Dodger Stadium was shaking with the vibrations from thousands of stomping feet and the roars of 50,000 fans, and Chris Taylor was at the center of it all, a small but animated speck in a sea of hopping, jumping, screaming humanity.
His two-out, two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth had shattered the tension of the Dodgers’ wild-card game against the St. Louis Cardinals and secured their spot in the National League Division Series against the San Francisco Giants. As he rounded the bases and was mobbed by his teammates, he soaked up every decibel of the cheers and every swirl of the rally towels that fans had waved to create a blue blizzard after he delivered the decisive stroke in the Dodgers’ 3-1 victory Wednesday.
“These are the type of moments that you dream about and you live for,” he said, “and I’ll be able to look back on this the rest of my life.”
After swinging and badly missing a first-pitch slider from St. Louis reliever Alex Reyes, Taylor had an idea how the rest of the at-bat would go. Cody Bellinger had walked and stolen second, so Taylor recalibrated his plans.
“After the first pitch I knew there was a good chance I’d get another one,” Taylor said. “Once Belli got to second, I was trying not to do too much. He kind of left it over the middle of the plate for me, and I was able to get it up in the air to left.”
Taylor and Bellinger were unlikely heroes, given their struggles at the plate this season. Taylor, playing with a pinched nerve in his neck that he aggravated early in September, was seven for 58 (.121) with 23 strikeouts in September and the last regular-season games in October. He began Wednesday’s game on the bench.
Bellinger batted a miserable .165 this season, with a career-low .240 on-base percentage. He can’t undo that. But he can put together a productive postseason as the defending World Series champions take on the Giants, the only team with a better record this season.
“I think at this point, it’s time to forget the season and move on to the postseason and try and help this team win any way I can,” Bellinger said. “I feel good. I’m feeling healthy.”
Taylor acknowledged it felt odd not to start, but he didn’t despair. “I knew there was a really good chance I was going to come in at some point, the way we operate,” he said. “I was trying to be ready when my number was called.”
Dodgers starter Max Scherzer, who labored through 4 1/3 innings before being yanked by manager Dave Roberts, later said he called Taylor’s shot while standing next to reliever Joe Kelly during the bottom of the ninth.
“I was like, ‘Hey, I think Belli is going to get on here and Chris is going to hit a homer.’ I’m telling Joe that,” Scherzer said. “I had that vision for him. This is the right man in the right spot and he’s going to put a great swing on it, and sure enough, he did.”
Roberts had a vision for Taylor, too, and it involved coming off the bench on Wednesday. It didn’t involve burying Taylor. Speaking before the game, Roberts said he hadn’t lost confidence in Taylor and he anticipated Taylor would step up sometime, somehow.
“We’re going to need him,” Roberts said, “and I can’t predict what spot, whether it’s to get a bunt down, take an at-bat, play defense, start a game. I can’t predict that. I do know that he’s one of my favorite players. I trust him as a ballplayer, as a person.”
That trust proved well-placed. “You might not start the game, but you can impact the game,” Roberts said. “And Chris Taylor won us the game tonight.”
Taylor appreciated that, during the postgame celebration, Roberts held Taylor’s arm up to the crowd, like a winning prizefighter. “It was cool. It feels good to come through,” Taylor said. “I know Doc [Roberts]was really happy for me.”
Third baseman Justin Turner, who hit the home run off Adam Wainwright that pulled the Dodgers even at 1-1 in the fourth inning, also maintained his faith in Taylor.
“He’s obviously a giant piece for us. He can play anywhere on the field. Outstanding defender, great baserunner, and obviously he’s taken a lot of big swings for us,” Turner said.
“He’s just a baseball guy. He’s in the game. He knows what’s going on. His awareness is off the charts, and I couldn’t be more happy for him.”
The Dodgers had a number of reasons to feel encouraged after surviving a merciless winner-take-all game Wednesday. They won even though Scherzer wasn’t sharp and said he was “on pins and needles trying to make sure you don’t make a mistake.” They also won without having to use Julio Urias, who’s scheduled to start Game 2 at San Francisco on Saturday. The Dodgers will need every potential edge they can find or create against the 107-win Giants.
“Giants-Dodgers, one of the great rivalries in sports,” Roberts said. “And it’s happening.”
Additional contributions from Bellinger — who had a single, walked twice and stole two bases Wednesday — and from Taylor can make a difference. Well after the game, Taylor became introspective when asked about the five years he has spent with the Dodgers since they acquired him from Seattle.
“It’s been quite a journey,” he said. “I think and believe that everything happens for a reason. There’s highs and lows, and everything I’ve been through — all the struggles and the success — everything has brought me to this moment. I think that this is right where I’m supposed to be.”
That was undeniably true Wednesday, when Taylor’s dreams came to life.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.