LOS ANGELES — Cody Bellinger did it, because someone had to, because ties are meant to be broken and the Los Angeles Dodgers really needed this one to break in their favor.
He did it for his teammates, who leaped out of the dugout once his single rolled into right field, who waited for Manny Machado to slide in safely at home, who then chased Bellinger deep into left field, ripping off his jersey, tugging at him from all sides, celebrating a 2-1 victory that Bellinger delivered with a walk-off hit in the 13th inning at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday night. He did it for the fans inside Dodger Stadium, who stuck around for 5 hours and 15 minutes, who were ridiculed for not cheering enough on Monday, who were waiting to explode, through each passing inning, and now screamed so loud that the ballpark shook until they were finally forced to go home.
And he did it for the Dodgers, the coaches and the front office and everyone else involved, because that hit evened the National League Championship Series at two games apiece, and saved them from playing for their lives in Game 5 on Wednesday afternoon.
One swing can carry that much weight in October. Because sometimes one swing is all it takes.
“It’s probably a feeling you won’t forget, seeing your guys chase after you,” Bellinger said. “Honestly, I was surprised that they were throwing me. I thought they would pitch around me and get me to swing. Once I saw they were attacking me, it was just kind of just grind mode and do what you can to put the ball in play and try to end this game.”
The teams emptied their entire rosters onto the field Tuesday, because that is what happens when a baseball game refuses to end, when the result can color legacies, when a win for one team evens the series, and a win for the other brings the beginning of the series’ end. By the 12th inning, neither side had a position player left on the bench. At the start of the 13th, 22-year-old Julio Urias jogged into the game as the Dodgers last pitcher out of the bullpen. Before the 13th ended, Urias was the winning pitcher and the Dodgers, Manager Dave Roberts among them, streamed into the outfield to mob each other at the center of an uncorked celebration.
Now Clayton Kershaw pitches for the Dodgers in Game 5 and, after nearly losing a grip on this series, the momentum is swinging their way. Wade Miley will go for the Brewers. First pitch, as of the last pitch of Game 4, was less than 14 hours away.
“Understanding and seeing what Cody has been going through and really just wearing it and the weight of the world on him,” Roberts said of why he ran after Bellinger, who was 1-for-21 in the playoffs heading into the game. “And for him to come through in that big spot, I just felt for him and all of our guys. I wanted to make sure I went out there and greeted him.”
The teams came into this series with near-opposite pitching strategies, the Dodgers reliant on strong starting pitching, the Brewers leaning on an unconventional method called “bullpenning.” The Dodgers’ way is straightforward, as Roberts starts Kershaw, or Hyun jin-Ryu, or Walker Buehler, or Rich Hill, and lets their arm carry the load until it can’t. The Brewers’ way is not, as Manager Craig Counsell calls on any reliever at any time, shies away from the word “starter” and instead refers to his pitchers as “out-getters” without defined roles.
But then something odd happened. The Dodgers starters were spotty, in and out of games, not a backbone or even a reliable tool. The Brewers, on the other hand, got starting pitching that deadened the Dodgers’ offense. Wade Miley threw 5 ⅔ scoreless innings in Game 2. Jhoulys Chacin did the same in Game 3. It was not part of the initial plan. It was not a strength the Dodgers had to account for. It gave the Brewers, already armed with a dominant bullpen and lineup to match, one more way to win.
And then that all evaporated, almost as soon as it came, seven batters into Game 4 once Gio Gonzalez limped away from the mound and into the Brewers dugout. Gonzalez, the Brewers’ starter, exited with no outs in the second after injuring himself scrambling to make a play off the mound. So on came the Brewers’ bullpen for close to 12 innings of “bullpenning.” And there was Hill carrying a no-hitter into the top of the fourth. Order was restored. At least or a moment. At least until, hours later, the game boiled down to nothing but numbers and will.
Because the series was, right then, what it was always destined to be: A rare test for two offenses. The Dodgers versus a deep, flame-throwing bullpen. The Brewers versus a row of noted starters. The Dodgers got a head start with Brian Dozier’s RBI single off Gonzalez in the bottom of the first inning. But Freddy Peralta replaced the injured Gonzalez and held the Dodgers hitless for three frames. He was lifted in the fifth for pinch-hitter Domingo Santana, with Orlando Arcia leading off first, and Santana smacked a double into the right-center gap to bring Arcia sliding into home plate ahead of a throw.
That knotted the score for the next seven innings. That left Hill stomping into the Dodgers’ dugout, where he banged a container of Hi-Chew candies against a concrete shelf, sent them spilling all over the floor, and kicked the container in frustration to punctuate his point. That left Roberts reaching into his bullpen — Hill’s night finished after giving up one run in five innings — and now his relievers had to be better than Milwaukee’s relievers, who had already settled into a rhythm, who were used to shouldering such a heavy load for such a long time.
“And the bullpen, just . . .” Roberts said of an effort that saw eight pitchers cycle through eight scoreless innings. “Rich initially was good, and gave us five innings. But the bullpen, what they did tonight against a very good offensive club, my hat’s off to these guys.”
The manager mixed and matched relievers as the game demanded. He plugged in Pedro Baez for a scoreless sixth. He used Kenta Maeda, lefty specialist Caleb Ferguson and veteran Ryan Madson to strand a runner in scoring position an inning later. Then Madson worked a spotless eighth, and closer Kenley Jansen worked through the Brewers in the ninth and 10th.
But the Dodgers offense, a night after getting shutout in a 4-0 loss, went quiet once again. It took them five innings to collect a hit against the Brewers’ bullpen after Gonzalez left the game. And then they had to face Josh Hader, the Brewers’ lights-out lefty, Counsell’s best chess piece, who stranded runners at first and third and kept the Dodgers one hit short in the eighth inning.
That has been the case for so much of this series, outside of the few fleeting times the Dodgers’ offense has clicked. But Bellinger made sure another night would not be defined that way. Even after the Dodgers failed to win it in the ninth and 10th and 11th and 12th. Even when it looked like Brewers’ reliever Junior Guerra could keep churning through their lineup until morning came.
Even then, Bellinger did it. Because someone had to, and that someone may as well have been him.