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HOUSTON – Cody Bellinger looked to the heavens, which were blocked by the roof, but one must assume some things are where one left them, back when the world was a slightly kinder and more generous place. In the seventh inning of the fourth game of the World Series, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ cleanup hitter had whacked a baseball so that it carried well out to left field and on a hop found the fence, his first hit after 13 futile attempts, eight of which ended in strikeouts.
After the prior at-bat, a strikeout, another strikeout, a teammate – veteran Andre Ethier – approached him with an earnest mug, as though he’d come bearing insight or wisdom or, hell, a tousle of the hair. Anything would do. With failure come good, hard lessons, and through lessons comes the man who could, for example, take over a series. At least put a ball in play. Presumably, Bellinger was all for that. So he looked up and his pal Andre Ethier leaned in and said, as Ethier recalled later, “You might as well not bring a bat up there anymore. You have the same chance.” Then he went and found his regular place on the dugout rail.
There is the part about showing up. Taking it on again. In part because what’s the alternative. Because it’s not going to get any easier. Because they’re going to keep racing off to oh-and-two on the outer half and then burying you in, so there’s not much sense in looking for pitches to pull into the right-field bleachers anymore, so just go ahead and hit one of those get-ahead curveballs or fastballs or whatever to left field.
Standing at second base in the seventh inning, Bellinger gazed into the dugout, found Ethier’s eyes, and nodded. Ethier raised his hand in a “hang loose” gesture, because, as Ethier said, “He’s the only surfer from Chandler, Arizona, I’ve ever met.”
The Dodgers beat the Houston Astros on Saturday night, 6-2. The World Series is tied after four games. Bellinger doubled and scored in the seventh, when the Astros had led, 1-0. And he doubled home another run, also to left-center field, in the ninth inning, when the score was 1-1. In spite of Bellinger’s early troubles, manager Dave Roberts had not only stuck with his 22-year-old rookie, but stuck with him in the four hole, and when the difference in the series between a three-one death knell and a whole new series was in the balance, Bellinger waited on a curveball and lashed it to left, and he hung back on a big fastball and did the same to that, and these are the lessons of the long game and in bringing a bat to the plate with you, just in case.
“I hit every ball in BP today to the left side of the infield,” Bellinger said. “I’ve never done that before in my life. Usually I try to lift. I needed to make an adjustment, and saw some results today.”
He later added, “It’s a beautiful game. I can come out the next day and help the team win after a bad day like that.”
He’d struck out four times in Game 3. His postseason strikeouts, by midgame Saturday, had run to 20, in 49 at-bats. Some, a guy learns to live with. Twenty in 49 at-bats is excessive, particularly as opposing pitchers had come bearing breaking balls, buckets of them, and it seemed Bellinger couldn’t get from the on-deck circle to the batter’s box without picking up two strikes along the way.
“Hey, man,” Ethier said later, “sometimes the truth hurts.”
He laughed. He really likes the young man. Loves his talent. Knows he’ll be great at this and that the past dozen or so at-bats will be part of that journey. He also really needed Bellinger to remember that it doesn’t have to play out on the edge of a knife, that it’s OK to laugh at the worst of it, long as you come tomorrow and hit 30 more balls to the left of second base, and carry that into the game, and soon some pitcher is going to overthink it and the right-field bleachers will come back. Then, as a result, it’ll all work again, like it did Saturday night, when in a dreadfully and delightfully tense game the Dodgers scored five runs in the ninth inning, setting this series back on the edge of that knife. Joc Pederson homered to right field in that inning, finishing the inning with three more runs, and he pretty much remembered the final 270 feet of that trot. It was that kind of game, in that time of year, when the ball leaves your bat and …
“I think shock would be the word,” Pederson said. “My body went into a whole blackout thing.”
A blackout thing.
“I don’t know,” he said. “It was weird.”
And that happened before?
An inning that began with Corey Seager dribbling a grounder into the teeth of an infield shift, dropping his bat and, as he recalled, “You pray.”
“It wasn’t ideal,” Seager said. “That’s why it goes back to praying.”
That ball slithered into the outfield. And Justin Turner walked. And then Bellinger got that fastball across the plate from him, and he’d brought his bat, and he lined that pitch to left-center field. He flipped his bat. He skittered headfirst into second base. A run scored. More were coming. Like the series had been waiting on him all along, not going anywhere until he’d had another shot at it.
“Sometimes,” he said, “you see in the postseason you want to try to do too much and that’s what I was doing. Today I tried to make an effort of not doing too much, and when you do that you get two hits sometimes.”
“It’s a crazy game,” he said.
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