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Dylan Hernandez: Dodgers' Corey Seager, having a historic postseason, is 'The Guy' again

Los Angeles Times — By Dylan Hernandez Los Angeles Times

Oct. 17-- What Corey Seager is doing in the National League Championship Series isn't a surprise.

It's a course correction.

Seager was always destined for a postseason like this, to be the most lethal offensive weapon for the Dodgers in their most important games.

His regular-season renaissance has led to an October for the ages, which continued Saturday. Seager launched a solo home run to spark a three-run first inning that was ultimately the difference for the Dodgers in their 3-1 victory over the Atlanta Braves.

The stakes were immense, with the Dodgers avoiding elimination for the second consecutive day and forcing a Game 7 that will be played Sunday at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.

The performance by Seager was historic, as the homer was his fifth of the series and the run batted in his 11th. Both are NLCS records.

"Seager was Seager again," third baseman Justin Turner said.

Finally, after Seager spent a year sidelined by elbow surgery and another year re-acclimating to major league baseball, what Turner said once again means what it would have meant three or four years ago.

Before Cody Bellinger replaced him as the organization's homegrown darling, before Mookie Betts became the most expensive player in franchise history, Seager was "The Guy."

At 26, playing in his fifth postseason, he is "The Guy" once again.

His latest home run came against Max Fried, the left-hander who shut down the Dodgers in the Braves' series-opening victory.

In Game 1, Fried using his breaking ball to get ahead in counts. The Dodgers made it a point to look for and attack the pitch.

Which is what Seager did.

He redirected a curveball by Fried into the right-field stands to move the Dodgers in front 1-0.

"He got us the first game, and we were able to jump on him today early," Seager said.

The Dodgers continued their ambush of Fried, with Turner following Seager's blast with one of his own. Max Muncy scored their third run of the inning on a single by Bellinger.

The three runs were sufficient for Walker Buehler and the Dodgers' bullpen.

Seager also delivered the previous night. In his team's first elimination game of this postseason, he homered twice.

The performance inspired superlative praise of Seager in the postgame video news conferences.

"I didn't know much before I came over," Betts said. "I just knew he was a good shortstop, could swing it a little bit. Getting to see him day in and day out is definitely a blessing. I have really one job, and that's just to get on base and stay there pretty much until he hits me in, which doesn't take long."

Manager Dave Roberts went a step further.

"For me," Roberts said, "right now, there's no better player."

This was what the Dodgers envisioned for Seager.

He was a first-round draft pick. He became one of the top prospects in the sport. He broke into the majors as a 21-year-old September call-up in 2015. He made the Dodgers' postseason roster that year. In his first playoff game, he batted third in a lineup that included Turner, Adrian Gonzalez and Andre Ethier.

In his first major league season, in 2016, he was the NL rookie of the year and finished third in MVP voting. The next year, he made his second All-Star team in as many seasons. He was on a Hall-of-Fame trajectory.

His career was interrupted by an elbow operation that resulted in him missing all but 26 games of the 2018 season. He returned last year, but a limited offseason kept him from rediscovering his old form.

While the majority of players bemoaned the delay of the regular season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Seager used the break to his advantage. He built strength.

He was unquestionably one of the best players in the NL during the 60-game season. His .307 average and 41 RBIs were the most on the Dodgers. His 15 home runs were second on the team to Betts' 16.

He's launched six more homers in this postseason, including one against the Milwaukee Brewers in the wild-card round. He's batting .342 in the playoffs, with 15 RBIs in 11 games.

The numbers mark a significant improvement for Seager, who entered this year a career .203 hitter in the postseason.

Ironically, the two-year setback was likely necessary for him to reach this stage of development. Injuries have forced him to prioritize quality over quantity when working out. The calmness he has exhibited in the batting cage has transferred to the field, where he has become a more selective hitter.

Seager has become the player he was supposed to become. He now has an opportunity to help the Dodgers win the championship they're supposed to win.

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(Hernandez reported from Los Angeles.)

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