Chris Taylor takes turn in starring role as Dodgers push Cubs to brink of elimination

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Updated: October 17, 2017

3:04 AM ET

CHICAGO — Another game, another hero, and a perfect postseason continues for the title-starved Los Angeles Dodgers.

This time it was Chris Taylor taking his star turn, fulfilling a teammate’s wish after Game 2, as the Dodgers pushed the champion Chicago Cubs to the brink of elimination with a 6-1 win Tuesday at Wrigley Field. Taylor hit a mammoth home run off Kyle Hendricks and drove in another run with a triple as L.A. put a stranglehold on the National League Championship Series, leading three games to none.

Taylor, a player who had one big league homer in 120 games before this season, now has two in the NLCS, continuing an unlikely breakout campaign that started with an overhaul to his swing that he underwent with the Dodgers’ coaching staff.

“To take a chance on trying to learn a new swing and to bet on yourself, and that’s what he did,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “He committed to it. We saw early in spring training he was a different hitter.”

Turner won Game 2 with a three-run, walk-off homer off Chicago’s John Lackey — a moment set up by the walk Taylor drew against Lackey with Turner on deck and a man on second base.

About a half-hour later, Turner went to the media room in the bowels of Dodger Stadium and said, “I wanted to see C.T., to finish it. I thought he was going to get the big hit.”

Well, Taylor got two big hits on Tuesday. With the score knotted at 1-1 in the third, he jumped ahead of Hendricks and unloaded a home run that cleared the batter’s eye beyond the ivy-covered center-field wall.

Statcast measured Taylor’s blast at 444 feet — the longest homer it has tracked in this postseason. Taylor said he knew early on that the tweaks to his game were going to help.

“To say I expected it to happen as fast as it did, I’d be lying,” Taylor said. “Pretty much I felt really good right in spring training, which I was pretty shocked to see that kind of results that fast.”

Taylor’s home run was the Dodgers’ fourth go-ahead homer of the postseason. He has hit two of them, and Turner has hit the other two.

Both of Taylor’s homers have come in the NLCS, which makes him the first Dodger to hit multiple go-ahead blasts in the NLCS since Steve Garvey did so in 1978.

“[Taylor’s] at-bats are as professional as anyone in the lineup,” Turner said. “He controls the strike zone extremely well. He’s really a spark plug at the top of the lineup. That’s why ever since he was put in that lead-off spot, he’s [been] a game-changer for us.”

Taylor showed off his speed in the fifth by lacing a drive into the left-field corner and turning on the jets as he rounded second base. He slid into third ahead of the throw from Chicago’s Kyle Schwarber, driving in Joc Pederson.

Oh, and there is this: Taylor was making his first playoff start at shortstop in Game 3 after starting the first two games in center field. He became the first player ever to hit homers at both positions in the same postseason.

“To be able to start him in center field the first couple games and then to start him at short,” Roberts said, “and to get on base, to slug, drive runs in, catch the baseball — he’s a huge asset for us.”

The reason Taylor was playing shortstop, of course, is that star Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager was left off L.A.’s NLCS roster because of a sore back. That was a cause of much anxiety when the announcement was made last weekend, a sentiment summed up by Seager himself, who said, “It sucks, to be honest.”

Between Taylor and Charlie Culberson, who played short in the first two games of the NLCS, the Dodgers have actually gotten more production from Seager’s position than they did in the NLDS.

Seager went 3-for-11 with one extra-base hit during L.A.’s sweep of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Taylor and Culberson have gone a combined 4-for-10 with four extra-base hits while playing short.

“It’s kind of been next-man-up all year,” reliever Brandon Morrow said after helping the Dodgers’ impermeable bullpen stretch its scoreless streak to 10⅔ innings in the NLCS. “We’ve had guys step up in so many different situations. Through that amazing stretch we had in June and July, it seemed like it was a different guy every night. That’s really been the feeling this postseason.”

Taylor’s performance overshadowed another outstanding outing by Yu Darvish, who shut down the Cubs over 6 1/3 innings. Darvish allowed Schwarber’s solo homer in the first inning but limited Chicago to one run and six hits while striking out seven. He was efficient as well, throwing just 81 total pitches.

The only emotion the always-cool Darvish displayed on the field came when he drew a four-pitch, bases-loaded walk off Carl Edwards Jr. in the sixth to put the Dodgers up 4-1.

“When I stood on the mound, facing a guy who throws 95, 96 with a cutter, he’s got something special going,” Darvish said through an interpreter. “I didn’t think I had a chance to hit. I just wanted to try to do something — draw a walk or maybe get hit by pitch. Anything just to score runs.”

Darvish had just one career RBI and one career walk before that plate appearance. He became the first pitcher to be walked with the bases loaded in a postseason game since Philadelphia’s Larry Christenson walked against the Dodgers in the 1977 NLCS.

As Darvish walked off the mound in the seventh, he gave plate umpire Mike Winters a salute. And why not? Darvish’s 42 percent called-strike rate was his third-highest of the season.

“The story of the night, obviously, is Yu Darvish,” Roberts said. “After that first homer that he gave up on the cutter that backed up, he was dominant. He just had that rhythm, the poise and didn’t allow a whole lot of hard contact. He put us in a great spot, and we just fed off of him tonight.”

Still, the night also belonged to Taylor, and who could have predicted such a thing would happen when teams reported to spring training way back in February? Taylor had hit .240 over three big league seasons and was traded to L.A. from Seattle in an unheralded move in 2016.

Taylor fits the mold of quite a few of the current Dodgers: strugglers turned into stalwarts. He had untapped innate abilities that he has been able to tap into in L.A., in his case through a swing reconstruction at an age when most players would be averse to such a makeover.

“I knew I had to kind of make that drastic change right away and get out of my comfort zone,” Taylor said. “Had no expectations going into it. I always have confidence in my ability, and obviously, I was hoping it would come.”

Indeed, it did. Taylor ended up as one of the NL’s breakout players in a season in which he turned 27 years old. He hit .288 with 21 homers, 72 RBIs and 17 steals while playing five positions.

That full range of skills was on display Tuesday in front of a jam-packed crowd at Wrigley Field that didn’t want to see it. Now, with one more win, the Dodgers will earn their first NL pennant and first shot at a World Series title since 1988.

One more win. But don’t tell anyone on the Dodgers that’s all they need, even though 29 of the 36 teams that took a 3-0 lead in a best-of-seven series went on to sweep.

“We’ve got to put it behind us,” closer Kenley Jansen said after getting the last three outs of the game. “We’re not getting excited over this.

“We’ve been talking about it all year: trying to win a championship. We know how hard it is. We can’t be excited and all that. We have to continue playing good baseball.”

Article source: http://www.espn.com/blog/sweetspot/post/_/id/83842/chris-taylor-takes-turn-in-starring-role-as-dodgers-push-cubs-to-brink-of-elimination