The noise was noxious.
He had been ripped and ridiculed, his ability dissected, his attitude challenged, his bat belittled.
When his lanky frame stepped to the plate at Oracle Park in the sixth inning with the bases loaded Saturday night in Game 2 of the National League Division Series against the San Francisco Giants, Cody Bellinger was a man tormented.
He had finished the season hitting .165, the worst average in history by a former MVP with at least 250 at-bats.
He had spent the summer flailing against the Giants, going two for 54 with 21 strikeouts.
He had endured parts of two games in this National League Division Series in embarrassment, striking out four times in five at-bats.
He had been hapless. He had been hopeless. And when he settled in his batting stance in that sixth inning with one out and his team leading by a run Saturday, the crowd jeered, Dodgers fans everywhere sighed, and his fortitude was again questioned.
But this time, for once, he answered.
Finally, at last, Belli growled.
Bellinger drove the first pitch from the Giants’ Dominic Leone to the left-center field wall for a two-run double to break open the game and give the Dodgers a 4-1 lead that eventually became a 9-2 victory to even the series at one game apiece.
Whew. This was big. This was necessary. This was only the second night of this best-of-five series, but already the Dodgers felt like it was an elimination game, as a loss would mean they needed three straight wins to survive.
“We’re going to play this game essentially like a do or die,” manager Dave Roberts said before the game.
Thus, when the two legendary rivals collided for a second straight night in their first postseason series in 131 years of competition, it was once again loud and emotion and beyond tense.
And suddenly everything feels different, the series resuming at Dodger Stadium Monday and it might never leave there, Max Scherzer waiting for Game 3, perhaps Tony Gonsolin on deck for Game 4, two good nights at Chavez Ravine needed to finish it.
“It’s interesting how the narrative changes from game to game,” Roberts said. “It’s a three-game series, we got home-field advantage, we got Max on the mound. I like where we’re at.”
Saturday began with the rapper E-40 leading the crowd in the first of countless “Beat L.A.” chants. It continued with a handful of Dodgers’ fans defiantly shouting back as their team slowly climbed back.
And then, it was bombed by Belli.
“It was a huge hit, I think there was a big weight lifted off his shoulders,” Roberts said. “Those were a big couple runs.”
His heroics were set up by Julio Urías’ five splendid innings, during which he gave up one run and three hits with five strikeouts. His timely hit was later supported by sparkling defensive plays by Trea Turner (diving!) and Mookie Betts (throwing!).
But, after a summer-long nightmare, it was Cody Bellinger’s night.
“I felt good…obviously it felt really good,’’ said Bellinger, who swung at the first pitch after watching Chris Taylor wear down Kevin Gausman for a walk.
He later added, “Sometimes the plan works, sometimes it doesn’t…just playing the game…just strictly just playing the game.”
He acted like the hit was no big deal. Yet coming against this team, in this moment, coming three days after he drew a walk that set up Taylor’s walk-off homer in the wild-card win, it was a very big deal.
“Mentally, I don’t see how it can hurt,” Roberts said. “There can only be upside.”
The evening fittingly began with a Bellinger pregame news conference that was a precursor to his performance. He reacted to the questions like he later reacted to thatGausman fastball, calmly taking them on with one smooth swing.
You think all this was driving him crazy? Think again.
“I’m feeling good, not frustrated,” he said.
You wonder, with all the analysis and swing breakdowns and heat he’s receiving, seriously, how he’s handling it? Keep wondering.
“How I’m doing it right now, I get the questions and I answer them,” he said. “I just do what I can to help this team win at the end of the day, you know, that’s all I could do.”
To those who are waiting for him to show emotion, keep waiting. To those who want the former slugger to show some trepidation or at least frustration, sorry, wrong guy.
Maybe it’s just his personality. Maybe he realizes that with his many injuries — a sordid streak which began with his infamous chest-bump dislocation during last year’s title run — this was going to be a lost year, anyway. Whatever the reason, in that pregame presser, Bellinger seemed determined to just placidly swing his way through the storm.
“Obviously there was some more factors into it this year with what I had to deal with,” Bellinger said.
“But at the end of the day, that’s in the past, so I’m only looking forward.”
Turns out, forward is where his hit traveled, and perhaps where his game, and his team, will travel for the rest of the postseason.
Remember, this group has played from behind before and won. They’ve pulled this off more than once.
They trailed the Atlanta Braves 3-1 in last year’s National League Championship Series and survived. Two years earlier they trailed the Milwaukee Brewers 2-1 in the 2018 NLCS and won.
“It’s a smart group, it’s a professional group,” Roberts said.
“We understand the job that we have to do, we’ve been there before.”
Perhaps none of them have been in a hole like the one occupied by Bellinger, who climbed out Saturday while carrying an entire team and reintroducing himself to an entire fan base.
Is that really you? Been too long. Welcome back.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.
Source: Yahoo Sports