For a few minutes Friday night, Cody Bellinger was the loneliest person at Dodger Stadium. Game 3 of the World Series was tied and his baserunning blunder had sucked the oxygen out of the building. He led off the bottom of the ninth with a textbook opposite-field single off Boston Red Sox left-hander David Price, giving the Dodgers a prime chance to score the winning run for their first victory of the series. But moments later, with a full count on Yasmani Grandal, he darted for second base too early and Price caught him. After a quick rundown, Bellinger, who was caught stealing once in 15 attempts during the regular season, was tagged for the inning’s second out.
With that disappointment hanging over him, Bellinger took his spot in center field for the top of the 10th inning. From there, he masked his gaffe’s stink with a missile home. With pinch-runner Ian Kinsler at third base, pinch-hitter Eduardo Nunez lifted a flyball to center field. Bellinger settled behind the ball to gather some momentum as he caught it and transferred it from his glove to his left hand. His throw was off-line, but Austin Barnes was able to handle it and apply the tag to get Kinsler.
Bellinger’s defense kept the score tied – and may have kept the Dodgers’ championship hopes alive. Eight innings later, Max Muncy ended the longest playoff game in history with a walk-off home run in the 18th inning against Nathan Eovaldi to give the Dodgers a 3-2 win and a avoid a 3-0 series hole. They now trail the Red Sox two-games-to-one .
“I was glad I had a chance to redeem myself,” Bellinger said. “I wouldn’t have been able to go to sleep…Mental mistake. I take full credit for that mistake, but I was glad I was able to redeem myself.”
The 23-year-old Bellinger dabbled in the outfield in the minors, but he was drafted as a first baseman and emerged on the big-league scene there last season, seizing the starting spot from Adrian Gonzalez en route to winning the National League Rookie of the Year Award. He made all 15 of his starts in the playoffs last year at first base and began this season as the Dodgers’ starting first baseman. He was, first and foremost, a first baseman.
He didn’t start a game in center field this season until May 16. From there he began splitting time between there and first, but he didn’t start in center field exclusively until the end of August. The shift has continued into the playoffs; he’s made all six of his starts in center field and has logged just two innings at first base.
The versatility is unusual. Rarely does a first baseman transition to center field so smoothly, but Bellinger is not a typical first baseman. He possesses a strong arm. He is the fastest player on the Dodgers roster. He is athletic and he is fluid. He does not look out of place at the position and he didn’t look it when Nunez lifted the fly ball to him Friday night.
Kinsler’s trip around the bases was a wild one. He entered the game as a pinch-runner for J.D. Martinez after he had worked a one-out walk against Pedro Baez. Kinsler was then nearly picked off – the play was reviewed and the original safe call stood – and overslid third base going first to third on Brock Holt’s single to center field. He was just able to jump back to the bag before Justin Turner could reach him with his tag.
Nunez’s flyball was not deep, but the 36-year-old Kinsler tested Bellinger’s arm anyway. It was a bad idea. Bellinger yanked the throw a few feet away from home plate, but Kinsler was so far up the line that it didn’t matter. The missile completed Bellinger’s first career converted double play from the outfield and his second career outfield assist overall.
Bellinger released a roar when Barnes put the tag on and emerged with the ball still in his glove. He simulated throwing a grenade with smile. He celebrated with Joc Pederson on his jog back to the Dodgers dugout. He was no longer the loneliest person at Dodger Stadium, but the one who may have saved the Dodgers’ season with his left arm a few hours before it finally ended after midnight.
“I’m tired,” Bellinger said, “but feeling a lot better being down 2-1 than 3-0, for sure.”