HOUSTON – Los Angeles Dodgers rookie sensation Cody Bellinger looked to the heavens – OK, here it was the Minute Maid Stadium roof – as if to say “finally!” after breaking his particularly putrid hitless streak that lasted all the way until the seventh inning of Game 4. Bellinger looked hopeless/hapless through three-and-a-half games, or what might turn out to be exactly half of a classic seven-game World Series, but just like that, he once again transformed into that rookie sensation that originally helped transform the Dodgers’ season.
This time it is the World Series he may be turning around.
Three innings from a possible third straight defeat, Bellinger, who had been 0-for-13 with mostly punch-outs, stroked two doubles the opposite way, moving the Dodgers from down in the dumps to close to the driver’s seat, which is where they reside today as they head to Game 5 all tied.
The Dodgers, looking like they may be close to teetering on extinction, made it two-all in games. They stole the momentum, and it doesn’t take an analytics genius to see they wrestled the advantage from the Astros, what with baseball’s ace Clayton Kershaw going Sunday night in Game 5, followed by a final two games back at Dodger Stadium in a postseason where the home field has meant an outsized edge for both surviving teams.
L.A. stole the rocket fuel from Houston, laying their first 2017 home postseason defeat on the hosts with a 6-2 victory, and almost instantly changing a storyline that was trending toward dreary. Bellinger has been through this kind of transformative tale before, going from one home run as senior at Chandler (Ariz.) Hamilton High and fourth-round personal pick of his neighbor and ex-Dodgers scouting director Logan White to become the all-time debut-season record-holder for homers as a 21-year-old.
With his history in mind, Dodgers higher-ups kept the faith, and manager Dave Roberts kept him in the lineup. Of course, there was no way they could replace him anyway, with Adrian Gonzalez off the roster and just returning from family business in Italy, and Chase Utley 0-for-the-entire-postseason, not just the World Series.
Anyway, they believe in this kid.
Just the day before, he became the second-youngest to whiff four times in a World Series game, to Mickey Mantle. So at least he was in good company. A day later, he became the third Dodger – any age — to provide a go-ahead hit in the ninth inning, joining Jackie Robinson (1956) and Kirk Gibson (1988). More good company, and this time it was for something better.
“With Cody, you can see the heartbeat is really good,” Roberts said.
Up until the series-switching seventh, though, his swing was horrible. Suddenly he couldn’t resist anything with spin, whether it was within shouting distance of the strike zone or not.
Bellinger, so young he can’t help but be honest, chalked up his sudden struggles to “the pressure of the postseason.” And so, the double he sent to the warning track off nearly-unhittable Astros starter Charlie Morton triggered what he called a “super sigh of relief.” It also got them going, again.
Two innings later, he lined one into the left-center field gap off Astros closer Ken Giles. As it turns out, Astros manager A.J. Hinch, who has been infallible this October, may have committed his first error in calling upon Giles, whose struggles only worsened. The way he’s pitched, he may be mostly a spectator for the final three games.
Bellinger’s only 22 now, but he lives and breathes the game (remember, he couldn’t place Jerry Seinfeld, not that there’s anything wrong with it). So he took a page out of the book of vets Andre Ethier and Logan Forsythe and used his BP session to hit the other way rather than work on launching balls into orbit – no pun intended.
“I’ve never done that before in my life,” Bellinger said afterward. “Usually, I try to lift.”
Lifting the team has become his thing.
Bellinger took that very controlled swing into the game, and he popped the double off the wall to set up the Dodgers’ first and game-tying run, then lined the double two innings later to give L.A. the lead it would not relinquish en route to its 6-2 victory that lifted their spirits.
“Going back to L.A. is awesome,” closer Kenley Jansen noted. “We’ll just try to steal another tomorrow. We have our best guy (Kershaw) going, and he’s been wanting this for a long time.”
Bellinger hasn’t had to wait quite so long, making the World Series before he logged even one full season. Of course, the Fall Classic seems to be a Bellinger family tradition.
His father Clay may have been a utility-man, but in his four seasons in the bigs his teams made it to the World Series a remarkable four times, and he won three rings, only losing with the 2001 Yankees, who took it to a seventh game against Arizona, where he eventually raised his family. (In fact, Clay has more rings than both these World Series rosters combined entering the Series.)
And while his son’s first Fall Classic looked like a potential nightmare at first, the younger Bellinger eventually did his usual, which is to make his mark.
It’s amazing how quickly things can transform. But that’s the way things are in Bellinger’s world, and for the moment again, it feels like we are all just living in it.