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Cody Bellinger is key to Dodgers’ win over Padres, even without crushing the ball

Cody Bellinger drops the bat to run to first after hitting a grounder for an error and the tying run.
Cody Bellinger takes off for first base after hitting a ground ball in the fifth inning of Game 1 of the Dodgers’ National League Division Series against the San Diego Padres on Tuesday at Globe Life Field.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Cody Bellinger is not bludgeoning the ball like he did in 2019, when he clubbed 47 homers, 34 doubles and drove in 115 runs to win National League MVP honors, but there is more in the Dodgers center fielder’s toolbox than a wood hammer.

Bellinger’s speed contributed to a fielding error that allowed the Dodgers to score their first run in the fifth inning, and his hand-eye coordination helped him fight off a tough pitch for an RBI infield single in a four-run sixth, as the Dodgers beat the San Diego Padres 5-1 in Game 1 of the NL Division Series in Arlington, Texas.

“I just appreciate the way he might not feel perfect mechanically, but he’s in there every single at-bat fighting, trying to win pitches,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.

“You saw it tonight. Created some stress running down the line on the error. That kind of got things going. Got an infield hit later. The fight is there, and he’s helping us win baseball games.”

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San Diego’s pitching problems are a borderline catastrophe, and that’s why the Dodgers overcame a sluggish night at the plate to win Game 1 of the NLDS.

The Dodgers were hitless through five innings against six Padres pitchers but capitalized on two fifth-inning walks — one by left-hander Tim Hill and one by right-hander Garrett Richards — in the fifth.

Bellinger stepped to the plate with two outs and hit what appeared to be a routine grounder to second baseman Jake Cronenworth, who was stationed a few steps on the outfield grass.

But Cronenworth hooked his throw to the right of first baseman Eric Hosmer, who was unable to catch the ball while scrambling to get his back foot to the bag. The ball nicked off Hosmer’s glove for an error charged to Cronenworth that allowed Justin Turner to score from second base and tie the score 1-1.

“Croney got to it, but Bellinger, when he turns it on, is one of the fastest guys in the league,” Padres manager Jayce Tingler said. “So I think he had to throw it a little earlier than maybe he wanted to, and Hos was getting to the bag and kind of snapped his head around when the ball was in the air.

“I don’t think it was a perfect throw, it was a little off line, but Bellinger getting out of the box the way he did may have rushed us a little bit, and with Hos having to turn his head, the ball got on top of him a little bit.”

The Dodgers led the major leagues with 118 homers in 60 games, an average of 1.97 a game, and they had five players — Mookie Betts, A.J. Pollock, Corey Seager, Max Muncy and Bellinger — reach double figures in homers.

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Photos from Game 1 of the National League Division Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.

But they scored their four runs in the sixth on Seager’s 275-foot sacrifice fly to left field, Turner’s ground-ball RBI single to right, which left his bat at 70.5 mph, Bellinger’s RBI infield single — which left his bat at 71.4 mph — and a wild pitch.

Bellinger, who hit .239 with a .789 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, 12 homers and 30 RBIs in 56 games this season after accumulating a 1.035 OPS in 2019, fought off a down-and-away, 1-and-2 curve from left-hander Matt Strahm to send his RBI single up the middle.

Clayton Kershaw solidified himself as one of the greatest high school pitchers in Texas history 14 years ago near where he will start Game 2 of the NLDS.

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“We didn’t get a lot of hits early, but we took a lot of great at-bats, and we made those guys work,” Turner said. “We took a lot of walks tonight, and when our offense is at its best, we’re walking as many times as we’re getting hits, so we did a great job of staying in the zone for the most part and getting on base.

“And that Belly play, just hustling down the line, putting pressure on the defense, forced a bad throw. Once we got that first run, I think that kind of settled us in a little bit and we had good at-bats all night.”


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