By the time Max Muncy stepped to the plate to face Grant Dayton in Wednesday’s first inning, Game 3 of the NLCS was already effectively over. Dayton was a relief pitcher forced to throw in the first inning; Muncy was batting for the second time in the frame, with seven Dodger runs already on the board and three more runners filling the bases.
The Dodgers’ bats had already broken out before Muncy joined the party, after a muted first two games—both L.A. losses—in which Atlanta starters Max Fried and Ian Anderson held the majors’ highest-scoring offense to one run in 10 innings. Game 3 starter Kyle Wright matched that run total before recording an out, then zoomed past it minutes later.
The runs came in a flurry, almost too fast to track. Mookie Betts led off with an infield single and scored on a Corey Seager double to the gap. Wright secured two outs with the next two batters, including Muncy, but then couldn’t escape the inning. Will Smith doubled in Seager. Cody Bellinger walked. Joc Pederson and Edwin Ríos homered back to back. Chris Taylor and Betts walked—the latter off Dayton, who entered the game far earlier than expected, and then couldn’t get anyone out. Seager singled. Justin Turner loaded the bases with a hit by pitch. And then Muncy entered the batter’s box for the second time, leading 7-0, and hammered the coup de grace 435 feet to right.
MUNCY!! GRAND SLAM!— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) October 14, 2020
And now we have history! The Dodgers' 11 runs in the 1st are the most runs scored in any Postseason inning in MLB history! pic.twitter.com/vxOLpLpn63
Every Dodger scored in the 11-run inning—the highest tally in a single frame in postseason history.
The onslaught continued from there, with homers from Bellinger and Seager in consecutive innings. As early as the third, the Dodgers had set a franchise record for runs in a playoff game; Atlanta, for its part, set a franchise record for playoff runs allowed at the same time. The game’s final score—15-3—almost doesn’t do justice to the bombardment, as the Dodgers left 12 more men on base from the third inning on.
The lineup-wide breakout came as a most necessary counterweight to the Dodgers’ first two sluggish games in the series. The bullpen hadn’t performed well on Monday or Tuesday, and manager Dave Roberts’s strategic choices hadn’t made a ton of sense. (Stop letting Ozzie Albies face left-handed pitchers! His career OPS is 199 points higher against lefties than righties! There’s a reason he homered in consecutive games against lefty relievers!) But the real reason for the Dodgers’ 0-2 hole was a lack of offensive production, which left the club in a familiar postseason position: Dodgers fans are all too accustomed to playoff failure.
Atlanta, on the other hand, is now strangely accustomed to letting up massive totals in the first inning of postseason games. In Game 5 of last season’s NLDS, the Cardinals scored 10 runs before Atlanta had a chance to bat; starter Mike Foltynewicz, like Wright on Wednesday, allowed seven runs and didn’t complete an inning. In consecutive Octobers, Atlanta has allowed the two highest-scoring first innings in playoff history.
They’re in far better shape this time around, at least. Last year, the first-inning collapse meant the end of their season, as it came in a winner-take-all game. This year, Atlanta still leads the NLCS two games to one, and Game 4’s score resets to 0-0—though this lopsided defeat may well be an ill portent for the rest of this series. With no off days for travel, Atlanta can’t count on another reliable starter until Fried returns in Game 6.
Game 4 will pit 22-year-old rookie Bryse Wilson (MLB career: 42 2/3 innings, 5.91 ERA) against Clayton Kershaw, as long as the three-time Cy Young winner has recovered from the back spasms that scratched him from his scheduled start in Game 2. Advantage Los Angeles, no matter Kershaw’s spotty playoff track record. And it’s unclear where Atlanta will turn in Game 5, especially if manager Brian Snitker needs to exhaust the bullpen in relief of Wilson on Thursday.
Atlanta also must now stare down a rejuvenated Dodgers lineup—a group with a proven ability to batter the back of a rotation. It’s hard to win games when scoring just one run, as L.A. did in Game 1 this series—but it’s even harder to lose when scoring 11 in an inning, as occurred in Game 3. Entering Wednesday, the average 2020 postseason game had lasted three hours and 12 minutes. Dodgers-Braves Game 3 was over before the first commercial break.