two outs in the bottom of the ninth after Corey Seager’s RBI double and Max Muncy’s two-run homer.
Albies extended the game with a fielding error on Will Smith’s grounder to second, and reigning NL MVP Cody Bellinger hit an RBI triple. Melancon retired AJ Pollock on a grounder to third, ending the 4-hour, 12-minute game.
“I didn’t feel good with a big lead because these guys are too powerful, and that’s a good ballgame to win. They all are now,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “We kind of shot ourselves in the foot there at the end. Melancon did a great job coming in.”
Rookie right-hander Ian Anderson extended his postseason scoreless streak in an abbreviated start as the Braves moved within two wins of their first World Series appearance since 1999. All previous 14 teams to win the first two games of a best-of-seven NLCS went on to take the pennant.
“They’re not going to give up. We have to treat tomorrow like the first game of the series and come out strong,” Melancon said. “There’s no reason for either club to take their foot off the gas. … Nobody has won anything yet.”
Freeman put the NL East champion Braves ahead to stay with a two-run homer in the fourth off rookie Tony Gonsolin, who filled in after three-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw was scratched because of back spasms. Freeman added an RBI single as part of a four-run outburst an inning later.
Game 3 is Wednesday night, when 24-year-old playoff veteran Julio Urías starts for the Dodgers, seeking to win their third pennant in four seasons. Kyle Wright, another rookie right-hander, is on the mound for the Braves, who have outscored opponents 37-13 in the playoffs.
“This team’s got a lot of fight. We’ve done it all year,” Seager said. “We were one swing, one anything away from tying that ballgame and going into extras. This is a long series. We’re looking up to the challenge.”
Freeman was hit on his right elbow by Alex Wood’s pitch in the eighth and was shaken up but stayed in the game.
“Stung him pretty good and he lost feeling,” Snitker said. “But I think after he got through that inning and came back in, he got all of his strength back. He should be OK.”
The 22-year-old Anderson allowed one hit and struck out five, but walked five while throwing 85 pitches in four innings. He didn’t come out for the fifth after the Braves batted around in the top half and built a 6-0 lead while tying an LCS record with four walks in the inning.
“We had a good game plan, and in the playoffs you just have to keep guys from scoring and we were able to do that,” Anderson said. “As long as we keep winning ballgames here.”
Los Angeles, which had the majors’ best record in the pandemic-shortened season, trailed by seven until Seager’s three-run homer to greet A.J. Minter in the seventh.
“Us showing some life offensively was very good to see,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.
Only seven weeks after his big league debut with the Braves, Anderson has pitched 15 2/3 scoreless innings in the playoffs and is the second pitcher in major league history to start his postseason career not allowing a run in three consecutive starts of at least four innings. The other was Hall of Fame right-hander Christy Mathewson, who threw three shutouts in the 1905 World Series for the New York Giants.
Tyler Matzek, the second of seven Atlanta pitchers, worked two scoreless innings for the win.
When Kershaw was scratched in favor of a likely start later in the series, it set up the second matchup of rookie starting pitchers in an LCS game.
Gonsolin’s postseason debut came 17 days after his prior game. The right-hander struck out seven and allowed only three hits, but gave up five runs and walked three in 4 1/3 innings.
Freeman hit a ball more than 400 feet into the right-field seats, similar to his solo shot in Game 1, after Ronald Acuna Jr. walked leading off the fourth.
“He’s one of the most consistent guys we have,” Albies said of Freeman. “The way I describe him is he’s MVP. He plays like he’s the MVP every day.”
Gonsolin was done when Acuna walked again in the fifth, right after an RBI double by rookie Cristian Pache, in the lineup after Adam Duvall was removed from Atlanta’s NLCS roster because of a left oblique injury sustained in the series opener.
Pedro Baez then walked two of his four batters, including Travis d’Arnaud with the bases loaded before Albies’ sacrifice fly on which Bellinger made an impressive leaping catch on the run in center.
“I don’t think the emotions lagged. I thought that early on we had some opportunities to get a lead and we just couldn’t come up with the hits,” Roberts said. “We’re scratching and clawing. They’ve still got to beat us a couple more times.”
The Dodgers had scoring chances early against Anderson, but left six runners on against him. The bases were loaded with two outs in the third when Austin Riley, the 23-year-old third baseman who hit the tiebreaking homer in the ninth inning of Monday night’s 5-1 win, fielded Smith’s chopper and stepped on the bag. More impressive was his inning-ending play in the first after Anderson had walked two. Riley went to both knees and caught Smith’s hard one-hopper while swiping his glove upward. He got up and made a bit of a wide throw, but Freeman was able to keep his right foot in contact with first base while stretching toward the outfield to make the catch.
Atlanta matched the 1976 Cincinnati Reds and 2007 Colorado Rockies, one behind the record eight wins in a row to begin a postseason by the 2014 Kansas City Royals. Only the Reds went on to win the World Series.
Dansby Swanson had a ground-rule double with two outs in the Braves seventh, with only one run scoring instead of two when the ball bounced over the wall. … The four walks in an inning were the first in an NLCS since San Francisco against the Chicago Cubs in 1989. … The announced paid attendance was 10,624, which accounted for every ticket made available to the general public in only the second MLB game this season with fans.
BRAVES GOING DEEP
Freeman was the first player to homer in Games 1 and 2 of an NLCS since Daniel Murphy when the New York Mets swept the Chicago Cubs in 2015. … Freeman and Albies joined Swanson and d’Arnaud by homering in back-to-back Braves games this postseason. Swanson and d’Arnaud both went deep in the first two games of the NLDS against Miami.
Braves: Wright threw six scoreless innings with seven strikeouts in his postseason debut in the clinching Game 3 of the NL Division Series against Miami. The 25-year-old was the fifth overall pick in the 2017 draft out of Vanderbilt.
Dodgers: Urías, already pitching in his fourth postseason, was the winner in the NLDS Game 3 clincher. He allowed only one hit and an unearned run over five innings against San Diego last Thursday after being the third LA pitcher in that game.