LOS ANGELES — There’s hot, there is sizzling and then there is the Braves’ Eddie Rosario.
Rosario banged out four hits in a game for the second time in the National League Championship Series and tied a Braves postseason record with 12 total bases, leading Atlanta to a 9-2 win over the defending champion Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday. With the victory, the Braves seized a commanding 3-1 series lead over Los Angeles and can clinch their first pennant since 1999 with a win at Dodger Stadium in Game 5 on Thursday.
“This whole postseason he’s been pretty much unbelievable,” said Braves leader Freddie Freeman, who homered, doubled, walked and got overshadowed by Rosario’s spree.
Rosario fell a double short of becoming the second player to hit for the cycle in a postseason game, but only because his bat is almost too hot. With a homer, triple and single already in the books, Rosario cleared the fence with a drive to right in the ninth inning for his second homer of the game, a three-run shot that capped a four-run Atlanta rally that broke open the game.
“It’s postseason, no matter what, the cycle, I want to try to help the team to win,” Rosario said. “Three RBI is better than hitting a double.”
On Sept. 19, Rosario hit for the cycle against the San Francisco Giants, needing just five pitches to do so. That kicked off a hot streak that has continued right on into the highest-stakes games of his career. Beginning with that game, Rosario has hit .354 with five homers over a 22-game span. And when his bat is referred to as being hot, it’s just that — one particular hot bat. Rosario said he has been using the same stick with which he hit for the cycle.
“I’ve been using that bat that I hit for the cycle with and it has not disappointed,” Rosario said. “I had that double remaining, and I’m like, man, this bat has not let me down yet.”
During the NLCS, Rosario has hit .588 with a pair of four-hit games. He’s the first player to have a pair of four-hit games in the same LCS. Only Hall of Famer Robin Yount, who did it in the 1982 World Series, has done it in any postseason series.
Not bad for a player who was non-tendered by the Minnesota Twins last fall, didn’t latch on to a new team until February, struggled during a half-season with the Cleveland Indians and then was dealt away at the trade deadline.
“I came here and I wanted to show my name, showcase my talents and prove to the people the kind of ballplayer that I am,” Rosario said. “I feel like I had success in Minnesota and I struggled a little bit in Cleveland, so when I came over here I definitely wanted to make sure that I showcased my talents appropriately.”
As postgame questioners were all too willing to remind the Braves after Wednesday’s game, Atlanta also held a 3-1 lead over the Dodgers in the NLCS last season, only to drop three straight to L.A. and finish one game short of snapping the franchise’s pennant drought. But with every question asked in that vein, the Braves have had a pretty simple response: This is a different team and a different year.
“[It is] 2021,” Freeman said. “2020 was last year. This is a whole different team, a whole different thing. So if anybody’s thinking about 2020, I think everybody wants to be in a 3-1 lead, so we’ll take it.”
The different team part has been on full display against the Dodgers. Rosario and two other in-season outfield acquisitions — Joc Pederson and Adam Duvall — have led the Braves’ offense this series. The trio has combined to hit .404 with four homers and 14 RBIs against L.A. Everyone else has hit .225 with two homers and seven RBIs.
Atlanta still has to take that final step, but things could hardly line up better for the Braves than on Thursday. That’s because baseball’s hottest hurler, Max Fried, will take the mound, while the Dodgers will go with a bullpen game to save their season. Fried, who hails from southern California and grew up a Dodgers fan, has a shot to close the door on his boyhood club.
“What he’s done in the second half and pretty much over the whole course of the season, after the first couple weeks, every time you see No. 54 on that mound you got a real good feeling,” Freeman said.
If Freeman’s feelings are prescient, the Braves will be headed back to the World Series for the first time this century.
“I was very young when they went, the last time they went,” Freeman said. “So we got a good team and we’re playing really good baseball and hopefully we can take this thing home and get to the World Series.”