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'The game honors you:' Cody Bellinger's clutch swing in NLCS Game 3 evokes memory of legendary Dodger home run

USA TODAY SPORTS logo USA TODAY SPORTS 10/25/2021 Bob Nightengale, USA TODAY

LOS ANGELES — He’s surrounded by TV crews on the field Tuesday, serenaded by screaming fans who refuse to leave, and the Dodger Stadium loudspeakers blaring for all of Los Angeles to hear, Cody Bellinger is trying to somehow describe the scene.

The interviews end, Bellinger walks off the field and ducks into the Los Angeles Dodgers dugout.

He grabs his batting gloves, heads to the clubhouse, and abruptly stops. He retreats.

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He heads back towards the equipment trunk sitting on the floor, lifts up the top, and finds his bat.

Bellinger grabs it, clutches it under his arm, walks away, taking no chances.

This bat is staying with him.

Bellinger doesn’t know whether he’s going to save it for his trophy room, give it to the Hall of Fame, or go to sleep with it, but that bat sure wasn’t going to leave his side.

It was one majestic swing of the bat that saved an Dodgers’ season with a 6-5 victory over Atlanta, sending the crowd of 51,307 into hysterics with the most improbable and incredible home run hit at Dodger Stadium since Kirk Gibson’s famous shot in the 1988 World Series.

“We were dead in the water,’’ Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “You could see it. It just flipped everything. It's just hard to imagine a bigger hit that I can remember, really, just what was at stake.’’

The Dodgers were five outs away from going down 3 games to 0 in the best-of-seven National League Championship Series until the eighth inning, losing 5-2, with two runners on.

Bellinger, who was lost all season, hitting an embarrassing .165, without an extra-base hit in the postseason, was at the plate. He was down 1-and-2 in the count. Atlanta reliever Luke Jackson threw a 96-mph fastball two, three inches above the strikezone, and a couple of inches outside, hoping Bellinger would swing.

Cody Bellinger rounds the bases after his three-run home run in the eighth inning. © Kirby Lee, USA TODAY Sports Cody Bellinger rounds the bases after his three-run home run in the eighth inning.

Bellinger swung away. It soared high and deep into the night, landing 399 feet away, into the right-field pavilion, just like Gibson’s walk-off in Game 1 of the ’88 World Series, where you can still hear the words of Vin Scully.

“High fly ball into right field….She is….GONE! ….In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened.’’ 

Jackson was 3 years from being born when Gibson homered, but has seen the film clip hundreds of times, with Dennis Eckersley dropping his head.

Now, he can only hope Tuesday night’s image doesn’t carry a similar historical significance.

“Sad thing is,’’ Jackson quietly said, “I would do the same thing again.

“I was trying to throw a fastball up and away. I actually threw it better than I thought I threw it. Out of my hand, I was like, 'Oh, that's a ball. It's too high.’

“No, it wasn't too high. A good player put a good swing on it. Pretty remarkable.

“It hurts.’’

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The Dodgers, trailing by three runs since the fourth inning, with thousands of fans already heading towards the exits, suddenly were tied at 5-apiece with one of the biggest homers in Dodger history.

“I don’t know how he hit that ball,’’ Dodgers outfielder Chris Taylor said. “The ball was like a foot over his head. Man, that gave us new life.’’

Bellinger jumped into the air after the swing, took a few steps, spun, did a pirouette, and danced around the bases as the stadium shook.

“Pure enjoyment,’’ Bellinger said. “In the moment, it's loud. You don't really hear anything. And you don't really see anything. Rounding second, saw the boys in the dugout giving me the celebration, so I had to do it back.

“Pure joy. Just glad that I could tie up the game right there to give us a chance.’’

The game may have been tied, but realistically, it was over. Three batters later, Mookie Betts hit a two-out double to center, scoring Taylor for a 6-5 lead. Now it was officially over.

The Dodgers are alive.

Atlanta is shaken.

Never has a 2-games-to-1 deficit ever felt so good in a seven-game series.

And never has a 2-1 lead ever felt so vulnerable.

“We have lost tough games before and bounced back,’’ Atlanta manager Brian Snitker says. “This is just one of them games. You got to get 27 outs, man."

“I think the guys have a lot of confidence in themselves. There's going to be no residual effects after this game here.’’

Well, we’re about to find out.

Oakland A’s manager Tony La Russa and Eckersley tried to tell us the same thing, but the A’s never recovered, losing the World Series in five games.

Atlanta is still in the driver’s seat, but instead of watching a .165 hitting first baseman at the bottom of the lineup flounder night after night, they must worry about Bellinger’s newfound confidence.

“Tell them, Belli,’’ said Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts, sitting next to Bellinger in the interview room. “They're good, but you drive a Benz too.’’

Said Bellinger: "I do got a Benz.’’

The moment wouldn’t have been possible months ago, or even weeks ago, with Bellinger shortening his swing, widening his stance, dropping his hands, getting rid of the loop in his swing, and squaring up the ball, just as he and Dodgers hitting coach Brant Brown have religiously worked on the past few months.

“I just think it was an important change,’’ Brown said. “His stance almost premeditates his intent, not trying to do too much. Everyone’s been a little bit down on him but they don’t know the work he’s gone through.

“He knew he had to do something. It’s just something that changes his intent right from the get-go, allows him to have a little shorter swing, allows him to do things like he did today.’’

So long, ineptitude.

It’s Bellinger again, just in the nick of time.

“He was at a point, I know, thinking was he ever going to get another hit,’’ Roberts said. “And that's a real thought, not realistic, but it's a real thought for players. So, you're feeling his struggles, and he was rock bottom, and the confidence. He didn't quit fighting and competing and working.

“The game honors you.

“And the game honored him today.’’

Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'The game honors you:' Cody Bellinger's clutch swing in NLCS Game 3 evokes memory of legendary Dodger home run

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