Bellinger 3-run blast reignites champion Dodgers

  • Sports reporter, Kansas City Star, 2002-09
  • Writer, Baseball, Baseball Prospectus
  • Co-author, Pro Basketball Prospectus
  • Member, Baseball Writers Association of America
  • Member, Professional Basketball Writers Association

LOS ANGELES — Dodgers manager Dave Roberts summed up the gravity of the moment best: “It just flipped everything.”

That was just one way Roberts described a three-run home run by Cody Bellinger that did more than tie a game in the bottom of the eighth inning. It just might have rescued the bid of the defending champions to win it all again.

Bellinger electrified a to-that-point tense Dodger Stadium crowd with that blast, erasing a 5-2 Atlanta lead and setting up Mookie Betts’ go-ahead double a few batters later. Facing the abyss of an 0-3 series deficit, the Dodgers instead defeated Atlanta 6-5 on Tuesday and now can even the National League Championship Series in Game 4 Wednesday.

“Man, pure elation, joy,” Roberts said. “I mean, it’s just hard to imagine a bigger hit.”

The sudden turnabout, when the Dodgers appeared to be on the cusp of a virtually insurmountable series deficit, was swift and stunning.

“It’s impossible not to be aware of (the deficit),” Betts said. “But I think that’s a weak way to think of things. I think our mindset has been, why are we going to focus on that when we are here now, we can win the game now.”

Still, Bellinger’s home run was, in context, abrupt. The 2019 MVP had been swinging better after some late-season mechanical tweaks. Nevertheless, this was a player who hit .165 over 350 plate appearances during the regular season.

Even more stunning? The tying blast came off a 96-miles-per-hour fastball from Braves reliever Luke Jackson that was well above the strike zone. It was, in a nutshell, an impossible pitch for Bellinger to hit out of the park. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, the pitch crossed the plate 4.12 feet off the ground. No one since at least 2008 has homered on such a pitch at that speed during the postseason.

What’s more, Bellinger had not homered on a pitch out of the strike zone the entire season.

“Yeah, it’s not a hitter’s pitch right there,” Bellinger said “But in the moment, whatever happened, I saw it and I just tried to put the barrel on it and continue to pass the baton.”

In effect, that’s what happened. Right after Bellinger’s homer ignited the crowd, Chris Taylor singled, knocking Jackson out of the game. He stole second base, which was key because pinch-hitter Matt Beaty grounded out on what might have been a double play ball. And Betts hammered a drive to the fence for a double, scoring Taylor.

The sequence unfolded at lightning speed. And when it was over, it was hard to square up the energy in the stadium with the feeling of impending doom that hung over Chavez Ravine just moments earlier.

“We were dead in the water,” Roberts said. “You could see it.”

The Dodgers were five outs away from going down 0-3, a deficit only the 2004 Red Sox have overcome in a series. (A team on which Roberts played.) Los Angeles became the first team down 0-2 in a series to come back from at least three runs down after the fifth inning.

All of this brings up some bad and relatively fresh memories for the Braves. It was just last year that Atlanta seized a two-game lead on the Dodgers. Game 3 that time around went very different – a 15-3 L.A. romp – but Atlanta took Game 5 to go up 3-1. Then the Dodgers recovered to take three straight and advance to the World Series, a place Atlanta has not reached since 1999.

Still, Braves manager Brian Snitker seemed unconcerned about his club’s mindset even after last year’s collapse was brought up.

“Hell, I don’t even remember how I felt last year,” Snitker said, laughing. “Our guys are, every year, getting more and more battle-tested. We played a really good game out there today. A lot of really good things happened, and we didn’t get one pitch back.”

The Dodgers will turn to 20-game winner Julio Urias in Game 4, while Snitker’s club will go with a parade of relievers, the order of which has yet to be determined. After last season, even a Braves win might not fully restore the momentum they built up with two late-inning victories in Atlanta.

And all of that is because of one Cody Bellinger blast that resuscitated the flagging hopes of the defending champs, a blow so unlikely that that even the player who hit was still trying to make sense of it during the postgame press conference. That is, until Betts clarified it for him, and everyone else.

“Honestly, for as weird as it was, I saw it,” Bellinger said. “I saw it and I just tried to put a good swing on it. It’s just one of those things.”

At that point, Betts, a fellow former MVP, interrupted to remind his teammate that the likely explanation is that he is simply very good.

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“Tell them, Belli,” Betts said. “They’re good, but you drive a (Mercedes) Benz too.”

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