The Dodgers lost their minds, then they lost the game.
There is no other way to explain it. There is no possible way to excuse it. There is no way around it.
Julio Urías? Instead of Blake Treinen or Kenley Jansen?
A starting pitcher in a high-leverage relief situation for the first time all year instead of two established veteran closers?
You’re really going to bring in Urías in the eighth inning with a two-run lead and the best back-end bullpen in baseball waiting to work?
Are you serious? Did this really happen? Are the Dodgers really that dumb?
Yes, yes, and, sigh, gulp, yes.
In an easily preventable late-night meltdown, the Dodgers outsmarted themselves, embarrassed themselves, and then eventually beat themselves Sunday in a 5-4 loss to the Atlanta Braves in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series at Truist Park.
The Dodgers trail two games to none and they deserve it. They are on the verge of blowing their championship defense and it’s completely their fault.
An organization that considers its players to be interchangeable parts took this philosophy too far in the eighth inning and it burned them beyond belief.
The brainiest organization in baseball suddenly looks like the most foolish. The model organization in baseball suddenly suffered a breakdown.
It all happened in the eighth inning, with the Dodgers leading by two runs and facing a clear path toward a series-tying victory.
They needed to get six more outs. Treinen had thrown just nine pitches in the seventh inning so he was available. Jansen had yet to throw a pitch so he also was available.
They were ready. They were qualified. They were standing right there.
And, yet, in a massive brain cramp by the entire organization, manager Dave Roberts stuck to the party line by summoning a starting pitcher who has not relieved in a late-inning high-leverage situation all year.
He brought in last season’s postseason bullpen star who has long since left the relief world behind, a pitcher who was the major leagues’ only 20-game winner, a bona fide member of the rotation.
What the heck was Urías doing in this game?
Turns out, what he was doing was blowing it, giving up a single to Eddie Rosario, a run-scoring single to Ozzie Albies, and a score-tying double to Austin Riley. By the time the inning ended, a 4-2 sure bet had become a 4-all tie.
And, of course, then the Dodgers used their relievers, bringing in Brusdar Graterol and Jansen in the ninth inning of what quickly became a lost cause.
With Dansby Swanson on second base with two out after a single and a bunt and a grounder, the game ended when Corey Seager failed to backhand a scalding drive up the middle from Rosario, allowing the ball to skip into center field and scoring Swanson from second base.
For a second consecutive night, the Braves rushed the field while the Dodgers slinked off it.
For a second consecutive night, the Dodgers gave one away, and now they’ll have to win at least two out of three in Los Angeles this week before returning here next weekend for a chance to win it.
“Nothing’s really surprised me,” Roberts said afterward.
Speak for yourself. Everything that has happened over the last two dreadful days has surprised Dodgers fans, beginning with the obvious: Why, why, why Urías?
“He hadn’t thrown a bullpen and he was the best option at that point in time,” Roberts said. “He was prepared for it. It was a perfect spot for him, and getting him through that eighth to go to Kenley to finish the game.”
It was the perfect spot for a robot, maybe. But it was a horrible spot for a human being who had taken great pride in becoming a full-time starter this year, a kid who started well enough to earn Cy Young consideration, a pitcher who had not been in a late-inning relief situation in an entire year.
Why even take out Treinen?
“I think in the eighth inning to look at it as the leverage that it was, Julio in my opinion was the best option we had,” Roberts said.
OK, but if you absolutely had to have a left-hander, you could have used Justin Bruihl for a couple of hitters, no?
“I just think that if you’re talking about performance, experience, nothing against Justin, but when you have a choice between him and Julio, I think it’s pretty clear who I was going to choose,” Roberts said.
But here’s the thing. Experience or ability or whatever, Urías is no longer a reliever. The Dodgers need to stop treating him like one. They pulled something like this in Game 5 of the National League Division Series when they started Corey Knebel and didn’t bring in Urías until the third inning.
They got away with it that night because Urías wasn’t immediately in a high-leverage situation. Sunday night was different. They asked him to do something he was not recently accustomed to doing, and that’s just wrong.
Granted, Urías is still the Game 4 starter and he had not thrown his usual between-starts bullpen session because the Dodgers wanted him to be available for one of these first two games. But they still never should have put him in that late-inning situation when other veteran arms were available.
“That’s why he was ready, didn’t throw a side, to prepare for one of these two games,” Roberts said.
But the thing was, he wasn’t ready, not for any of it, and who can blame him?
It was the same kind of too-smart thinking that led them to start Max Scherzer on Sunday on two days’ rest instead of starting Walker Buehler on regular rest. Predictably, Scherzer lasted just 41/3 innings and 79 pitches, leading to the bullpen meltdown.
“I would just say my arm was dead,” Scherzer said. “I could tell when I was warming up that it was still tired.”
Dead. Tired. Sounds right now like the Dodgers, who have only themselves to blame after being reminded of a valuable lesson.
Baseball is a game dominated by numbers but played by humans, one of whom happens to be Julio Urías.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.