LOS ANGELES—When Cody Bellinger ranked as the Dodgers’ No. 1 prospect heading into the 2017 season, he was considered a “foundational hitter” who could carry the Dodgers offense and be a game-changing presence in their lineup for years to come.
Bellinger has endured ups and downs in the five seasons since, winning a National League rookie of the year and MVP award but also going through elongated slumps, including a miserable 2021 campaign that saw him drop from the middle to the bottom of the Dodgers lineup and his playing time begin to decrease. But even in his down times, his game-changing ability keeps coming out at the most opportune moments, especially in the postseason.
Bellinger hit a game-tying, three-run homer off Luke Jackson in the bottom of the eighth inning to fuel a stunning rally and lift the Dodgers to an improbable 6-5 win over the Braves in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series on Tuesday afternoon. The Braves, five outs away from taking a commanding 3-0 series lead when Bellinger stepped to the plate, instead lead 2-1.
“We were dead in the water,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “You could see it. And Luke’s coming in throwing 97 mph and … to get behind in the count, then to hit a homer, it just flipped everything.”
With runners on first and second and one out, Jackson got ahead of Bellinger 1-2 and threw a 96-mph fastball high and outside, well above the strike zone. It was a perfect chase pitch, and one Bellinger had swung and missed through all season on his way to an ugly .165/.240/.302 slash line. But this time, Bellinger swung and connected, sending the ball 399 feet into the right field bleachers to tie the score and awaken a dormant Dodgers offense that hadn’t put a runner in scoring position since the second inning.
It was Bellinger’s first home run of the postseason.
“Honestly, for as weird at is, I saw it,” Bellinger said. “I saw it and I just tried to put a good swing on it. Just one of those things ball is coming in hard, shadows you’re dealing with, but I saw it well and barreled it up.”
The homer was the latest in a growing list of heroic playoff moments for Bellinger. His career postseason slash line is an unsightly .200/.277/.378, but time and again, the former two-time Top 100 Prospect has come through in big spots for the Dodgers.
In Game 4 of the 2017 World Series, he hit a tie-breaking RBI double in the ninth inning to even the series in Houston.
In Game 4 of the 2018 NLCS, he hit a walkoff two-run single in the bottom of the 13th inning to even the series against the Brewers. In Game 7, he hit the go-ahead two-run home run to give the Dodgers the lead and put them on track for a return trip to the World Series.
In Game 7 of the 2020 NLCS, he hit the tie-breaking home run in the seventh inning to send the Dodgers over the Braves and back to the World Series yet again. In Game 1 of that World Series, he opened the scoring with a two-run homer to lift the Dodgers to a series-opening win.
And then there is this year. In the NL Wild Card Game, Bellinger drew a two-out walk in the bottom of the ninth to set the stage for Chris Taylor’s walkoff two-run homer over the Cardinals. In the Division Series, he hit the tie-breaking RBI single in the top of the ninth in Game 5 to give the Dodgers a dramatic series win over the rival Giants. And now, with his team on the cusp of defeat, he hit a home run that Roberts called one of the biggest hits he could remember.
From Roberts, that’s especially high praise. He famously stole second base and scored the tying run on Bill Mueller’s single in the bottom of the ninth in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS with the Red Sox, helping kickstart the only comeback from a 3-0 series deficit in MLB postseason history. Roberts was on the bench watching when David Ortiz hit walkoff winners in Games 4 and 5.
“(Atlanta) is a team that obviously has a lot of momentum coming into this game,” Roberts said. “First game here, on the road, and for us to go down 3-0 and hope for a 2004 miracle run is a tall ask.”
“We got a very good ball club, but we just kind of needed as shot in the arm and I’m expecting it to carry over to tomorrow,” Roberts said. “That David hit was huge and I’m forever grateful. But this was a freaking big hit.”
Against the backdrop of 51,307 fans whipped into a frenzy by Bellinger’s blast, Chris Taylor followed with a single, stole second base and scored on Mookie Betts’ double into the right-center gap for the go-ahead run. Kenley Jansen struck out the side in the ninth to cap the shocking turn of events and breathe new life into the Dodgers hopes of repeating as World Series champions.
Up until Bellinger’s homer, the Dodgers had been 3-for-21 in the series with runners in scoring position.
“It’s tough to calm down and relax and try to get a good pitch to hit,” Betts said. “But that eighth right there, when Belli comes through, I think it’s kind of a sigh of relief, like we finally did it, and now it becomes contagious. That’s kind of how everything kept going.”
The Dodgers still have work to do to come back in the series and beat the Braves. But at least they now have a realistic chance, as opposed to being down 3-0. For that, they can thank their foundational hitter for coming through in the postseason once again.
“I mean, in a way it’s a whole different season,” Bellinger said. “Luckily for me I got a clean slate going into the postseason and I was feeling good towards the end of the regular season. I just tried to continue that and continue that feel into the postseason and help this team win.”