It’s not often a reigning Most Valuable Player counts as an unlikely hero.
The way Cody Bellinger had been hitting in the National League Championship Series before Sunday, few expected him to deliver the game-winning hit. He had four hits in six games prior to the do-or-die Game 7 against the Atlanta Braves. He was still stuck on four when he came to bat with the bases empty against Chris Martin in the seventh inning, the score tied at three.
That’s when Bellinger ended an eight-pitch at-bat with a solo home run, a moonshot that came to rest an estimated 400 feet from home plate in right field. The 4-3 lead held up, and the Dodgers are heading back to their third World Series in four years.
In a postgame interview with Fox, Bellinger said he took the same approach against Martin that he used in Game 6. Bellinger ended his eight-pitch at-bat against Martin on Saturday with a weakly hit fly ball on a low changeup.
This time, Bellinger waited on Martin’s sinker. He fouled off three 2-and-2 pitches, then finally got a sinker over the middle of the plate.
“I tried to stay within myself,” Bellinger told Fox. “Two strikes, I was in foul mode. I got a pitch I could hit right there.”
Bellinger’s five-hit series overshadowed some of his contributions at the plate. He drew two walks Sunday and six in the series. He prolonged at-bats that resulted in outs. He didn’t hit into a ground-ball out after Game 1.
Roberts said Bellinger’s surface stats for the series were misleading.
“This postseason has shown he’s learning the value of controlling the strike zone, taking what they give you, trying to win pitches,” Roberts said. “If there’s a walk in there, take the walk. If they make a mistake, you can still slug.”
After circling the bases, Bellinger and Kiké Hernandez celebrated with a leaping, mid-air right elbow “bash” between home plate and the third base dugout. Joc Pederson greeted Bellinger next. Bellinger spun out of another bash, grimaced, then quickly exited the dugout through a tunnel leading toward the home clubhouse at Globe Life Field.
Bellinger said in a postgame interview on Fox that he went to the trainer’s room, where his shoulder was popped back in place.
“It kind of hurt,” Bellinger told Fox. “I’m gonna use my left arm. I’ve never dislocated that one.”
Bellinger returned to center field for the top of the eighth inning. He made the next out, catching a routine fly ball hit by Freddie Freeman. He also made the final out of the game, closing his glove on an Austin Riley fly ball to touch off another wild celebration.
Bellinger has been here before. He partially dislocated his left shoulder in May 2019 making a diving play at first base. He’s primarily played the outfield ever since, in part to protect the shoulder.
Despite the injury, Bellinger didn’t need the disabled list. He finished the month riding a hitting streak that would reach 12 games. How or if an injury to the right shoulder affects him in the World Series remains to be seen.
“He’s been squaring the ball up a lot lately,” outfielder Mookie Betts said of Bellinger. “We get him rolling, that’s a sight to see for sure. Huge home run. He’s swinging the bat well, so we’ve just got to keep him going.”