LOS ANGELES — Chris Taylor is an example of 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 outright pilfer a hidden gem like Chris Taylor?
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 R.B.I. highlighted an 11-2 mauling.
Taylor had been an extraneous utility infielder in Seattle whom the Dodgers acquired in a little-noticed trade in June 2016, sending Zach Lee, a pitching prospect, to the Mariners. Now 31, Taylor has developed into an invaluable piece of the winning puzzle in Los Angeles.
He walloped a two-run homer in the second, cracked an R.B.I. single in the third, added a two-run homer in the fifth and then hit a solo homer in the seventh, eliciting a curtain call from 51,363 fans at Dodger Stadium. Taylor became just the 11th player in M.L.B. history to hit three home runs in a postseason game and the first player to do so in an elimination game.
Then, with the crowd chanting for him in the eighth, he struck out.
“I was pulling for that fourth one,” Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts said. “He wasn’t going to walk.”
In Thursday’s lineup at third base, Taylor was subbing for another player the Dodgers scooped off the scrap heap. Justin Turner was nontendered by the Mets after the 2013 season, signed with the Dodgers in 2014 and unexpectedly blossomed into an All-Star and his team’s spiritual leader. But when Turner left Game 4 with a badly strained hamstring that will end his season, Taylor, who already has started in left field and center field this postseason after being the Dodgers’ primary second baseman last year, was the best option to replace him at third.
Nine innings later, Taylor had etched his name alongside those of Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson, Albert Pujols, George Brett and six others who have slugged three homers 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 was going to hit three homers in a game, let alone a postseason game. And it just still hasn’t really sunk in.”
Pujols called Taylor the club’s “secret weapon.” Most of that 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 persona is mellow and chill.
“He’s very soft-spoken and doesn’t get easily excited,” said outfielder A.J. Pollock, who thumped two homers and had four R.B.I., giving him and Taylor a combined 10 of the team’s 11. “The only thing that excites him that I’ve seen is, he likes to have a beer. He gets excited about that, a beer with the boys. And then he loves watching surfing.
“Maybe the three home runs today might have spiked his adrenaline, but probably not. Most likely just the beer and watching surfing.”
The Dodgers rode the wave provided by Taylor and a stellar bullpen game — seven pitchers combined to hold Atlanta to two runs while striking out nine and walking nobody — to win their seventh consecutive elimination game dating back to last year’s N.L.C.S. when they sprang to life after trailing Atlanta, three games to one.
Last year’s comeback will give Atlanta something to think about for a couple of days. Could a similar one happen again? The Dodgers have Max Scherzer lined up for Game 6 and Walker Buehler for Game 7, if necessary. They still have a chance to become the first team since the Yankees (1998-2000) to win consecutive World Series.
Whatever happens, there’s a good chance Taylor will be in the middle of it. His two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth pushed the Dodgers to a wild-card win over St. Louis. His baserunning gaffe in Game 1 of the N.L.C.S. opened the door for Atlanta to steal a win. Then he hit a two-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 show in Game 5.
“You’ve got to take the lows with the highs and everything gets amplified in the postseason,” said Taylor, who now is batting .529 (9 for 17) with 20 total bases in this N.L.C.S. “And it’s a game of failures. You’re going to make mistakes. And then there’s moments like tonight where that’s what makes it worth it and that’s why you just put your head down and keep moving forward.”
Taylor might be soft-spoken, but he’s certainly developed many admirers in his own clubhouse over the years.
“I remember in ’17, from afar, I had just a man crush on him,” said Dodgers reliever Blake Treinen, who split that season between Oakland and Washington. “He plays so hard and he doesn’t really promote himself. I love that attribute of his.”
“He’s a clutch hitter,” Pujols said in Spanish. “He’s the person you want at the plate to get a hit. He’s shown it not just over the course of the season but here in the postseason. It was a spectacular night that was needed to bring the energy of the fans and to push this series to six games.”
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