Someone gave Chris Taylor the nickname “CT3.” It’s not too imaginative, but it makes sense for the Dodgers’ super utility guy, who wears uniform No. 3.
Taylor is not the best player on the Dodgers, nor is he the most famous, and he's not anywhere close to being the highest paid. But he's become ubiquitous with them since being acquired from Seattle for a pitching prospect named Zach Lee in 2016. He is capable of playing nearly anywhere on defense and is able to hit like one of the better players in a lineup that's often stacked with stars. And it’s hard to imagine him no longer being part of a group that's frequently in the World Series, or at least hanging around it.
Taylor's departure could happen soon, though. He is a free agent after this season ends (his nickname could be changed to “CT Free”), and if he leaves for a greener pasture, or just a greener wallet, he's giving the Dodgers whatever he has in this postseason.
In Game 5 of the National League Championship Series on Thursday night, Taylor tied a record by hitting three home runs in a postseason game and became the first player to ever go deep three times in an elimination game. He also drove in six runs to help the Dodgers at least delay elimination against the Braves with an 11-2 thrashing at Dodger Stadium.
"That's what we needed to do. We needed to make a statement," Taylor said. "They put it on us yesterday, so we had to respond. It's a good answer for us."
The Dodgers hit five home runs overall, with AJ Pollock going deep twice, and totaled 17 hits against Atlanta pitching. With few other starting pitching options, the Dodgers went with a bullpen game led by right-hander Joe Kelly. Braves slugger Freddie Freeman hit a two-run homer in the first inning, and Kelly soon left the game with a biceps injury. The defending champions looked like they were limping home in five.
But the Dodgers’ bats, quiet for most of the postseason relative to their typical output, got to left-hander Max Fried and Braves relief. Pollock hit a solo homer in the second and, after Albert Pujols hit a single, Taylor went deep to left for a 3-2 lead. Fried made 28 starts during the regular season, giving up as many as two homers in a game one time. The Dodgers took him deep twice in the same inning.
Taylor added a two-run home run in the fifth against Chris Martin, and he hit a solo shot against left-hander Dylan Lee in the seventh to add an entirely new dimension to the CT3 nickname. Taylor got a big bear hug from Albert Pujols in the dugout, and fans gave Taylor a loud standing ovation, which he only reluctantly accepted while standing on a dugout step and waving his hand briefly. After the game, he still wasn't sure that it was the right thing to do.
"I never look cool doing anything," he said.
Tell that to everyone else watching him in the playoffs. Taylor also hit a game-ending home run in the NL wild-card game to beat the Cardinals, and he has been one of the top hitters in the postseason, period, batting .364/.436/.818 with four homers, 12 RBIs and three stolen bases in 33 at-bats.
His surge came after making the All-Star team for the first time but also after suffering a horrendous slump over the final two months of the regular season, when he hit an abysmal .178/.256/.281 with 57 strikeouts in 165 plate appearances.
"Mechanically, I’m in a better place," Taylor said. “I was kind of grinding there for the last couple months of the regular season, and finally I worked through some things. Once you get a couple hits, your confidence goes up."
The same might be said for the Dodgers, who nearly went down 0-3 to the Braves before a roaring late-inning comeback Tuesday night. Atlanta responded with a definitive victory Wednesday to put themselves on the brink of the World Series and place the Dodgers on the verge of going home after winning 106 regular-season games. Instead, the Dodgers go to Atlanta with some restored confidence about being able to repeat their World Series title.
After a travel day, the NLCS resumes Saturday at Truist Park with the Dodgers in position to use their two best starting pitchers — right-handers Max Scherzer and Walker Buehler — on full rest in each game.
"We got our guys going, so we're still in a good spot," Taylor said.
It would have been impossible to guess after Kelly went down, but the (rest of the) bullpen came through like it has all season. Evan Phillips, Alex Vesia, Brusdar Graterol, Corey Knebel and Kenley Jansen pitched a shutout over the final 7 1/3 innings.
On their way to the World Series a year ago, the Dodgers fell behind the Braves 3-1 in the NLCS before winning the final three. History loves to repeat, even if that happened at neutral fields.
Taylor has been in the lineup all along, or nearly, and the Dodgers surely wouldn't be this far without him. He even played third base at the end of Game 4 and all of Game 5 after Justin Turner, who had been banged-up and struggling at the plate, injured his hamstring. How many players can swoop in from the outfield and play third the next moment like it's nothing? How many players hit three home runs in a postseason game? Well, 12 have, but Taylor is the only one who's done it lately.
Are we sure the Dodgers know what they have in Taylor? They already made a mistake by not extending the 31-year-old’s contract before his free agency year. They're about to compound it by letting him dangle for 29 other teams. Sure, ownership have more money than God — perhaps all of the gods put together — but you never know what will happen with (and because of) team budgets, collective bargaining agreements, luxury tax thresholds and pandemics.
Taylor probably isn't thinking too far in the future. It might mess him up at the plate. When a reporter told him about his rare feat of hitting three homers in a playoff game, at first he could only say, “Sounds good. It’s the first time I've ever done it. It's new to me, too. It's kind of surreal. Luckily, I'm not thinking too much about it."
Dodgers, do his thinking for him. Don’t let “CT” flee.