Chris Taylor Adds To Unexpected Dodgers Legacy With Walkoff Home Run In NL Wild Card Game
LOS ANGELES—When Andrew Friedman assembled his front office after taking over as the Dodgers president of baseball operations in the fall of 2014, he quickly realized he and his top lieutenants all had something in common.
They had all tried to acquire Chris Taylor.
“When I was with the Rays we liked him and tried to get him,” Friedman said. “When Farhan (Zaidi) was with the A’s they had tried to get him. When Josh (Byrnes) was with the Padres they had tried to get him. He just did a lot of things on the baseball field well.”
Friedman and his front office finally got Taylor in a trade with the Mariners in June 2016. Five years later, the trade continues to shape the Dodgers franchise in ways Friedman and his staff never could have imagined.
Taylor added another chapter to his Dodgers legacy on Wednesday night, hitting a walkoff two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the Dodgers a 3-1 win over the Cardinals in the National League Wild Card Game. The Dodgers advance to face the Giants in the NL Division Series beginning Friday.
Taylor entered as a defensive replacement in left field in the seventh inning and made a critical diving catch on a sinking liner from Edmundo Sosa in the eighth to preserve a 1-1 tie. In the bottom of the ninth, after Cody Bellinger drew a two-out walk to keep the inning alive, he lifted a hanging slider from Cardinals closer Alex Reyes 420 feet into the left-field pavilion to keep the Dodgers back-to-back title hopes intact.
“These are the type of moments that you dream about and live for,” Taylor said, “I’ll be able to look back on this for the rest of my life.”
In many ways, Taylor’s acquisition has come to symbolize why the Dodgers are the juggernaut they’ve become. They have the highest payroll in Major League Baseball and one of the richest owners in the game. Their financial resources are unmatched, and they flex them often.
And yet, their roster remains one of the most organic of any team. Nearly 40% of the players on their 26-man roster Wednesday were homegrown. That percentage would have been even higher if it included key pitchers who were unavailable, such as injured lefthander Clayton Kershaw and ace righthander Walker Buehler.
Taylor is not one of those homegrown talents, but he became the player he is today in Los Angeles. Along with Justin Turner and Max Muncy, he’s part of a trio of low-cost acquisitions that have altered the trajectory of the Dodgers franchise.
In five years with the Dodgers, Taylor’s list of accolades has grown to include the 2017 NLCS MVP award, an all-star appearance, two 20-home run seasons, a pair of World Series home runs, a World Series ring and now one of the most memorable postseason homers in franchise history.
The blast was Taylor’s sixth career postseason home run, and just the fourth walkoff home run in Dodgers playoff history.
“He’s been such a huge part of what we’ve accomplished over the last few years,” Friedman said. “You look back on a lot of our most memorable moments and he’s right in the middle of it.”
The trade itself drew little notice at the time, essentially a swap of former top prospects who had disappointed with their clubs. The Dodgers traded Zach Lee, a first-round pick whom they gave the largest bonus in franchise history, to the Mariners in exchange for Taylor, a decorated collegian at Virginia who hit just .240/.296/.296 in parts of three seasons with Seattle.
The Dodgers calculus was simple. They thought they were getting a utilityman who could bounce around to different positions and hit lefthanded pitching. Instead, Taylor made swing changes under the Dodgers instruction and turned the trade into one of the most lopsided of the last decade.
"Obviously, the way it’s played out exceeded our expectations of what we thought at the time," Friedman said. "But it just speaks to who he is and his work ethic and how much he wants to be great."
Taylor has now been a starter on three World Series teams and is gunning to be part of a fourth. Lee has pitched in four career major league games and spent 2021 at Triple-A in the Reds and D-backs systems.
“It’s been quite a journey,” Taylor said. “I am a believer that everything happens for a reason and there is highs and lows. Everything I’ve been through, the successes and the struggles, it’s brought me to this point, and I think this is right where I’m supposed to be.”
Taylor’s home run ended 4 hours and 15 minutes of tense, back and forth action at Chavez Ravine. The expected pitcher’s duel never materialized as Dodgers righthander Max Scherzer struggled with his control. The three-time Cy Young winner needed 94 pitches to get through 4.1 innings, walked three, hit a batter and threw a wild pitch that allowed the Cardinals’ only run to score. His counterpart, Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright, was sharper but still pitched just 5.1 innings.
Justin Turner laced a hard liner back to Wainwright in his first at-bat and launched a solo homer to left to tie the game in his second at-bat. Rather than have Wainwright face Turner a third time, Cardinals manager Mike Shildt pulled the 40-year-old veteran and turned the game over to his bullpen.
Both offenses had chances to break the game open but couldn’t. The Cardinals went 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position and stranded a runner in every inning. The Dodgers chances were repeatedly stymied by highlight-reel plays by the Cardinals defense, including a sliding catch and throw up the middle by second baseman Tommy Edman in the second inning and a leaping grab by shortstop Paul DeJong to end the eighth.
Scherzer watched from the bench as the ninth inning unfolded, long removed from the game. After Albert Pujols and Steven Souza Jr. hit hard liners that were tracked down by Cardinals center fielder Harrison Bader, Scherzer had a vision.
“I was standing next to (reliever) Joe Kelly there in the ninth and I was like, 'Hey, I think Belli is going to get on here and CT is going to hit a homer,' ” Scherzer said. “…I had that vision for him. I’ve played with him and faced him and seen all this and I was like ‘This is the right man for the right spot and he’s gonna to put a great swing on it,’ and sure enough he did.”
As Taylor finished rounding the bases, he was greeted by a jubilant mob of teammates at home plate. When he emerged from the scrum, manager Dave Roberts grabbed Taylor’s right arm and thrust it up in front of the raucous, sellout crowd of 53,193 fans, as if to declare him the heavyweight champion of the world.
The Dodgers would have been ecstatic if anyone hit a walkoff home run to win a winner-take-all postseason game. The fact that it was Taylor, though, made it that much more special.
“I think any time moves that have so many different fingerprints on it, in this case our pro scouting department and our player development staff, major league and minor league,” Friedman said, “when there is a success story of all those groups coming together, it makes it that much sweeter.”