McCoy: Dodgers rally to beat Braves, advance to World Series

It’s California vs. Florida. It’s the National League West vs. the American League East. It’s first place vs. first place.

It’s the Los Angeles Dodgers vs. the Tampa Bay Rays in the 2020 World Series. The Dodgers paid their final dues Sunday night with a 4-3 victory over the Atlanta Braves in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series.

Down three games to one, the Dodgers won the last three games, using a pair of dramatic home runs late in the game to send the Braves home disappointed.

The Dodgers, who won 43 of 60 regular-season games — best in baseball — are showing up for the World Series for the third time in four years.

They lost the 2017 World Series in in seven games to the Houston Astros and lost the 2018 World Series in five games to the Boston Red Sox.

The last time Team Hollywood wore championship rings was in 1988 when the Dodgers beat the Oakland Athletics in five games, a World Series famous for the pinch-hit, walk-off home run hit by Kirk Gibson, who could barely walk due to a leg injury.

A pinch-hit home run Sunday by Kike Hernandez was not so dramatic — it only tied the game and it came in the sixth — but the Dodgers needed every foot of it.

It set up Cody Bellinger’s belligerant blast in the seventh, a drama-filled home run that gave the Dodgers the 4-3 lead that assured they will get yet another chance for their first World Series championship in 32 years.

Atlanta relief pitcher Chris Martin struck out the first two Dodgers in the seventh and then came a classic at bat: Bellinger vs. Martin.

The count went to 2-and-2, Bellinger fouled off three pitches, then dispatched the eighth pitch deep into the right field seats to provide the victorious 4-3 score.

The Hernandez and Bellinger home runs were the 15th and 16th clubbed off Atlanta pitchers in the seven-game series.

Given the lead, LA relief pitcher Julio Urias took it home with three perfect innings — nine up and nine down (without a strikeout) in the seventh, eighth and ninth.

“I tried to stay with my same approach,” said Bellinger of his home run. “Two strikes. . .I got a pitch I could hit right there.”

Of his team’s come back from close elimination, Bellinger said, “Down two games to none, down three games to one, well, when you see, every day, the lineup we put out there, we thought, ‘We can do this, why can’t we do this?’ We’ve been in these situations before and that was fun what we did today.”

Dustin May, assigned to pitch just the first inning for the Dodgers, threw eight straight pitches to open the inning, a pair of walks. Marcell Ozuna singled and the Braves had a 1-0 lead.

Tony Gonsolin started the second for LA and his third pitch took a long trip, a 434-foot home run into the upper deck for a 2-0 Atlanta lead.

The Dodgers put two on after two outs but Atlanta pitcher Ian Anderson struck out Chris Taylor on a full count.

Anderson retired the first two Dodgers in the third on eight pitches. But Justin Turner made Anderson throw eight pitches before drawing a walk.

Max Muncy doubled to the right field corner and on the next pitch Will Smith singled to center for two runs to tie it, 2-2. That ended Anderson’s streak of 18 2/3 scoreless innings in the postseason.

Gonsolin did in the fourth what May did in the first. He walked the first two Braves. He, too, paid a penalty Austin Riley singled to center and Atlanta regained the lead, 3-2.

A double baserunning blunder cost the Braves the opportunity to score more. With runners on third and second with no outs, Nick Markakis grounded to shortstop. Dansby Swanson broke for home and was caught in a rundown and tagged out. Riley tried to take third during the rundown and he was thrown out — an unusual double play.

And they flubbed the opportunity to score more runs, runs they dearly needed as it turned out.

The Dodgers attempted instant retaliation in the bottom of the fourrth, filling the bases with two outs against relief pitcher Tyler Matzek. It ended with Muncy striking out on three straight strikes after Matzek fell behind 2-and-0, leaving the Braves in front, 3-2.

Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman made a bid for a home run in the fifth, but LA right fielder Mookie Betts trumped him by vaulting above the wall to snag it.

A.J. Minter took the mound for the Braves in the sixth and encountered a tough battle with pinch-hitter Kike Hernandez. And A.J. lost.

Hernandez fouled off three straight 2-and-2 pitches andt he eighth pitch he saw cleared the left-center wall to tie it, 3-3.

Chris Taylor followed the home run with a double and took third on a fly ball to right. Corey Seager grounded to second and Taylor tried to score and was erased at home on second baseman Ozzie Albie’s perfect peg.

But Bellinger matched Hernandez’s eight-pitch, three-foul home run and that was that.

In Other News