LOS ANGELES — When the Los Angeles Dodgers began the playoffs, left-hander Julio Urías and utilityman Austin Barnes appeared to be afterthoughts.
Barnes, who played 61 games as the backup catcher and 19 more at second base, fought a season-long slump before finishing with a .205 average, four home runs and 14 RBI. Urías, who underwent shoulder surgery in June 2017, did not even make the roster for the NLDS after pitching in just 11 games — only three of them for the Dodgers, all of them after Sept. 15.
But in the past 11 days, both have played significant roles in the Dodgers’ quest to win their first World Series in 30 years — especially in an 18-inning, 2-1 victory over the Boston Red Sox in Friday night’s Game 3.
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Urías pitched the top of the 17th inning, faced four batters and allowed just one walk. Seven innings earlier, Barnes made a big defensive play to keep Boston from scoring the possible winning run.
With one out and pinch-runner Ian Kinsler at third base, Eduardo Núñez hit a fly ball that center fielder Cody Bellinger caught. As Kinsler tried to score, Bellinger threw the ball about 15 feet up the third-base line. But Barnes — who entered the game as a pinch-runner for Yasmani Grandal in the ninth — caught Bellinger’s throw and tagged Kinsler in the torso for the inning’s final out.
“Austin is a very blue collar player,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “He prepares really well. His teammates gravitate towards him. His defense has never wavered or been compromised. That right there speaks to his character and makeup. It says a lot about his perseverance and not letting this down year offensively get to him at this point in the season.”
Barnes displayed that trait when asked about the differences between his performance during and after the regular season.
“Obviously, it was kind of a grind this year,” he said. “But in the postseason, you just put your emphasis on winning, whatever role you’re in, whether it’s playing or not, talking to pitchers in between starts, catching bullpens or just having conversations. I think that’s the most important thing.”
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Los Angeles added Urías to the roster for the NLCS, and the 22-year-old Mexican responded by earning the victory in relief in Game 4, a 2-1 decision in 13 innings against the Milwaukee Brewers on Oct. 15. Urías faced four batters in the top of the 13th, allowed one hit and recorded one strikeout.
Since then, the left-hander conceded just one hit, one walk and one run in 4 1/3 innings of relief while accumulating four strikeouts and holding opposing batters to an average of less than .100.
In that same game, Barnes replaced Grandal as the starting catcher. Though Barnes still has offensive problems — he compiled a .105 average and struck out 10 times in 19 at-bats as the post-season starter before Game 3 of the World Series — the 28-year old provided defensive stability after Grandal committed two errors and allowed two passed balls in the first game of the NLCS.
When it comes to handling pitchers, Barnes made the transition from Grandal easier.
“He’s doing a terrific job,” closer Kenley Jansen said. “He had a tough time offensively, but he really stayed focused to know the whole pitching staff and know me well to the situation that day, how we’re going to face the hitters, how we’re going to go about it. That’s the kind of guy you want back there to kind of separate those things.”
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Despite his offensive problems, Barnes made a significant yet subtle contribution at the plate in the fifth game of the NLCS. Milwaukee held a 1-0 lead when Barnes came to bat with one out in the bottom of the fifth inning. Chris Taylor was standing at third base as the potential tying run — and Clayton Kershaw scheduled to hit next.
Roberts replaced Kershaw with Yasiel Puig on the on-deck circle while left-hander Alex Wood was throwing in the bullpen. But Barnes hit a single up the middle to bring Taylor home. Puig went back to the bench, Wood stopped throwing and Kershaw pitched two perfect innings before being relieved.
Los Angeles eventually won, 5-2, to take a 3-2 lead in games.
“It was huge,” Roberts said about Barnes’ single. “When you’re talking about a seven-game series, there’s usage with the relievers that’s involved. So if Austin doesn’t get a hit, I’ve got a decision to make — whether you hit for him right there and try to log four innings of bullpen use, or let the pitcher hit. So I let Austin hit. I was talking through the situation.”
Though Barnes struck out three times in Game 5, “I thought all of his at-bats were quality,” Roberts said afterward. “At the most critical time in the box, he’s the most confident he’s been in quite some time.”
Barnes came to Los Angeles with Kiké Hernandez in a seven-player trade that sent Dee Gordon to the Miami Marlins. Urías, however, was one of the organization’s best prospects after being signed as an undrafted free agent by scout Mike Brito — who discovered Fernando Valenzuela.
At 18, Urías was named the organization’s minor-league pitcher of the year. At 19, he made his major-league debut. At 20, Urías became the youngest Dodger to pitch in the post-season. But the left-hander faced a serious obstacle when he underwent anterior capsule surgery on his left shoulder June 27, 2017.
The Dodgers re-instated Urías from the disabled list this August, and recalled him Sept. 10 after he made eight minor-league appearances, six of them starts.
“He’s a very confident, mature, tough young man and very talented,” Roberts said. “Did I foresee him on the World Series roster, let alone postseason roster in September? No, I didn’t. All the credit goes to Julio and the medical staff for getting him to where he’s at right now. He’s shown anything is possible.”
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