HOUSTON -- In a home run season in baseball, Cody Bellinger had been the star home run kid for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He had hit 39 homers, and knocked in 97 RBIs, with an OPS of .933 and a slugging percentage of .581. Only now he was in the World Series, on the biggest stage there is, and Bellinger not only couldn't knock a ball out of the park, he couldn't get any kind of knock at all. He was striking out so much he started to make Aaron Judge look like more of a contact guy than the late Tony Gwynn.
In Game 1 of this Series against the Astros, he struck out once. Was 0-for-3. Was 0-for-4 in Game 2, when everybody started hitting home runs in the end, and struck out twice. Then he was famously, theatrically 0-for-4 in Game 3 (with four K's), undressed by both Lance McCullers Jr. and Brad Peacock, as the Astros went ahead of the Dodgers two games to one. The strikeout that everybody remembered from that one came in the sixth, runners on second and third, nobody out.
Now it was Game 4, and the Dodgers were behind the Astros 1-0 in the seventh; were that close to having to ask Clayton Kershaw to save their season on Sunday night, somehow bring what has been such a wonderful season back to L.A.
And it was here that the kid showed up. You know what they say in show business, from Hollywood to Broadway. The great ones know how to make an entrance.
Charlie Morton was cruising along at this point, pitching the way he'd pitched for five innings against the Yankees in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series, coming hard at the Dodgers, as economical as he could be with his pitch count. When Morton got Justin Turner to ground out to start the seventh, he had only thrown a total of 70 pitches.
Bellinger showed up here, did that by staying back and going hard the other way on hard-throwing Morton, hit a double into that left-center corner of Minute Maid Park, tucked underneath a colorful "Fiesta Mas Fresh" sign, and just over and down from the Crawford Boxes above the AL scoreboard out there. Two batters later, Logan Forsythe singled Bellinger home. The game was 1-1. The Dodgers were alive in Game 4. They were even in this game, on the night when they were trying to get even in the 2017 World Series.
Then it was the ninth, and the Series spotlight, which will find you whether you want it to or not, was back on Bellinger. Ken Giles, the Astros' extremely wobbly closer, was in the 1-1 game now. Corey Seager had singled to start the top of the ninth and then Giles had walked Justin Turner.
Now Bellinger took Giles the other way, a shot into left center that must have sounded like a siren going off on its way out of the infield. Seager came around to score. Turner went to third. It was 2-1 Dodgers and, of course, the ninth inning fun was just beginning, fun that wouldn't end until Joc Pederson took Joe Musgrove deep for the three-run homer that made it 6-1 for the Dodgers. L.A had stopped hitting in the sixth inning of Game 3 when Peacock came out of the bullpen. From there until top of the sixth Saturday night, the Dodgers had only gotten one hit off Peacock and Morton, a single from Chris Taylor to lead off the game.
But Bellinger helped them on the board when they desperately needed to get on the board in Game 4 of the World Series. Then he put his team ahead. That was some swing Pederson put on Musgrove, without question. It felt like the after-party. Now the Dodgers ask Kershaw to pitch the way he pitched in Game 1, and send them back to Los Angeles one win away from winning their first World Series since it was Tommy Lasorda and Orel Hershiser and Mr. Kirk Gibson himself in the 1988 Series.
That Series was never the same after Gibson's home run to win Game 1 off Dennis Eckersley. You had started to wonder if this World Series had changed for good when Marwin Gonzalez took Kenley Jansen, the Dodgers closer, out of Dodger Stadium to tie Game 2 at three-all in the ninth. You know what happened after that. You could see on Saturday night how easy it would have been for the Dodgers to fall into a 1-3 hole.
But the Dodgers stood up on this night. Stood up late in Game 4. Stood up when they were up against it in the Series. Alex Wood, who had started one game in the past month, pitched into the sixth with a no-hitter before he got behind 3-1 to George Springer and Springer, the leadoff man who hit 34 home runs for the Astros this season, hit one out to left. Brandon Morrow and Tony Watson picked up Wood, before Kenley Jansen pitched the ninth. Jansen, by the way, gave up another ninth-inning home run, to Alex Bregman, but he was playing with house money by then. All Bregman's homer did was change the final score from 6-1 to 6-2.
Two games all. Bellinger got a little bit even with the Series on Saturday night. No home runs for him yet, in either L.A or Houston. He will take those two doubles for now. He got on the board. His team got even. The Astros get Kershaw on Sunday night. Bellinger scored twice and knocked in one, and on this night, it looked and felt like a lot more, especially after eight strikeouts in his first 13 at-bats.
"A player in a slump is always one swing away," Bellinger had said after Game 3.
The swing came in the seventh and then another swing came in the ninth. Guy in a slump turned out to be two swings away. "But then it figures that he showed up," Charley Steiner, the team's fine radio play-by-play man said after Game 4. Steiner looked down at his notes and said, "You know what their record was after he arrived on the scene at the end of April? Sixty-one and 22."
When the Dodgers were celebrating on the field after Game 4, there was Kershaw walking to the mound, standing on the rubber for about 10 seconds, staring in at home plate, already taking a good long look past his teammates, all the way to Sunday night. It was as if Kershaw were ready to go right there, to make his own entrance in Houston.
Cody Bellinger did that on Saturday night. Finally showed up in the World Series. Weight of the world came off his shoulders in the process.